By Teena Myers
I was looking for a Baptist church. I found what used to be a Baptist church. Their pastor led the congregation into an affiliation with the Free Grace Alliance in the mid-1980s. The church offered Sunday school at 9 a.m. and worship service at 10 a.m. I like churches with Sunday School. The smaller group setting makes it easy to interact.
Two men were chatting at the door when I arrived. One of them was the pastor. A warm and friendly shepherd who shook my hand, asked for my name, gave me a bulletin and directed me to Sunday School held in the main sanctuary of the church.
There were 12 people scattered about an estimated 250 chairs. A woman entered from a side room and stopped to greet me. I sat down. She sat across the aisle and then approached me again. As warm and friendly as the pastor, she started another conversation.
“What brought you here today?”
That question left me in a quandary. If I tell the truth, I won’t get the potential new member treatment. Lying was not an option either. I settled for, “I am visiting churches in the area.”
As soon as she returned to her seat, another woman approached me. “Is this your first time here?”
This was the first time people had showed this much interest in who I was.
We did not study the Bible in Sunday School. The pastor chose lighter fare for the Sunday before Christmas. Several people described three gifts, one real, and two fiction. The congregation had to choose which gift the person really received. The elementary school principal gets the prize for the most entertaining presentation. Option one: a student gave him a box of foods from around the world called Taste of the Month. The foods were disgusting. Every month that student wanted to know what he thought of that months offering. Option two: vibrating fleece lined slippers called Sole Salvation that made his feet itch. Option three: Battery operated hunting underwear. The underwear had a warning not to get them wet or the wearer would receive a shock. The real gift–Sole Salvation.
The conversation turned to bad Christmas gifts. The pastor received chocolate-covered cherries from his wife’s sister for ten years. He loathes chocolate-covered cherries. Earliest Christmas gift we could remember. A woman received a horse from a catalogue. “They sell horses from a catalogue?” exclaimed the pastor. “Yes, they are plastic and they don’t poop,” she said.
Next on the agenda, the best Christmas gift we have received. A woman’s husband bought her a chameleon and live crickets to feed it. He was trying to dump the uncooperative crickets into a container. Many of them escaped. The woman’s mother could hear him in the utility room saying, “Shit, shit, shit.” I looked around the church for a reaction to an expletive being spoken within the holy walls of the church. No one had fainted.
Sunday School concluded thirty minutes early. Filling the spare time did not prove to be a problem. A third woman approached me. “Do I know you?” We exchanged names. She was glad I came today. There were coffee and snacks in a side room. I declined.
I looked at the bulletin and heard. “Good morning, my name is Tony. You look very familiar to me.” We exchanged names. He did not recognize mine, nor I his name.
“That happens to me a lot,” I explained. “Seems I have a familiar face, and I look like every one’s friend, sister, aunt, cousin…”
“Brother,” he added to the list.
“Well, I would not take it that far.” We laughed. He departed after telling me how glad he was to have me in church this morning.
“We have coffee, tea, and snacks,” said a woman.
“Thank you, but I ate right before I left for church this morning.”
“We are not usually this crazy,” she replied. I smiled. Was she talking about the “shit, shit, shit” comment? I didn’t ask.
My next visitor, the pastor, “We have coffee and snacks. The restrooms are right down the hall.” He is the first pastor since I started this series who took the time to get to know me. He also asked what brought me to the church. I told him the truth. The conversation turned into a networking session. The subject of writing arose. He writes short stories that would be perfect for the faith blog. He planned to retire soon and was interested in being a contributor. I gave him my card and told him about the Southern Christian Writers Guild. He introduced me to a woman who has a Christian radio program and departed. She gave me her card.
The bulletin had the order of service similar to most churches I have attended: prayer, several choruses, announcements, more singing and then the sermon. There were two unique items. The responsive reading of a scripture during the service gave it a Catholic beat. The rest of the service was very protestant. They also had a time of praise and petition that I was exposed to early in my Christian walk but rarely see today. The Pentecostal church I attended called them testimonies and prayer request. The first “petition” came from a boy. His grandparents were coming from Germany for the holidays. He wanted them to have a safe trip. The pastor was circumspect about noting each prayer request and then praying about each petition before he began his sermon.
He had an excellent message about the faith of Mary, the mother of Jesus. He also drew a distinct line between Catholics and Protestants by quoting several Popes who taught Mary holds an exalted position in the kingdom. Two of the quotes were enough to prove his point:
“God has committed to Mary the treasury of all good things in order that everyone though her obtain every hope, every grace, and all salvation. For this is God’s will that we may obtain everything through Mary.” Pope Pius IX
“Mary is called the gate of heaven because no one can enter that blessed gate without passing through her. In prayer Mary is addressed All power is given to thee in heaven and on earth hence at the command of Mary all obey even God.” Pope Pius XII.
I have heard angry, bitter sermons about Catholics. This pastor spoke with respectful disagreement. Having made his point, he moved into an insightful study in faith.
I truly enjoyed the service and the people. Their love felt sincere. The pastor spoke with wisdom. It’s the kind of church that draws you in and makes you want to come back. If I was looking for a church to attend, this one would make the shortlist.