By Teena Myers
I abandoned my rule of attending a church where no one knows me when my husband was invited as a special guest in children’s church. When you are a freelance writer, you are free to do what you want. My rules are guidelines more than law set in stone. I assumed the person who extended the invitation would be the only person who knew me, so I would still get the potential first time guest experience.
Rod, my husband, headed out the door with his coat of many colors, crazy white wig and suitcase of science stuff to explain the gospel. “Please put it in my car,” I said. “Business miles, I am going to write about my experience.”
We arrived an hour early as requested. Cones blocked most of the parking near the entrance, but there were plenty of signs directing people to available parking at nearby businesses, which were closed on Sundays. We learned later that the cones were intended to keep volunteers from taking parking near the entrance. The church wanted those spaces available for guests.
The building looked huge until we entered. The area was fairly small. Large signs made it easy to find the preschool, nursery, kid’s church, restrooms, guest services and coffee. Rod went to Kid’s Church. I explored the foyer in search of a bulletin where I was immediately acknowledged and welcomed. We were an hour early, so I imagine I stuck out as a new face among the volunteers. I headed for the sanctuary, but denied entry. The woman who had greeted me explained they were preparing for service and directed me to the coffee.
We pay for coffee at my church. This coffee was free, including the added flavor. “Vanilla,” I said as I squashed guest ants scurrying about for granules of wayward sugar.
“I know you,” I heard a voice say. “I recognize your voice. Do you know Anna Donahue?”
Busted. Denise remembered me from a ten minute talk about Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot I did at Anna Donahue’s Christmas luncheon. Ten minutes, three years ago, and she remembers me. She is a good friend of Anna’s so we probably sat at the same table for lunch, if we chatted during lunch, which we probably did.
Her next comment made the encounter worthwhile. “You look younger.”
I sat at a table in the café to take notes as I waited for service to start. A man, casually dressed in jeans and button-down shirt, walked by. “Hey, Pastor,” I heard someone say. His attire suggested “seeker friendly” church.
The woman who served me coffee stopped to chat with a bit of history. She lived close enough to walk but prefers to drive. She joined when the church met in a high school. Before that, they met in a mall.
“Clearview Mall?” My first guest experience took place in a mall. Apparently, the conference room in that mall is a waystation for growing churches.
At roughly 9:20 the foyer emptied. I looked up to see the volunteers had meet to pray for the service. I saw my husband and the children’s leaders in the kids’ church praying as well.
I walked into another dark sanctuary, but not as dark as the last church I attended. The padded metal chairs were fairly comfortable. Announcements scrolled by on a large video screen. A five minute countdown began. With two minutes left on the countdown, the band took their places. Most of them looked like teenagers. A video advertisement for the youth group revealed most of the band members were from the youth group.
The congregation members were dressed as casual as the pastor. Several were holding cups of coffee. I know a pastor that would consider that tantamount to blaspheming God. Frankly, I like the casual dress and coffee. Nitpicking over clothes and what can be done in the sanctuary has driven people out of churches.
Several people recognized a new face among them and stopped to greet me before the service began. I did not recognize the songs, but I like them. The first song was a bit rough. The instruments seemed to be in competition to be the loudest. The bass a clear winner. I could not hear the words to the music. Adjustments must have been made before the second song, which was much more balanced, and the words easier to discern.
The pastor walked on stage in a white suit, looking a little uncomfortable. We received communion as the band sang Nothing but the Blood. We checked in with selfies. Love social media.
The pastor returned to emphasize guest were under no obligations to give. “We don’t love money,” he said. “We give because we love God and we love people.”
There has been so much abuse regarding money in the church, I understood why he felt the need to clarify.
Before beginning the message, the pastor explained his suit had not been worn in a while and was a little tight, but thought it appropriate to wear on Easter Sunday. Most of the time he wore jeans.
His message centered on a single theme. Hope. The kind of message that is easy to remember. God brought Abraham outside to look at the stars and gave him hope for the future. We need God to show us our future, so we will have hope.
On the way home Rod told me how the kids in children’s church loved Squiggy and some other things he did. I told him about the sermon. We both had a pleasant time in a friendly church.
Nice walk through of your church experience. I felt drawn and in your story which was quite vivid. Pleasant time, friendly church. You should Thank God and Pray for the Pastor. These are rare blessings which me and my family are longing for so much since we kept shifting churches due to relocations and other reasons.