Monthly Archives: January 2011

Spirituality and History

Church Experience #4 – Jan 23, 2011

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

It’s Denomination Time

After spending the first few weeks of 2011 attending non-denominational churches, I knew it was time to take ChurchSurfer into the denominational world.  Although I plan on visiting all of the popular denominations sometime this year, I couldn’t see myself going to a Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian church this week because that’s what I’ve known for the majority of my life and I really wanted to experience something new.  So I chose an Episcopal Church, because I know very little about that denomination.  It turns out that its a very interesting denomination…the history, the rituals, and the people I met were all very enlightening to me.  One of the ways I feel like I grew this week was in expanding my awareness of church history and the responsibility of carrying on traditions from generation to generation.  So get ready to jump back in time…

Creating an Atmosphere

As my wife, Laura, and I arrived at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, I examined the building and couldn’t help instantly noticing the stark architectural contrast between this church and the churches I had visited the previous two weeks.  The Net Church meets in a movie theater and New Covenant Fellowship is definitely built more for utility than aesthetic grandeur, and now here I was in front of a large church building that was beautifully constructed in a very detailed and classic brick theme with a multitude of windows.  I stopped for a moment to take a few photos and really listen for what this building was saying to me from the outside.  Already feeling pretty nostalgic, we entered the building (about 30 minutes early for the service) to look around and see what was going on.  I could immediately tell that the service was going to be very formal and ritualistic compared to the contemporary non-denominational services I’ve grown accustomed to.  Outside of the sanctuary was a bowl of (holy?) water and a decanter of wine and as I looked into the sanctuary I saw traditional wooden pews lining a spectacular room with wooden arches from the walls to the ceiling, a suspended metal cross above the pulpit, and two gloriously breathtaking paintings at the rear of the room above the entrance.  This scene instantly brought forth the argument in my mind of whether it is a wise use of a church’s money to build such a lavish building when it could instead go to provide food, shelter, and support for people in need.  This is an argument I haven’t settled within myself yet, because I think of the instance in the Bible when a woman poured expensive oils and perfumes on Jesus, and He overruled the disciples’ objection to her gesture.  I also think of Solomon’s Temple as an example of the material indulgence vs. moral acceptability argument.  Whether investing large sums of money on a fancy building is ethical or responsible is not my judgement call to make (thank God), but what I will say is that attending services in this Episcopal church brought out a deep sense of spirituality through these various atmospherics.  Inside this building you can’t help but feel the connectedness to the ancient times, from the beginnings of the Christian church and through all the ages to this very moment.  Those of us who seek God’s presence continue to use symbols, rituals, decorations, and buildings to aid us in the process, and many of these haven’t been changed for centuries.  (Visit the ChurchSurfer Facebook page for more pictures)

St. Peter's Episcopal Church sanctuary

A Young Ambassador

I won’t comment as much on the actual service this week except to say that it was very “Catholic” feeling.  There were a few traditional hymns mixed with congregational responses (some spoken, some sung) to the pastor’s readings of prayers and acknowledgements out of a hymnal-type book, a short sermon, communion, and greetings of peace among the people.  The service was new and interesting to me, but made a much lesser impression than one individual that I had the pleasure of meeting, and would like to spend more time writing about.  While sitting in the lobby outside of the sanctuary before the service, a young pre-teen stood off to the side mumbling to himself while struggling to put on a white robe and tie the rope belt the proper way.  He introduced himself as Marcus and I told him this was my first time attending an Episcopal church and asked him for his thoughts on St. Peter’s.  He then proceeded to go on what must have been a 10 minute continuous ramble (not sure if he was taking time to breathe or not) about their pastor, Reverend Carter Paden, the three different Sunday services that are offered, their youth group, his role in the service of carrying the crucifer (a golden cross on a wooden pole), the paintings in the sanctuary, and everything we would need to know about how to take communion  and participate in the service at this church.  He did all of this with such enthusiasm that it was impossible not to feel good about being there.  I remember thinking that if every church had young people (or anybody) like this who were as engaging, sincere, and downright excited about being there, attendance and retention would probably skyrocket.  Marcus explained that he was a Romanian orphan that was adopted and raised by his American family who were members of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.  He spoke with a local accent, so the adoption must have been as a baby, but it seemed that despite his young age he was fully aware and appreciative of just how blessed his life has been.  How refreshing it is to meet someone like this when our country is so full of people who take their wealth and privilege for granted and seem to have no concern for the people around them who struggle for even the most basic necessities.  Marcus invited us to come to the dining hall after the service for cake and coffee and fellowship time, which we did in hopes of meeting a few other church members, but instead ended up spending 20 more minutes talking (or more accurately, listening) to Marcus about his youth group mission trips, the pranks he and his buddies have pulled on their youth director, and the weekly 9:30 AM Sunday service that caters to families with young children where disciplining kids for making noise and moving around is not allowed by the pastor.

