Sunday Church Hopping (Presbyterian)

My eyes pop open, and I reach for my phone to check the time.   6:30 a.m.  Weird.  I usually snooze until the last possible second.  But today, I am awake 45 minutes before the alarm clock is set to sing its happy tune.  This must be a good omen.

I cruise into church at 8:30 a.m.  The service starts at 8:45, so I am here early enough to scope the scene. I gaze around the sanctuary, noting that it kind of feels like … someone’s cabin.  The floor and the ceiling is real wood paneling, which lends a cozy feel.  There are wooden chairs with red cushions, instead of pews.  I find the fact that I could move my seat, if I chose to, oddly reassuring.  The cross hanging above the alter is made of a rough wood.  As I settle in, I feel a comfort that I haven’t felt in church in a while.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I notice them:  the band.  They are praying in a circle, holding hands.  A man, obviously the leader, begins a prayer asking for God to lead them through the servcie.  I feel myself tense up a bit… the whole scene smacks of my youth group days.

I am startled out of my reverie by a large bald man saying good morning.  Seems he is the pastor.  Pretty nifty that he noticed I am a new face.  Score one for Senor Pastor.

No sooner does he walk off than the band starts up (2 guitarists, a bass player, drummer and about 6 singers).  Rockin’ out for Jesus.  At this point, if Monkito were with me, she would be rolling her eyes and silently begging me to take her out of this place.  But, honestly, I really dig this stuff.  I mean, if I am going to sing to God, I might as well do it like I mean it.  A little enthusiasm doesn’t scare me.

Band Leader Cat follows up the first song with a prayer.  It begins…”Gracious Father in Heaven, we humbly approach you, knowing that we are not worthy of the blood You shed on the cross for us…”  Uh oh.  PensivePea Theology 101:  Vehement opposition to the idea of Original Sin. I struggle to tune back in.  I came here to commune with God, and I will not be deterred by …

Oh my good Lord, is he praying or is this a sermon?  Blood of Christ… Salvation…Um, is someone going to reign this guy in?

After the sermon/prayer, Bald Pastor takes over.  I feel a sense of relief.  Surely, things will hop back on track.  He asks for volunteers to talk about how the Holy Spirit worked in their lives during the Lenten study.  Some people share about growing closer to their husband or wife through the study, they bring up answers to prayer and ways they have grown in faith.  The woman next to me stands up and shares about her very difficult childhood … made more difficult by the fact that her father was an alcoholic and a non-believer.

I am floored.  Does non-believer really rank up there with alcoholic in ways that one can destroy the people around them?  Because I know alcoholics.  And I know Atheists… and in measuring pure havoc wreaking, the alcoholics win hands down.  I bristle at this “us vs. them” idea that Christians seem to carry about “non-believers.”  I have a visceral response to that sort of self-righteousness… a self-righteousness that I fully embraced as a teenager, trust me.

I offer a silent prayer for this woman’s suffering and for my own judgment on the terms in which she told her own story.  Sometimes carrying a lot of baggage about religion is a real bitch.

Bald Pastor begins his sermon about giving.  He touches on some beautiful points:

  • Giving with a generous heart allows us to move beyond obligation to joy, seeing giving as a privilege to serve God.
  • We should give ourselves to God, because God gave Himself to us.

I am down with this message.  Where he loses me is in his assertion that if we don’t give to the point of financial strain, we are not trusing God, that the Holy Spirit is not working in us.  If he had said that we should give that much to the poor, to the suffering, to the sick, to the homeless, then I could embrace that.  But demanding that much for the church simply seems like a power play … It seems like a hollow request.

He begins his final prayer:  “Sanctification… justification… claiming the Blood of Christ….”

I walk out after the Benediction and take a deep breath.  I feel deeply grateful for the God of My Own Understanding that I have developed a deep, abiding relationship with… instead of the God of my Upbringing that I encountered in church today.

Can I get an Amen?

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