Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sabine's Six-Word Life Story and the Perils of Church Shopping

Sabine has her six-word life story:
“Blessed since birth. Loved every day.”
And thanks to those of you who have shared yours (you can do so by clicking on the bottom of this webpage).

Now for some weekend musings.
One of the things we dreaded in leaving St Peter’s was finding a new congregation with whom to worship. We did some Sunday worship here at home. A couple of times we have ventured out into the uncharted waters of “church seeking.”

For those of you who can remember, it was probably just as scary for you as it was for us. Kind of like dating – you find some good ones, but some of the other encounters are best forgotten.

The following are two narratives. One from this morning and one from three weeks ago. If we hadn’t been persistent and schooled in the matters of “churching,” we probably would have never have tried again. I think that happens to a lot of "seekers."

Church Shopping -- Round One (February 24, 2008)

Let share with you our experiences in starting to scope out a place for worship. Our first encounter was with one of our local congregations. They had advertised "praise worship" and we decided to go.
We entered the church and encountered a long cue -- after milling around for a while we saw that it was a line to get your nametag.
Well, we walked in (Sabine with her face mask and tight hat that said: "Cancer!") and sat down.
No one talked to us or approached us during our previous and aimless walk around the narthex.
We sat down and it was a nice young "praise band" and an older woman who was vocal backup. From our Alpha Course days we knew all the tunes and words... But what was this? Audition practice? Yes, there was a prayer, the candles were not lit. Who was the leader – the lead singer?

So after to gospel reading, a preacher got up and narrated the whole gospel which we had just heard fom the point of view of the centurion at the foot of the cross. But the point? Or as one homiletic professor I knew once advised, "Always ask yourself after hearing a sermon -- "So what?"

Now I realize there is danger here just like there was when I retired from the police almost 15 years ago. And the danger is this: Well, that's not how I would do it!" But I think there are some standards for Christian liturgy (at least I hope there are!) and that I should be able to look at this and say, "Well. I might not have done it that way, but what they are doing is certainly passable!" On the other hand, there are some things that just don't work.

Let me say that I love praise liturgies as well as the contemplative ones if they meet a standard of engagement with the Other -- that they cause us to reflect and examine our lives, give thanks to God, and see more clearly the path that Jesus has trod for us to tread...

I will end this with our closing experience. We got up to leave, the preacher stayed up front, only one man put out his hand and said, "Welcome!" -- nothing else.

What was I expecting? At least an exchange of names. And maybe, "What are you seeking, especially you who seems so sick... " "Are you seeking the healing Savior? He is here. May we pray for you?"

We walked out through the narthex and into the parking lot unencumbered by human interaction.

Church Shopping – Round Two (March 16, 2008)

After our experience a few weeks ago, it’s amazing I didn’t give up (oh yes, that reminds me, I can’t – I’m a pastor!). So this morning Sabine and I set out for another church in our area.

I mean we had to. It’s Palm Sunday and why not jump back into church with the crazy-perplexing nature of that complicated liturgy?

You may remember my reflections from a few weeks ago at another local parish. It was a cold morning then, ice on the parking lot and we should have known what was to come… The parking lot turned out to be warmer than the congregation.

So with some trepidation, off we went -- the devil may be persistent but why not fight back?

My gosh! Someone greeted us as soon as we came in.

We enjoyed the “blended” worship service (overhead screen and traditional liturgy). But it’s all about the people isn’t it? You can have a dynamite worship service and it no one talks to the guests it really doesn’t matter, does it?

There was Holy Communion (thankfully) and lots of personal introductions and invites to coffee hour.

A lady with cancer and currently in chemotherapy came over and talked to Sabine (she knew). Later the pastor came over and remembered meeting us last year during the Black Earth-Mazomanie 5 mile run. They asked to put Sabine on their prayer list and gave her a warm hand-knitted prayer shawl to take home.

What a difference! Looks like there is still some hope for the church. Jesus reigned at this little church this Palm Sunday. “Hossana in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” A lot of his followers today came in his name – and, miraculously, he was there with all of us!