Another Sunday — I’m On A Boat!

This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

Should I post these things when I don’t attend a worship service? There will definitely be times when the answer to that is yes; there are Sundays when it’s abundantly clear that God had somewhere specific for me to be for “church” other than at a worship service.

This past Sunday, I thought, might have been one of those. I had hoped to take my new kayak out the last couple of weekends, but weather and ill health had prevented it. So when my pastor suggested we should go out on the river on Sunday, I eagerly accepted.

Based on past experiences, I had anticipated that, in addition to some good kayaking, it could very possibly be a good “church” experience as well. As it turns out, not so much. There wasn’t a whole lot of conversation in general, and the only conversation of a spiritual nature was me saying that I wasn’t terribly overwhelmed when the book he’d loaned me, Forgotten Godby Francis Chan.

So, it was not at all the experience I thought it might be. But, really, that’s OK.

On the one hand, I believe firmly in the idea of “church” as the fellowship of the body of believers. I’m not one of these people who believes I can go out for a hike by myself on a Sunday morning and that be “church.” Yes, you can spend time with God that way, but spending time with God is not “church.” Church requires other people. I’ve been on hikes that were “church,” but only when I go with other people.

But, the flip side of that, however, is that I don’t feel like I missed church on Sunday, any more than I feel like I missed Target shopping. I do frequently shop at Target on Sunday, but out of convenience rather than obligation. Likewise Sunday morning worship. I enjoy worship services, and Sunday morning is a good time for going to them. But at this point, Sunday morning is not the focus of my church involvement. I believe firmly in church, but I also believe church is about fellowship, and I get far more fellowship through my Wednesday night small group than I ever have through a Sunday morning worship service. My need for “church,” then, has little to do with Sunday mornings.

To be sure, this church journey process pretty much requires attending Sunday morning worship services, and, as a rule, that’s where I need to be on Sunday mornings. However, this post is mostly just to say that there will be exceptions to that, some out of necessity, of course, and some “just ’cause.” And when that happens, I may or may not blog it.

Next week, for example — who knows?

Also, I’ll blog more about the kayaking part of it soon.

Another Sunday — The Grove

This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

The fun thing about the journey is that I rarely have any idea where I’m going after I finish at one church. Sometimes it just sort of occurs to me, or sometimes somebody suggests somewhere, and it just seems right. Other times, because of circumstances, I know exactly where I’m supposed to be. This past Sunday was one of those. I finished up with Southwood last time I was there, and needed somewhere to go next. When I got the word from Michelle, in my Journey Group at Sojourn, that the group she went on a mission trip to Costa Rica with this summer was going to be talking about their experience this past Sunday at The Grove Baptist Church in Madison, I knew where I was supposed to be that week.

The Grove was one of the smaller churches I’ve been to during this journey, sanctuary-size-wise, but was completely packed out, and thus probably had larger attendance than some of the much-larger churches. The atmosphere was very contemporary — a full band played worship music, the sanctuary had chairs instead of pews, I didn’t see a pulpit. It may have just been because they were having a special program, but I was amused that they had a bulletin with no order of worship.

I was reminded of how much I enjoy being able to sort of let go during the musical praise part of a worship service. I am a hand-raiser. And I realized Sunday, though, that I will only raise my hands when I’m at a church where other people are. It doesn’t have to be common, but there have to be at least a couple of other people doing it. At first, I felt sort of chicken, like I wasn’t brave enough to do it on my own. But then I realized that part of the point of the journey is to experience how different churches worship, and that I really do make an effort to embrace that where ever I am. If I raise my hands during the songs at Southwood, I’m defeating the purpose of being at Southwood. Being at a church where I could, however, for the first time in a while was VERY nice. I’d forgotten how much I missed it.

Also on a musical note, so to speak, we sang a song I like a lot, “God of This City.” The funny thing is, it’s a song I very much associate with this journey, since it’s an exploration of the Church at Huntsville; the song and the journey both have an awareness of “the city” as a religious entity. The funny part of that is, I wasn’t technically in the city this Sunday when we were singing that, and the first time I made a note of that song, possibly the first time I heard it, was at The Open Door in Lafayette, La., also very much not in my city. (In further irony, they did another song at The Grove that we sang on one of the three Sundays I was at The Open Door, “You Are Good.”)

I realized that this was my first time attending a Sunday morning service at a Baptist church in over a year, which is interesting to me. For the first 32 years of my life, I never went anywhere else for more than a week or maybe two in a row.

Like I said, the service was used as an opportunity for the mission trip team to present about their experiences, and I was glad to be able to be there for that. There’s a chance that I’m going on a mission trip to Costa Rica myself this fall, and I was interested in what they had to say about it.