Wrap Up

One of the powerful feelings that I experienced at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church was the deep sense of historical spirituality and connectedness that filled me while being surrounded by such ageless artifacts of the Christian faith.  For those of you who are history buffs, I would highly recommend reading about the origins of the Episcopal church, which they themselves trace back through the colonial settlers of the 1700’s to the Church of England and beyond that to the original Christian churches, only distinguishing themselves from the Church of Rome (Catholic with a capital “C”) during the reformation to reject the claims of the pope to be the singular, universal authority.  In my experience at St. Peter’s I felt like the one glaring omission to the service was true worship.  I felt like worshiping and praising God through joyful and spirited music was almost completely absent, and the priority and significance of their service was to honor God through hymns and recitals that affirmed their beliefs and understanding of the Scriptures.  I loved the fold-out “kneelers” in each pew that allow you to comfortably kneel for prayer, which I think is not done enough by Christians these days.  To me, kneeling to pray is a symbol of complete surrender and submission to God, our only true authority.  I’m not sure why this act has mostly been removed from current church services, and replaced by simply bowing our heads and closing our eyes.  Getting on my knees before God is something I will make a point of doing more often moving forward.  I didn’t get in depth with the differences of beliefs and doctrines of the Episcopal church versus other denominations and faiths, but that’s really not my intention in the first place.  Instead, I succeeded in my goal of gaining new insight into the Christian faith, and experiencing God through people…thanks Marcus.

View more photos of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church at the ChurchSurfer Facebook page, and make sure to “like” it while you’re there!

Josh & Laura at St. Peter's Episcopal Church


A Lesson On Love

Church Experience #3 – Jan 16, 2011

New Covenant Fellowship Church

A Place for Every Race

With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day being celebrated the day after this week’s Sunday worship, I decided to choose a church based on the potential for insight into ethnicity and race in American Christianity.  A few weeks ago while browsing different churches online, I ran across New Covenant Fellowship, a Chattanooga church that actually brands itself as a “multi-ethnic” church.  The banner on their website proclaims “A Place 4 Every Race” with multi-color letters of blue, green, yellow, red, and purple.  I found it very interesting that a church would go out of its way to place a label on itself, and knew right then that I needed to go there at some point.  It seems that so many churches these days try to avoid any labels for fear of scaring away potential visitors, and by announcing up front that they are a multi-racial congregation, New Covenant Fellowship definitely risks exactly that.  There are probably still individuals who are very uncomfortable around large groups of people of a different ethnicity, and if you’ve never been to this church before, you have no way of knowing how balanced the representation of each race will be.  I personally could care less about a person’s race.  Other than contributing to your personality, I think race/color/ethnicity has very little consequence elsewhere in our lives.  Racism still exists in today’s world, but my experience has been that it comes from all races, not just one.  I’ve been the victim of racism…I’ve been threatened and called “cracker”, but I know that was the voice of the enemy, not of that race.  I also have lifelong friends from many different races…black, hispanic, asian, european.  People are people…period.  The only people I discriminate against are those who are filled with hate, and even though I choose to love all people, I certainly won’t call racist people my friends.

