This past Sunday I spent an hour of the morning alongside a friend in a pew. We had finally made it to a local church that was on the list of ones to check out. I felt like a fish out of water. Growing up Catholic, I know what to except when going to mass. I know when to stand, when to sit and especially when to kneel. I know the prayers, the order of mass and I especially know not to laugh or giggle during a hymn. Today, none of that mattered.
This morning, my friend at Crazy Beautiful Chronicles joined me as I went to a Congregational church for the first time, and it was quite a different experience. She blogged about the morning, which you can find here. Some differences were fairly obvious (a woman was running the show and we did not receive communion) and some were far less obvious (we didn’t kneel). Upon entering, I noticed a few things right away:
1. The image of Jesus was not represented anywhere.
2. We were the youngest by several years
(this did change when a family with teenagers came in at the last moment)
3. That I had no clue where to sit.
4. The room was very simple, yet had a sense of beauty about it that I just can not seem to describe.
The minister began speaking and right away I knew I was about to experience something completely different from any of the masses I attended in a Catholic Church. For starters, her (HER!) mic was not on, and with a quick laugh to the crowd she ducked behind the pulpit. When she returned, she began again, not missing a step in her opening. Not only do I not remember something like this ever happening at my former Catholic Church, I cannot imagine the mic recovery going so smoothly. This one simply blip in the morning made me feel like the minister was one of us, not above us like a priest in a Catholic church.
The one major thing that has impressed me is the fact that here I sit, two days later, and I could still give a fairly descriptive summary of that morning’s service. Not only did the minister hold my attention for the full hour, but more importantly I was left truly thinking about what she had said. The sermon this past Sunday was about the miracle of the five loaves and two fish. For those who are like me, and really do not ever remember discussing this in CCD, here is my extremely simple version. This is the story of how Jesus fed 5,000 people who had come to see him, while only having five loaves of bread and two fish. He took the little food he had and offered it to the people. Once everyone had finished eating, twelve baskets were returned to him still carrying food leftover from the original loaves and fish yet everyone there had eaten.
During Sunday’s sermon, the minister explained why this was one of her favorites. She told us her interpretation of the miracle and spoke to us about sharing with our neighbor. She spoke not only with confidence, but in a way that it felt like I was speaking to a friend. She laughed at herself as she shared a childhood memory and she teased the congregation at the end of a hymn which everyone seemed to laugh and struggle through (the fact that it was in a different language may have had something to do with that). She spoke in a serious tone without sounding like she was lecturing. All-in-all, my friend and I were impressed.
After church was over, we both wanted to see what the rest of the rather large building had to offer, so we headed towards the social area. On the way, we noticed several large event boards covered with things for the members to take a part in. Everything from hikes to dances to volunteer events to non-church related events. It was really refreshing to see that there was such an active presence in the community. This is definitely something I would want in a church.
While we were looking at the last of the event boards, a very kind woman introduced herself to us and chatted for a little while about her role in the church and was curious about our own stories. While talking, two other members joined to say hello. It was very surprising how welcoming everyone was. When people realized we were new, they made it a point to help us feel welcomed. In any of the catholic churches I have visited, no one has every said hello. I’m not even sure how many people stick around after communion is received.
When our conversation had hit a quiet point, my friend and I politely excused ourselves and headed for the car. I was honestly hoping no one else would stop us. It was at that moment we realized the minister was following us, and I am sure you can imagine the looks we gave each other (keep in mind we were laughing about how young she looked and had a moment of fear that maybe she heard us). As it turns out, she had a family event to attend, was also leaving, did not seem to hear us laughing that she looked so young and also happened to be parked next to us. She introduced herself to us by her first name and the three of us chatted for a few moments. She seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say, and then invited us to reach out to her if ever needed. We had explained that we were visiting and she ended the conversation simply stating “If I do not see you again, I hope you enjoy your journey.” There was no pressure to join the church and we were not asked by anyone if we would be back the following week. I found this to be a very quiet, but powerful statement. I did not feel pressure to commit to attending again and I did not feel guilt about possibly not seeing them again. It left me feeling like they were truly happy we had decided to visit that morning and that was enough. The ladies did not have a hidden agenda when they came to say hello, they simply wanted we say hi. It was so refreshing.
I still cannot put my finger on why, but this past Sunday morning has really stuck with me. I have found myself thinking about the Minister’s message in her sermon, about the community activities, and about the parting words we were left with “I hope you enjoy your journey.” I do suppose making us reflect on our lives is the point.
Finally, a huge thank you to my pew partner for the morning! Not only did we have an enjoyable time visiting a new church, we had a wonderful time catching up over brunch afterwards. Please take a moment to visit my friend at Crazy Beautiful Chronicles. I really think you will enjoy her insights on the world around her.
Until next time, I hope you enjoy your journey.