Traditional things during my life that used to bug me when I was young are now what I miss with such an acute ache, it almost feels physical. Many of these feelings I struggle with are about religion/church/preachers/customs. Not God so much. I feel like God and I are on the same page and doing relatively well, considering it’s me He’s trying to work with. (He said I can be trying at times. Who knew)? This disillusionment didn’t just creep up on me. No, this started well over a decade ago. I was immersed in a job, (a calling really) a church and felt my work/good deeds/volunteerism were needed, worthwhile and appreciated.
I might be thin-skinned. (Ok, I am. No denying it). Lengthy story I won’t get into about issues I have with the church and organized religion. (Ministers and church politics mostly). Suffice it to say, since 2009 my time spent inside a sanctuary has been limited. Bitterness blossomed after my feelings were hurt, and I stopped spending time in a house of worship. And I was ok with that for several years, but find I still have this ‘longing’ for all the things I disliked about church services when I was a kid. I know, it’s complicated.
Some of my friends have embraced/accepted there’s no need to attend/belong to a specific church to know Jesus as your savior and rest assured that when the good Lord calls you home, you’re heaven bound. Most of me agrees with this, but part of me longs for the fellowship of belonging to an actual church. A building with a group of people who worship comfortably with you as a part of their church family. I know how easy it is to relinquish a habit which you’ve grown accustomed. When I’m physically hurt and can’t walk every morning, it’s not long before that daily habit is all but forgotten. Same thing when going to church on Sunday morning stops. Pretty soon it’s hardly missed. Not a feeling I’m comfortable with. Makes me uneasy.
First Reformed, the one I consider my home church, Rock Valley, Iowa…
We’ve been back in Jackson for 6 years. When we moved to Jackson the first time (from 1987-1994) we never went to church. It was like we moved out of Iowa and lost our religion. We had been very active in Davenport. But that would change during our 21 years in North Muskegon. Fifteen of those years were church infused. Equal parts of fulfilling and frustrating. The last couple years were downright unhappy-church wise. Once we settled back in Jackson, ‘going to church’ fell by the wayside. Again.
But I got this hankering. Something’s missing. So I’m church shopping again. Sigh. I’ve been to 7 churches so far. I might be too picky. Seems like all the ‘old-fashioned’ church service customs/traditions/music I ‘crave’ are like me, worn out and no longer relevant. In roughly 20 worship services I’ve not heard the Lord’s Prayer or The Apostle Creed. Not once. Same goes for any responsive reading-save for one church who does their scripture reading responsively. No liturgy before Communion. Only a couple churches offered a bulletin. When I asked for one, a gal responded, “just download the church app, that’s the way we do our collection too.” Ugh. Just ugh. That same day as I wandered around looking for the non-existent bulletin I noticed a folding chair in the Narthex, just outside the sanctuary entrance. On the chair sat a forlorn Communion tray, half filled with the newest fad, ‘hermetically sealed lunchable communion.’ No explanation, just sat there like it had been forgotten since the prior Sunday.
I’ve tried non-denominational, Presbyterian, Community, High Praise, Christian Reformed and 2 Baptists. Any more than ONE loud band-led, drum thumping, arms in the air, including 2 repetitive, monotonous verses sung over and over and I’m out. I just don’t get the allure of praise songs. Nothing excites me less about God than these awful songs except standing to sing them for 15 unbearable minutes. Nothing.
Yep, I thought you might notice. A Baptist Church. Actually, two of them. This from a Calvin Christian Reformed/First Reformed kid who memorized all traditional hymns/Lord’s Prayer/Apostles Creed sixty years ago. But there’s something spiking my radar when I stepped inside this big Baptist Church. (I checked out their website for service times beforehand and was happy to see 3 pastors-2 with small children. Children are a healthy part of Christian fellowship I think). Picked up a bulletin, stepped into the sanctuary, found a seat near the back and was blown away looking where the pulpit should be. Looked like a scene on a movie set from, ‘Under the Sea.’ The pastor explained Vacation Bible School was starting on Monday. Don’t know if this was a kit they purchased or their original concept but it was far superior from when I helped with VBS 40 years ago. Impressive. Slightly humorous that the small portable stand preacher man used for his sermon was sitting directly under a great white but I guess the lesson here is, the good Shepherd protects His sheep from the wolves or in this case, the shark.
Immediately I spot Bibles and Hymnals in every row. Hallelujah! I flipped through a hundred pages of the hymn book and recognized half of them (although they’ve not sung one that I know so far but they are traditional hymns). The bulletin lists several activities for men, women, teens and younger. By the time the service starts I gauge around 200 people in attendance, and I can see I’m in the minority in a couple categories. Not a lot folks with grey/white/silver hair (another good sign of a healthy congregation) and I’m about the only lady not wearing a dress, which I find a bit odd. (I won’t be dyeing my hair nor will I be wearing a dress. We’ve talked it over and God agrees to let me slide on both matters).
No praise music (thank you Jesus, can I get an amen)? A choir of about 20 line up to sing their special number first so they can disperse and sit with their families. Couple of hymns, prayer, announcements, then scripture is read responsively. His sermon explains the Bible verses in detail. Service was about 90 minutes. My reasoning has always been, God gives you a whole week, you can certainly give Him an hour (in this case hour and a half, probably making up so I don’t lose any more of my religion)…