Dr. King Would Be Proud

My wife, Laura, and I showed up to New Covenant Fellowship about 30 minutes before worship.  I like to get to the churches I visit early so that I have the opportunity to talk to people.  If you really want to find out about a church, you don’t read the brochures (which I think every church in America seems to have), you talk to people…the members, the pastor, the elders, other visitors.  What these people show you and tell you will allow you to really see inside the church…brochures will tell you how the church sees itself.  The greeters at the front door opened the door for us, shook our hands, and welcomed us in with a smile.  After taking two steps into the building we were again greeted by more people with handshakes, smiles, and hugs.  A few more steps in and a man named Joe asked if we were visiting, which I guess was pretty obvious (more on that later), and after we told him yes he gave us a brochure <insert irony here> and showed us into the sanctuary, with more greetings, smiles, handshakes, and hugs on the way.  We made our way around to some seats, and after taking off our coats and sitting down, we both kind of looked at each other in awe as we reflected on the love fest we had just walked through.  I think my first remark was something like “Wow, they’re friendly here” and my wife commented that she had never received that many hugs in such a small amount of time, but now I know that friendly is an understatement.  I left my wife sitting (she’s a little shy) and walked around to see if I could find a couple of people to ask about their thoughts on this particular church.  I took a few steps and immediately met Ron and Howard, who were more than happy to offer their opinions with me.  They gave some basic answers like “they don’t brow beat you for money here” and “everyone makes you feel welcome”, which were both very true, but Ron said something that hit me like a tazer gun to the chest.  When I told him that as a visitor at their church I was impressed with the outpouring of love, he simply said “there are no visitors in God’s House“.  Whoa!  His statement summed up exactly what my experience had been during the first 15 minutes at New Covenant Fellowship…I hadn’t been in their building before, but I wasn’t a stranger.  I wasn’t a visitor.  It isn’t their building.  It’s God’s House and everyone is at home there and equally welcome.  It was obvious that the people of New Covenant Fellowship were color blind, because although I was by far a minority according to my race, it was like race didn’t exist in this building.  Dr. King would be proud.

From the Heart

After such a positive first impression from the members of New Covenant Fellowship I was definitely anticipating the worship and teaching.  The praise team on the stage consisted of six or more singers, and a full band that included keys, drums, guitar, bass, and saxophone (awesome!).  I think I tabbed the music style as “gospel funk” in a whisper to my wife, as we both swayed and bopped to the rhythm as we sang out the verses.  Most of the songs were a “call and response” style of singing with a song leader taking the lead with the calls and the rest of the praise singers and the congregation singing the backing response.  There was a nice mix of a few high energy gospel praise songs and slow ballads with beautiful harmonies.  I was also more than excited that a few of my favorite “new” classics, “Awesome God” and “How Great Is Our God”, were included.  The worship felt true and powerful, and then the Pastor, Dr. Bernie Miller, asked the congregation for an altar call for people who were struggling with forgiving others, and he prayed over the group.  Before launching into his sermon, all of the members who had anniversaries or birthdays were recognized and the congregation sang “Happy Birthday”.  A video clip about Abram’s departure from his homeland to journey to the land of Canaan along with his nephew Lot was shown and then Dr. Miller launched into his sermon.  He took the passages that speak of Abram’s journey in Genesis 12, and used them and some related New Testament passages to teach about covenants, legalism, and grace.  I appreciated that Dr. Miller used multiple scripture references to back up the points he was making, which shows he really wants his congregation to grasp the connections between Old Testament events/prophecies and New Testament teachings/fulfillments.  I particularly took to heart one quote from Dr. Miller on the topic of covenants…that God doesn’t want a commitment, he desires our surrender.

