By Teena Myers
While searching the internet for my next candidate to visit as a first time guest, I found a church too interesting to pass up. Attending a Methodist Church and a Presbyterian Church were on my list. I never thought I would find both under the same roof minutes from my home.
In a shared facility arrangement each group meets at a different time and retains their distinctive theology and administration. This is common with startup churches or churches struggling financially. The Methodist and Presbyterians were doing more than sharing a facility. They were meeting together as one church. How do a Methodist and Presbyterian Church unite and remain united? Surely the differences in theology and methods of worship would tear them apart.
The following Sunday, I backed out of my driveway and into a dense fog headed for one of the most positive experiences I have had in a church. Minutes later I drove into the church’s parking lot and followed a young woman with two small children to the front door. Signs pointed me to Sunday School. I spotted a table filled with adults about my age through an open door. A man pulled back the only unoccupied chair at the table for me to claim. A woman handed me her study book.
They were studying Lent. The book had recommendations on what they should give up that week. Social media had been sacrificed the previous week. I scanned the faces surrounding the table. Most of them looked my age or older. Apparently, I had walked into the senior’s class.
“Do any of you use social media?” They did.
A discussion about the pros and cons of social media began. Pro: people who have difficulty communicating do so freely on social media. Con: Facebook is destroying relationships.
I joined the discussion. “I don’t understand why communicating with one another via written words is a problem. God chose to communicate with us through the written word.” The table fell silent as they pondered my comment. Then a woman pinpointed the root of the con argument. “I don’t know how to use social media like the young people do. I feel that I am being left behind.”
The man appointed to lead the class next Sunday announced they were giving up talking except for necessary communication. He smiled. “Is it okay if we text?”
A small band consisting of a piano, guitar and singer warmed up on the platform in the sanctuary. A man clothed in a black robe and multi colored scarf, similar to the Jewish prayer shawl but longer and narrow sat at the opposite end of the platform flipping through papers. A few minutes after I sat down the blacked robed man approached me with a series of questions. “Do I know you? Should I know you? You look familiar. Do you attend this church?”
The black robed man was the pastor. He thought I looked like Melody who attends the church, or was surely related to Melody. He expressed his duty to know his flock. “My first time here,” I replied, relieving his concern that he had failed to recognize one of his own sheep.
The gracious pastor told me they were having communion, but communion was open and I was free to participate. To date the only church that denied me permission to participate in communion was the Lutheran church. He was glad I was visiting and invited me to attend a fellowship after the service. He also gave me his card with his cell phone and email if I should have any questions. He was the friendliest and most accessible pastor I have met in forty years of Christianity.
I noted a United Methodist Hymnal, the Presbyterian Hymnal and a small booklet titled L4CJ consisting of choruses by contemporary Christian musicians with familiar names: Michael W Smith, Rich Mullins, Twila Paris, Chris Tomlin, Jeremy Camp, Darlene Zschech and Amy Grant.
Denver interrupted my survey of the hymnals. He was glad to have me in church. I had a familiar name. We discussed if I knew his friends also name Myers. I did not. Then I looked up and saw Churchfuel’s “Church Appropriate Dance Moves’ playing the count down to the beginning of service. Counting down with the humorous video made them likeable.
Most were seated from the middle to the back of the church. The pastor began the service where the people were seated instead of from the platform. After a few words of welcome, and encouragement to read the bulletin, two white robed altar boys led the choir into the church. The procession reminded me of a Catholic Mass, except in a Mass the altar boys and/or girls lead the priest into the sanctuary. As the choir took their places, the boys lit candles and then sat down.
Children’s Moment filled the screens on the right and left of the platform. A woman sat at the altar, and the children gathered around her. She read a children’s book about being stuck, which corresponded to the pastor’s upcoming sermon, and then encouraged the children to listen quietly to the pastor.
We sang. We paused for a moment of silent prayer. Names but not the needs of people were called out for us to remember in prayer. The pastor reminded us to pray for persecuted Christians. We prayed the Our Father in unison. The pastor invited representatives from Child Advocacy Service to share their needs. He then encouraged his congregation to get involved in their community by making a difference in someone’s life.
Tithes and offerings were received by the altar boys who had shed their white robes. A woman supervised each child as the offering plates were passed. I handed the offering plate to a woman who had been in the Sunday school class I attended. She invited me to remain for the fellowship after service. Clearly, this church was interested in this newbie and wanted to get to know me. That has not been true in some churches I visited.
Watching the women and children collect the offering reminded me of a crass comment made by a pastor in a church I attended in the 1990s. They were having difficulty finding men to serve as ushers and to collect the offering. The pastor tried to shame the men into action with the threat he would use women if they did not step up. I walked out of that service feeling like a second-class citizen. This church did not have a problem letting men, women and children serve. In fact, a child read the scripture passage the pastor spoke from.
The sermon about feeling stuck revealed more intriguing information. He liked to scuba dive and grew up Baptist. How does a former Baptist end up with a congregation of Methodist and Presbyterians? I made a mental note to contact him about writing his profile.
At the conclusion of the service, the pastor asked a couple to bring me to the fellowship hall. Several tables were loaded with food. “Do you do this every Sunday?”
“Yes,” said my escorts. “Each family takes a turn providing whatever they can afford. Sometimes all we have are chips and cokes.”
We were engrossed in conversation and snacking on sandwiches when the pastor, minus his robe, joined us with interesting information. The Presbyterians had a building, but no pastor. The Methodist had a pastor, but no building. Uniting the congregations with each group keeping their distinctive identities solved both of their problems.
“That has to be a delicate dance,” I said.
“Yes,” he replied. “There are some differences in doctrines that I avoid. Regarding our differences, I advocate people think for themselves.”
I really liked the pastor. Unfortunately, he was retiring in a few months. I hope they get another pastor with the wisdom to let people think for themselves.