The pastor explained why they had waited six weeks after the trip for the presentation. “When you come back from a trip like that, you are, one physically exhausted, and, two, you are spiritually spent.” He went on to say that it takes a fair bit of time to figure out how you have been changed by the experience. And I think he’s got a point — another good friend of mine just got back from a mission trip a couple of weeks ago, and it’s been interesting to see her thoughts and impressions of the trip evolving during that time. I’ll be curious to see how she feels about her experience six weeks out.

The presentation was very cool, possibly as a result of that decision to wait. There was a slideshow, but it wasn’t until the very end, after everyone had spoken. The presentations, then, were less travelogue and timeline than testimony, talking about how the trip had touched and changed them. Very personal, very spiritual, very meaningful.

It made me hope all the more that God sees fit to send me this fall, but I’m very much trusting that if I’m supposed to go, it will work out, and if it doesn’t, I wasn’t supposed to.

Up next — I’m not sure. After this visit to a Baptist church, there’s another that I think I may have to go back to in the very near future. Not sure if it will be this Sunday, however. My pastor sent me an e-mail recently about bringing my new kayak and going out with him on Sunday. If he’s thinking Sunday morning, that may be church. We’ll see.

Another Sunday — Sojourn II

This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

This past Sunday, I was back at Sojourn, teaching kids again.

On a practical note, I am still working on my approach. I’ve been doing this since January, and am still finessing it. I think I’m doing much better than I was in the beginning, but I’m still working kinks out. This month I think was not quite as good as the two before it, but I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe next month with be better. And, as with improv shows, I’m open to the idea that sometimes the audience is just in a different place from one to the next, regardless of my work.

The lesson was about love and service, and specifically about Christ washing the apostles’ feet at the Last Supper. The kids were taught that the act was a demonstration on Christ’s part that He loved His apostles, but also a lesson to them that just as He was not too good to take on the role of a servant in washing their feet, they should be willing to humble themselves to serve others. A good reminder.

The funny thing is, this story has become so linked in my mind with the Biblical picture of marriage that I have to remind myself that, strictly speaking, it has nothing to do with marriage at all. At least, there’s no direct mention or application to marriage in the passage.

Everybody likes to get all debate-y about the verses that instruct that wives are supposed to submit to their husbands, but generally are much less concerned about the verses that say husbands are supposed to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Possibly because “love” is such a much more agreeable thing to do than “submit”; and possibly because it’s easy to parse “as Christ loves the church” modifier to mean something as simple as, like, “a lot,” which we’re totally comfortable with.

I did some research last year about what that phrase might actually mean, Biblical ways in which Christ loves, and how they might apply to the role of a husband in marriage. But if I had to pick one passage to be the answer, to serve as a picture of what that might mean, that would be it — Christ humbling himself into the role of a servant to wash the apostle’s feet. The gesture is very much one of putting yourself beneath another, submission not just in authority but in worth; a higher calling of putting one’s spouse ahead of oneself than wives are called to.

Next week — back on the road. I think I may be supposed to go to some place called Grove Baptist, but I’ll let you know when I’m done.

Another Sunday — Southwood III

This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

OK, I’m behind on blogging, so this is actually about Sunday just over a week ago.

I went back to Southwood, but this time visited their formal service. Several difference, though I’ll throw out the caveat that I can’t be sure that they hadn’t changed things in general since I didn’t go to both services on the same week.

From the impressions I had, however, it was very cool how manifest the differences between the two services were. The formal service used a different, much longer bulletin, because it included the words to all the songs. During the informal service, the words were projected on a screen at the front of the church, as I walked into the formal service, the screen was being rolled up. The music was different, not purely traditional, but a mix of hymns and more traditional-sounding contemporary songs. People were a little more dressed up, but there were still knit shirts and a few jeans.

I was a little surprised at how much more full the sanctuary was, given that the dress was nicer and the service was at 8:30 instead of 11. The place was pretty much packed, relatively speaking.

It’s not relevant to the comparison, but the sermon was on Zechariah 3:1-7 and was titled The Gospel According to Zechariah. And, indeed, there was a decidedly New Testament flavor to the verses.

The most fascinating thing to me was toward the end of the service, when we observed the Lord’s Supper, which we’d also done when I was there last time. This time, it was done completely differently. Rather than going up to the front of the sanctuary to receive the elements, we remained in our pews and they were passed around, an approach that was essentially what I’ve grown up with. (The bread was the same distinctive kind used last time, which I was glad of.) For whatever reason, I believe I’m leaning toward communion that involves getting up and leaving your seat as my preference. Not sure why.

Unless I’m mistaken, that concludes my visiting of Southwood. I enjoyed visiting there, and found it similar in many ways to the type of worship I had grown up with.

Another Sunday — Southwood II

This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

I returned this week to Southwood Presbyterian. My original plan had been to go back to Southwood and visit the formal service this time, versus the informal of last time, but breakfast plans with a Sojourn friend meant that I ended up at the informal service again. (Part of this journey is that it has to be rather whimsical; I find that being flexible to things like that makes me end up where I’m supposed to be.)