Another Display of Love

After having such a great experience on Sunday morning, I was excited to go back to New Covenant for the Wednesday night Bible study.  I came alone this time, and was curious if I would feel as welcome without my wife there with me.  On the way in the door, I introduced myself to Anitra, who was probably my parents’ age and sadly suffers from M.S. (although you’d never know this from her demeanor) and she greeted me with a warm smile and handshake.  Anitra then proceeded to introduce me to basically everyone who attended that night, beginning with her son Jameel and his four kids, and then the people who sat at the table with me…Marina, Russell, and Bro’ Bill (which he asked to be called).  She made a point of making sure I felt right at home, which reverberated the same experience I had on Sunday.  We ate a light supper together and then watched the video clip from the Sunday sermon and went into further study about Abram’s victory to rescue Lot and his gift of 10% of the spoils of war (which had been taken from Sodom) to Melchizidek, before returning the rest to the King of Sodom and to Lot.  He began to relate this story and the fact that the majority of Jesus’ teachings dealt with the topic of money and possessions to present day struggles over the same issues.  Dr. Miller then spent considerable time outlining to the group the churches plan to get the entire congregation out of debt over the next seven years by using pooled resources.  It’s such a tragedy in today’s world that people who have more wealth than they could ever need worship right along side people who are at rock bottom, without ever offering help.  New Covenant Fellowship obviously understands that this is not acceptable and has decided to take matters into their own hands.  If we as Christians aren’t willing to help our own, who else do we have to turn to?  If most aren’t even willing to give out of their excess, how will those who go without ever expect to receive even the basic necessities?  I would love to be a part of this process at New Covenant Fellowship and pray that I may be able to remain involved in some way even as I go through the rest of my Churchsurfer journey this year.

Final Thoughts

For anyone who has made it this far into this article, I hope that you have been as touched as I was by the kindness, love, and acceptance that I received from the people at New Covenant Fellowship.  I hope that you take into consideration how you interact with people who are new to your church.  Do you actively seek them out to make sure they feel welcomed?  Do you ask them to join your small group, come to your Sunday school class, or (God forbid) invite them over to your house for dinner?  When you see people in your congregation who you know are struggling to make ends meet, do you convene with others who are wealthy to devise a plan to help them out?  Could your church start a program to use pooled resources to help those members who are drowning in debt?  If you are interested in such a program I would highly recommend contacting myself or Dr. Miller at New Covenant Fellowship to explore how you could use their system at your own church.

Praise God!  What a great blessing I received this week!  Now the surfing must continue…more to come!

View sample video clips of the worship at New Covenant Fellowship here or visit http://www.youtube.com/user/churchsurfer


Church…the building or the people?

Church Experience #2 – Jan 9, 2011

the Net Church – Chattanooga

No building? No worries!

For my first Chattanooga church experience of 2011 I decided to visit the Net Church that currently meets in the Rave movie theater off I-24 near the Moore Road exit (184).  I decided to visit this church for two reasons: 1) I met the worship leader, MJ, at my company Christmas party back in December (his girlfriend was a newly hired employee) and he spoke passionately about his church, which is always good.  And 2) I was really interested to see what a church that once had a billboard that promoted their website, www.ifyouhatechurch.com, was like (visit their website for an explanation).  I’ve always been curious about the pros and cons of not having a church building.  On one hand, it seems like such a waste for every single church to build another building.  Do we really need that many church buildings?  It seems like the ones we already have don’t even get used that much.  On the other hand, I can see why a congregation would want their own space to hold events whenever they want.  The people at the Net certainly didn’t seem like not having their own building affected them in the least, and they definitely did an excellent job of utilizing the movie theater space effectively.

Church at the movies?

It definitely seemed strange walking up to a movie theater on Sunday morning to go to a church service.  It’s just one of those things where you unconsciously have expectations in certain settings because of past repetitive experiences.  The atmosphere inside was a distinct break from my typical movie theater experience.  The greeters at the door weren’t tearing tickets and I didn’t have to pull out my wallet to shell out $20 to get inside.  Once inside I was pleasantly surprised to see several rooms being used as child care facilities, and in the hallway outside of the worship theater was an impressive spread of refreshments.  I’m a huge fan of free coffee before church, and to be honest I don’t understand why every church doesn’t do this.  It seems like a well-caffeinated congregation would increase the probability for energetic worship and attentiveness during the sermon…just sayin’.  In fact, I’d like to see a study done comparing tithing and collections in a caffeinated congregation vs. coffee-free…I’d wager that coffee drinkers are more generous.  Who’s willing to try to prove me wrong?  The Net not only had free coffee, but there were donuts and other goodies…score!  My wife and I got there fairly early, so we stood around in the hallway drinking coffee and watching all the goings-on.  The environment seemed very relaxed with the majority of people wearing jeans and casual clothes, and there was a fairly balanced mix of all ages from small children up to 40-somethings, with the 50-plus crowd being a little light but still represented.  We didn’t really get approached by many people, but the few people that I engaged in conversation seemed friendly and open.

