If you’re familiar with my blog, you’re aware I’ve had some issues with the church. I’m trying to remember when it started. Suffice it to say it’s been over 10 years. Good grief, time flies when you’re troubled. No reason to rehash, if you want more details, read some of my older stories.
I haven’t gone to church for years and didn’t think I missed it (or really even needed it) except when I reflect back to my blog posts. Although I let the church building/congregation (well, we did move but I have not looked for the last 4 years either) simply fade from my life, I’ve written about it quite often and thought about it even more. I’ve come to the conclusion that cutting ties with the church bothers me. A lot. Some of my friends are incredible Christians without entering a church. They say it’s not necessary to ‘go’ to a building every week to be saved. I believe them. They’re sincere and full of faith.
But I am a weak sinner. I talk to God in prayer and conversation while I putz around the house. This however, is insufficient and does not leave me feeling fulfilled. I’m running on empty. I need more than what I have to offer.
A few friends are concerned about my fruitless search for a church home and a closer relationship with God. (They know I need all the help I can get. I truly appreciate their empathy and compassion plus their steadfast faith that I will get turned around before it’s too late). In the past couple weeks I’ve gotten articles on the popularity of big screens used in churches, (ugh) and the drastic decline of hymnals, organs and bibles used during services. The hymnals are no longer needed because of the big screen (really, do any of us need more screen time in our lives these days? (double ugh) What’s a gray haired great-grandma’s supposed to do with that kind of depressing information? Still I prefer staying informed and current so thanks for that Allan. And much of it was already known, just denied or ignored.
Even more recently I got an article from Alma, written by Lisa Appelo on 5 reasons I (this was meant for anyone in general, though God clearly intended it for me) need to go to church-every Sunday. One of the reasons struck a chord when it implied I might not actually LIKE the church because I’ve been hurt (why yes I have) by staff who should have known better (bingo) so I’ve decided to keep Jesus but not the church. Sounds a lot like me.
But I need church. A church. Being around Christians who believe in the Lord and belong. Communion, baptism, Lord’s Prayer, Apostle’s Creed, a sermon from a God fearing preacher. And once again, at the top of my needy list are good old fashioned hymns. Seems petty and downright unchristian but to this Calvinist, hymns are gonna be a deal breaker. There I said it. I own that statement. Old-fashioned-church-hymns-matter.
I finally came to the realization months ago that I needed to find a home church. But actually walking into an unfamiliar sanctuary is daunting. I don’t want to be ignored nor do I want inquisitive folks asking too many questions. My goal is to stay on the down low. My first visit was a bust, so I waited a couple weeks until my courage returned. Sunday morning, ten minutes before the service starts and my Jeep is one of 7 cars in the lot. Lord help me. Why I felt compelled to get out of the car and walk in, I haven’t quite figured out yet. I could have just as easily started the car and drove away-but did not.
The parking lot was icy, sidewalks not much better and I was still using a cane from a recent fall on my brand new knee, so it was slow going. Though general lack of bubbling enthusiasm may have accounted for much of my hesitation. I walked in, saw less than 10 folks in the narthex and asked someone for a bulletin. He said, “we’re running them off now.” A kid hands me one and I walked into the sanctuary. A 4 piece band was playing music I didn’t recognize, loudly. (Are you there God? It’s me, Neese. Help). But God was busy with more important matters than my discomfort, which He believes is good for my soul occasionally.
Thirty worshippers were seated throughout a couple of dozen pews listening. Minister walks in sporting a chartreuse golf shirt. I’m really ok with casual clothes at worship. God doesn’t care how I’m dressed. He wants me to be a better Christian. (But chartreuse?) I didn’t know one song. Not a one. I was cornered when the service was over. Where did I live? How long have I been in Jackson? Married? Was I interested in going out for breakfast? My urge to fight or flee was strong. I chose flee as carefully as I could without taking another spill. Ah, that wasn’t so bad. (Yes, it was).
After I started my car (and locked the doors eliminating the background check, firstborn giveaway and fingerprinting) I spotted another church as I drove out. Lots more cars, bigger building. I literally stopped in the street to read their sign. Join us for worship. Two services: TRADITIONAL-9:30, Contemporary 11. My interest was piqued. I’m in.
I do better when I’m dedicated to an idea. I laid out my clothes on Saturday night and knew what time I had to be showered and out the door on Sunday morning. The traditional service would probably not be large but was hoping for more than 50. I was greeted warmly by Dawn as I walked in the back door, who gave me directions to the sanctuary. I was greeted again at the entrance to the sanctuary and handed a bulletin, (ink was already dry) a prayer concern sheet and a page of sermon notes for the message today.
Cindy walked up on the stage, greeted us and asked us to stand for a hymn sing. This was early December so the songs were all Christmas carols. I knew every song without looking at the big screen. (Choose your battles wisely Neese, the screen isn’t one of them). She told a short story, had a prayer and sat down. A man I assumed was the pastor got up and read the scripture lesson, had a short prayer and sat down.
A guy in his mid-30’s walked up to the lectern wearing blue jeans, shirt and tie with one of those wraparound microphones. Joseph was the subject for the sermon. Happily engaged, looking forward to marriage when Mary tells him she’s pregnant, yet never had sex with anyone. Right. Joseph, being a standup guy and faithful to the Lord, does the right thing. He and Mary get hitched then travel for their family’s head count in Bethlehem.
This is where I had an ‘aha’ moment. (I didn’t know the preacher’s name but have since learned it’s Devin. I’ll just call him Rev/Dev). Rev/Dev pointed out how uncomfortable Joseph must have felt. His engagement to Mary was like a year long but they were essentially already married, though not living together or having sex. (I hope I remembered that right). There would have been serious consequences (stoning) had he not manned up. Then Rev/Dev said, “I just went through an uncomfortable moment.” He flashed a picture up on the big screen. A selfie with lots of background. Behind him tons of U of M fans, milling around concession stands at Crisler Arena. On the top of Rev/Dev’s head perched an Iowa Hawkeye hat! Oh. My. Word. It’s a sign I tell ya.
As I’m walking out, Dawn handed me a Cornerstone introduction packet and thanked me for coming. I told her I was from Iowa too. “Oh, don’t mention that to him. He talks about Iowa ALL THE TIME and thinks he’s the only fan here in Jackson.”
So I’ve been back to the Iowa Hawkeye church, listening to Rev/Dev a couple times. No one’s applied any pressure and I’m enjoying the sermons and hymns tremendously. We shall see. I’ll leave you with a verse, not from a hymn but a band I really enjoy on my playlist when I walk called Train.
Just in time, I’m so glad You have a one-track mind like me.
You gave my life direction, a game show love connection, we can’t deny.
Hey, soul sister….