My actual sermon notes are fairly scattered and personal, so I’ll stick here mainly to the logistical stuff:

When I came in, scattered throughout the pews were what looked like towels or possibly shawls. I was terribly intrigued. I had never seen this before, and had no idea what they might be used for, some sort of weird Presbyterian rite that I had never heard of. I was one of the first people in the sanctuary, and was concerned with whether I should be doing something. Should I sit near one? Away from one? Was I supposed to do something with it? I texted a Presbyterian friend, but, unfortunately, didn’t get a response until too late. Long story slightly shorter, I was terribly disappointed there were there because it was cold in the sanctuary, and people could use them to cover up. An amusing encapsulation of the journey — every congregation, every denomination has its own unique traits and traditions. But some things are just universal.

There was no observation of communion this week as there was last time I was there. For some reason, the fact that they did it the first week I was there made me assume it was a weekly thing, rather than me just being “lucky” enough to come the week they did, despite the fact that’s happened at other churches I’ve visited. I’m increasingly realizing I enjoy weekly communion. If I were starting a church, communion would be observed weekly, and the elements would be received separately and individually (versus intinction or communal cups).

New this time from the last was a period of confession of sin. There was a paragraph in the bulletin labeled “Public Confession” that everyone read aloud in unison, followed by a silent period in which we were to confess our sins to God. An interesting practice. To be honest, this is an area I need to give more study to. As I understand it, there is instruction to confess sins to the body, but I really don’t know what we are supposed to do.

There was a guest preacher, and during the service when references were made to “preaching,” the term “opening God’s Word for us” was used. “So-and-so is there to open God’s Word for us” today. And interesting phrasing. Don’t know if it’s use was random or coincidence, but it was an intriguing way of putting it.

I still feel like I need to go to the formal service; and perhaps will do that next week.

Another Sunday — Sojourn I

I wrote two weeks ago about starting my church journey again, visiting Southwood Presbyterian for the first time. I had planned to go back the following week, but that didn’t work out.

This past Sunday, I was back at Sojourn for my one-Sunday-a-month responsibility to teach a lesson for the kids. This week was about the call for Christians to be the light of the world, and what that means. I got to use my “God is my iPhone” analogy, which made me happy.

Sunday, hopefully, back to Southwood.

Another Sunday — Southwood I

I wrote yesterday about resuming my church journey, which I did this past Sunday by visiting Southwood Presbyterian Church.

Southwood was a remainder from the first round of the journey; I always assumed I would go there, but never did before settling down at Sojourn. But now I have.

I went to their second service, which was their informal service, showing that all things are relative — their informal service was still more formal than anything we do at Sojourn. I’m planning on going back Sunday and experiencing the formal service, but, so help me, I am not wearing a tie. Really wish I could just wait until the weather is more conducive to a jacket. But, here am I, Lord, right?

The service was about “Reconciling Relationships,” and particularly about repairing things after you’ve been wronged by a brother. My Journey Group lesson four days earlier had been about Forgiveness, and touched on some of the same things. To be honest, neither lesson really challenged me. There’s no arrogance in me saying I don’t struggle with letting go of grievances, rather, I’m too far the opposite direction; it’s not hard for me to forgive, but it’s too easy for me to let myself be hurt.

That happened several times during my last journey, however — I would attend a church for the first time, and the sermon would be on a subject that’s familiar to me or that I’d studied recently, which allows me to focus more on the context than the content. On a typical Sunday, I’ll fill a page of my notebook with sermon notes. On a first or second visit to a church, there may be a few lines about the sermon, and much more about the church itself. That was definitely the case Sunday.

I’ll spare the technical stuff — stage set-up, etc. I will note that while I was there it was almost the first time I’d been in a pew all year. The last time I was in a church pew was back in December when I went to a Christmas event at Whitesburg. I say “almost,” because, technically, I sat in a pew last month at the Mother Church of Country Music — the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The fact that was the only time I’d sat in a pew this year seems somehow appropriate.

There was an interesting comment made early in the service — “Many of you are here because, whether you recognize it or not, someone prayed for you.” I wondered if that was true for me. Certainly, I doubt anyone prayed for me to be at Southwood specifically, but even so …

I also jotted down — “I do not ask to see the way my feet will have to tread” from one of the songs we sang. ‘Cause, you know, I totally do. Constantly. It’s hard for me to not.

The best part was taking communion, which, as I’ve written before, is a subject that’s of particular interest to me. I’d never observed communion in quite this way before, sort of a crossover between a Baptist and Catholic approach. It was open, so I was able to participate (and the guidelines and process were included in their awesome-looking bulletin, which I thought was great). Everyone went up front, and received a small cup and a morsel of bread from someone, who said “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given because He loves you so much. Do this in remembrance of Him.” I really liked the way it was done, for a lot of reasons.

OK, enough rambling. That was my Sunday.