Hi-Def worship

The one thing I can say about going to church at the Net, was that it was amazingly comfortable.  The theater seats were the plush kind that recline when you lean back and the armrest cupholders are a great thing for coffee drinkers (OK, so maybe I’m coffee obsessed).  The worship music was very modern with electric instruments and contemporary worship songs with the lyrics displayed on the movie screen.  I love the sound of electric worship, but for me it creates more of a passive worship experience rather than active worship.  I enjoy the sound and internalize the music more than other styles of worship music, but I find it difficult to sing along and outwardly worship.  My explanation would be that this is the kind of music I want to hear on the radio, because when I’m in the car I like to feel the music and contemplate the lyrics, but at church I prefer active worship.  For other people that don’t like to dance, jump, wave arms, and belt out simplified lyrics (like my wife Laura), this would probably be an ideal worship experience for you.  All in all, this worship experience seemed pretty “chillaxed” yet edgy…retro enough for Generation X’ers to feel nice and grungy, but current enough for Generation Y’ers to wallow in emo bliss (if you didn’t follow that part, ask a teenager for translation).

Beattitudes, dude

After worship concluded, Pastor Ryan announced that he was beginning a 6 month long study on three chapters in Matthew including 8 weeks on the Beattitudes.  This is exactly the kind of sermon series that I like, getting down and dirty with some real Bible study.  I find that a lot of preachers spend too much time giving a Holy Spirit pep rally and fail to give the congregation the Bible meat that will sustain that Holy Spirit energy and help build some real Faith muscle.  I really liked the way Pastor Ryan took notice that Jesus’ first recorded spoken message in Matthew (and the New Testament) was a blessing, which launched his Earthly ministry.  I never really thought of it that way, but it definitely makes sense.  He then drew the parallel that the beginning of the Christian life for new believers is like the beginning of Jesus’ ministry…it starts with a blessing.  How great is our God that the instant we choose to accept the sacrifice of His Son as payment for our sins, and we confess that Jesus is our Savior, we are blessed in that moment with eternal life.  Wow.  I’d like to let you know that in the process of typing those words I was brought to tears.  Without deserving any grace or mercy, we are freely given a full measure by the Lord our God.  I’d love to hear the rest of Pastor Ryan’s Matthew series, but alas…my “50 church” surfing adventure must continue.  I’m sure God will continue to bless me with wisdom and insight into His Word from many more of the sermons I will hear.

No popcorn, but bread instead

The service closed with an open invitation for everyone to partake in communion.  I’ve seen communion served and handled many different ways, and in this case it was provided in self-serve stations.  People were asked to come down to the communion station and tear a piece of bread from the loaf and dip it into the bowl of grape juice.  I don’t have a problem with the different ways in which communion is offered, and for those who do, I’m very sorry that you’re getting hung up on ceremonial practices.  What I feel is important is that everyone has a clear understanding of why they are taking part in this practice so that it does not become ritualistic and lose its meaning to anyone.  I can also see some people being nervous about walking up in front of a large congregation to take communion, and this may sound harsh, but get over it!  Jesus hung on the cross for us and if we can’t make a public statement by walking up and taking communion in front of everyone, there may be deeper issues that need to be addressed.  All I can say is to ask and trust God, He will give you both the desire and the strength to take advantage of these opportunities to publicly affirm your faith.

