Going to Church Again
“Where are we going, daddy?” Zeke asks, as he pulls the second sleeve of his big winter coat over his left arm.
“We are going to go to church this morning,” I reply, knowing that I haven’t given him that answer in quite some time.
“Church?” He responds skeptically. “Why are we going to church? Did you get a new job?”
So went the brief conversation with Zeke, my seven year old, yesterday as my wife and I gathered up the kids while simultaneously gathering up the courage to attend church for the first time in over 2 months.
There’s a strange sort of liberation-meets-despair in not having a home church. I’ve known plenty of people in my life who have been between churches, but that’s never been a chapter in the story of my life. As a youth I went where my mom went. In college I interned at a church. Upon graduating, I got a full-time Associate Worship Pastor job and worked there for two years. Then I moved to Arizona and worked at The Grove for the last five. But now…? Nothing. Nada. Zero church activity in Kate and mine’s life for the past 9 Sundays
On one shoulder I hear a small voice say, “now that you don’t WORK at a church, you can just WORSHIP at a church… any church you like! Just go for it!”
Her name is Liberation.
But you can call her Libby.
On the other shoulder I hear another voice: “You know that thing you’ve done every Sunday for the past 544 Sundays? That thing that’s helped define you and your life? The thing that keeps you centered and grounded, renewed and fresh? That thing that all your close friends do each week, and where you feel loved and accepted and a part of something? Yeah, well, that thing is gone.”
His name is Despair.
Or Dez, if you prefer.
Overdramatic? Perhaps. But it’s where I’m at right now, so deal with it.
Dez has been winning most every battle lately. I occasionally let Libby speak her piece, but I just can’t buy yet what she’s selling.
But yesterday Libby (supported by Katie) finally tasted victory.
We went to St Paul’s Episcopal Church here in Salem, OR, and having attended an Anglican church in Arizona a while back we had a general idea of what to expect. It was fun for me (as it usually is) to visit a church, because I get to see for fresh eyes what it’s really like coming to a church for the first time. Having worked full-time in the church for the past seven years I can’t tell you the number of meetings we’ve had wherein we discuss what we want our “first impression” to be for any visitors. We talk about what sort of experience they might have, or how they might interpret this or that. Most of that is guess work, since we’ve all been AT that church for years.
But when you visit, you get to really experience what it’s like to have a “first impression.”
We were warmly greeted by multiple people and quickly assisted in finding the nursery. There wasn’t (or so we thought) a kid’s program that day, so Zeke and Tai sat with us throughout the whole service. It was fun to see the slight look of surprise on people’s faces when they saw us and we confirmed that we were “new.” Either they don’t get many visitors or perhaps just not many young married couples with kids as visitors.
The sanctuary was stunning. My world for so long has been dominated by the Evangelical, post/modern church scene, where “theater” is the new “cathedral,” and giant screens are the new hymnals, that I forgot what sort of care and intentionality and beauty went in to constructing churches of old. I don’t know how long this church has been here, but its architecture is both dated and timeless, standing in the current future while echoing the dreams and designs from the past. With tall, arching wooden ceilings that reminded me of what Noah’s ark might look like if turned upside down. Beautiful stained glass windows all down either side, framed by wooden carvings depicting Biblical narratives. Two long rows of pews leading up to the front of the church with an elevated altar where eventually would sit the Eucharist elements. On the floor, in front of the altar, was a place for a band, a children’s choir, and a handbell choir. Suspended high above the Eucharist table was a beautiful golden cross.
Everything in the room seemed insistent that you, as the participating worshiper, knew full well that Christ was going to be the Center of whatever occurs in that space. Including the fact that the preaching “pulpit” was off to the side.
(for anyone who’s ever attended a worship gathering I’ve led, you may recall that I never stand in the center of the stage. I am always off to the side. This is intentional, for under no circumstance should our worship gatherings be confused and think that I should be the center of attention. So I love that the Episcopal church also forces action away from the center, where the Eucharist table resides and the cross hovers.)
The worship service itself was a beautiful liturgical dance. Moving from music to scripture to prayers to a sermon to more music and more prayers and more scripture readings. And everything worked its way towards Communion, for that is the pinnacle for which all previous expressions of worship lent themselves toward. (My fellow Catholic brothers and sisters shout a resounding “Well, duh!”)
I loved it. I loved that a woman (Rev. Heather Wenrick, Associate Rector) led much of the service, including giving a very fantastic sermon. A young woman, at that! (My wife loved this even more than I, and I’m sure she’ll blog about it soon!) The music (while I didn’t know any of it) was well done, even if not to my stylistic likings, but it all moved and flowed and had a purpose. And the words made me pause, think, reflect. I loved that my kids were welcome (in the pews the church had cards that welcomed parents of young kids, invited them to not stress out if their kids made noise, and invited non-parents to ALSO not stress out of the kids next to them made noise. How cool is that!?). I loved that the priest, when we went forward for communion, took time to ask us if the kids were receiving communion or a blessing. When we said “a blessing” he genuinely took the time to pray over both Zeke and Tai (we first experience this at Living Faith Anglican back in Arizona, where our dear friend Father Bob Fabey resided over worship. That was our first taste of Anglicanism/Episcopalianism, and it was wonderful. Thanks Bob!)
So, after a two month separation of church and self, it was good to be with the Lord’s people again on Sunday. And it was very good to be a part of St Paul’s. I’m sure we’ll be back.
Libby, thanks for not giving up on me. And Dez, thanks for taking the morning off. I’m sure you’ll be back, but the time apart was nice.
If you’re a life-time member of modern evangelical church world, I would strongly encourage you to visit a high-church some Sunday. Be it Anglican, Episcopal, or Catholic. Don’t worry, Jesus won’t mind. In fact, you’ll probably meet him there, in ways you’d never imagine.