Closing

After the service ended my wife and I stuck around for the monthly Q & A time that Pastor Ryan and some of the other church leaders set aside for visitors and new members.  They asked for an introduction from each of us and gave us a good history of where this church came from and what their goals are (you’ll have to either attend for yourself or visit their website for that info).  They explained that home-based small groups were an essential part of their ministry in order to fulfill the need for fellowship and developing Christian relationships.  The Sunday worship was to fulfill the need for group worship and Bible teaching.  Everyone I met at the Net Church was very nice, but I really would have liked to meet more people to get a feel for what their church meant to them and why they attended there.  Maybe those questions are for another time.  Until then, so long and may God bless His faithful servants at the Net Church Chattanooga.


Big state, small town, sunny California

Church experience #1 – Dec 31, 2010 / Jan 1, 2011

Can you really call this church?

OK, so my first church experience of 2011 for the churchsurfer blog wasn’t really a typical church service…it was a wedding/worship/New Year’s celebration.  There’s only one church that I’ve ever been to that would not classify an event of this nature as “out of the ordinary” and that happens to be the church that it took place at – Word of Life Fellowship in Mi-Wuk Village, California.  If you’re wondering why someone from Tennessee spent their New Year’s in a church in a tiny mountain town in the Sierra-Nevada’s, it was to see his sister get married (congratulations Simon & Julia).  Even though this event was a wedding and a New Year’s celebration rolled into one, it was still most definitely church.  The Word of Life congregation doesn’t really do anything without “churching things up” (I’ll get into that later), so for the purposes of the churchsurfer blog, I think this will be a relevant starting point.

New school meet old school

One of the more surprising realizations that I have had in my many traverses around the country is how similar places really are.  The communities of Sonora, Twain Harte, and Mi-Wuk Village, California, are eerily similar to the small towns of Abingdon and Damascus, Virginia where I grew up.  What I would (stereotypically)  imagine most churches in California to be – casual, laid back congregations of surfer dudes and chicks – is most definitely not the case at Word of Life.  It has more similarities with 1st Baptist Church of Damascus circa 1985…men always wearing suits and ties, cleanly shaved, well groomed, polite, and the women wearing skirts or dresses, modest and friendly.  The people of Word of Life seem reserved at first introduction, yet their worship is anything but.  I guess this is a great lesson in how outwardly appearance can cause you to completely misjudge things in so many facets of life.  Had I drawn an initial conclusion about Word of Life Fellowship based on appearance I would have been way off base.

Worship wedding worship = wedding sandwich

So now to describe the “wedding sandwich” that took place on New Year’s Eve 2010.  The services were taking place in the fellowship hall as opposed to the church sanctuary (I’m assuming because this was as private event, not a church function, but not sure).  I escorted the mother of the bride (my mom also) in to our front row seat and from that point on I was simply a spectator as there were no groomsmen or bridesmaids or any further reasons/opportunities for me to participate.  One of the church worship leaders announced that it was the wedding couple’s wish that we begin the night with singing and worship, which seems like a good idea to me.  I wonder why Christian events don’t always include worship.  It seems like prayer is always included in events/gatherings, but unless it’s an actual church service there is rarely any worship.  Note to self – worship more.  I believe God deserves worship more than he requires prayer…hmmm that comment may get me in trouble.  Remind me to think things through before writing them down (and then refusing to delete them out of principal).

We began worship with a contemporary style praise song accompanied by a band (electric guitar, bass, drums, piano) and 5 mic’d singers.  When this congregation praises they really, really get into it.  With the majority of people lifting both hands in the air, waving and extending their arms toward the heavens to add emphasis to the lyrics along with the crescendos of the music, it’s like they are both worshiping as a whole yet also in complete disregard to everyone around them at the same time.  They truly seem connected during this time, praising God with all of their spirit channeled through their voice and bodies, projecting their energy out and up where it collects and gets lifted to God as a lively and celebratory praise song.  Off to the side were a few adults and young children waving banners of various design and bright colors.  I noticed one of the banners had two conjoined rings, and I’m certain this and the other banners have specific meanings and are chosen to add blessings to the couple on behalf of the church.  When the verses had all been sung, the band continued to jam as everyone broke off into a sort of free-form singing/chanting/praying time where everyone praised God in their own melodic way.

After the music ended, the bride entered through a decorative arch-way and stood across from her soon-to-be husband in front of the three pastors who were conducting the wedding ceremony.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wedding officiated by more than one pastor, but it only makes sense that it would happen for the first time at this particular wedding.  Two of the pastors, Pat and Celine McDonald, serve as full time pastors of Word of Life and the third was Mark Davis, who is also the father of the bride.  Each pastor offered words of encouragement for the couple’s future together, commanding them to stay true to the principles of Christian marriage by providing for the needs of their spouse according to the details outlined in the Bible.  There were no pre-canned wedding vows, just straight from the heart, led by the Spirit truths flowing no doubt from God Himself through the mouths of these three very capable messengers.  Everyone in attendance was visibly touched by the message and blessings offered to the wedding couple, which culminated in the exchanging of the rings and a kiss.  After the new couple had been announced there was a time for prophecy, during which 3 or 4 of the church elders spoke various messages about the couple’s past, present, and future.  The prophecies seemed to have a very “King James-ian” feel to them and the prophets’ mannerisms and speech patterns suggested they were not in control of their messages, but were merely instruments used for the delivery.

Post-ceremony, food, cake, and some toasts were offered up from various friends and family members of the bride and groom.  Without being prepared to make a toast (since there weren’t groomsmen and I didn’t know what to expect out of this whole wedding experience) I was, of course, asked to make one.  I’m not sure what I said, except that I am sure that it included something about how I had always been the quality consultant for my sister’s romantic interests and that I really felt like I wouldn’t have to try to beat up the groom for treating my sister badly.  And yes, I’m pretty certain that it sounded as idiotic when I spoke it as it does now that I’m writing it.  I also mentioned something about her naked balloon dance that she performed as a toddler for some of my parent’s dinner guests one time, and she’ll probably be just as mad that I included that information in my blog as she was that I announced it to the members of her church.  Oh well, that’s what little brothers are for.  The evening concluded after the wedding sandwich had been topped with another slice of spirited worship, straight into the New Year (which was announced at 10 minutes after midnight…no countdown).  Lots of hugs and well wishes took place, as with any gathering of closely connected friends and family, and we eventually called it a night and headed out to catch a red-eye out of San Francisco.

Reflection

After attending the worship/wedding/New Year’s celebration at Word of Life Fellowship, I can’t help but wonder why most popular denominational and non-denominational churches don’t engage in truly spirited worship.  I’m not saying that there is a right or wrong way or that one church does things better or worse, but I do believe it’s my obligation to contemplate the reasons why things are the way they are.  My guess is that if I went to a Rolling Stones concert I’d see people dance, clap, wave their arms, pump their fists, and belt out their favorite lyrics at the top of their lungs.  So is Mick Jagger more important to a Stones fan than Jesus is to most Christians?  Are Christians inherently shy or embarrassed to show real passion?  Or is it that Christians are overly concerned about their image and how they will be perceived by others?  Most of the worship I’ve participated in throughout my life has consisted of singing, but not too loudly…swaying, but definitely not dancing with energy…maybe raising my hands, but there’s no way it would be OK to grab a banner and run around the church waving it with enthusiasm.  Why?  I’m not even sure.  That’s just the way things are at most churches, and I’m sure most people aren’t interested in taking a chance by doing something different and potentially drawing attention to themselves.  But aren’t things more fun and exciting when there’s an element of danger?  Don’t you get a bigger reward when there is a little more risk involved?  My goal with Churchsurfer is to experience the churches I go to the way they do, and I’m sure I’ll get insight into all styles of worship, but my recommendation to you is to get out of your comfort zone and truly worship with energy, passion, and complete disregard to everyone else’s opinions…at least once.  You might find out you like it.

Pictures of this event are available at the Churchsurfer Facebook page


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