I’ve written before about our decision to seek a different church, because we just weren’t feeling quite at home at the one we’d been attending. This was, you understand, a really difficult decision to make, both because change is hard and we’d been going to that other church for over six months, and also because my ex immediately pounced upon the news as proof that I was a Godless heathen who would soon be decorating the children’s rooms with pentagrams.
That’s just silly, of course—pentagrams would totally disturb the feng shui in there. (I just have them put their voodoo dolls back in their special boxes alongside all the shrunken heads whenever they’re done playing with them.)
Anyway, we’d been to a few churches before settling in the one we’d attended for so long, but now we’re back to trying to find the right church home.
Here is the thing you need to understand about me and church: I’m something of a traditionalist. It feels funny, saying that, because I am not a fan of religions that take themselves SO SERIOUSLY that worship feels like an elaborate dance rather than an opportunity to commune with God. But on the other hand, I’m not so much interested in worship that’s sort of New Age-y or whatever.
I’m a Methodist. I believe in talking about God. I believe in talking about Jesus. I believe in singing songs from the hymnal. I believe in pastors giving sermons that speak to me on a real and human level. I believe in a service that lasts just about an hour. I believe in Communion being open to all who wish to partake. I believe in potluck dinners. Really, it’s not that complicated.
And I’m absolutely NOT saying that my way is the RIGHT and/or TRUE way, but just the way that I like it. It works for me, as the saying goes. In my experience, this is more or less what Methodist churches tend to be like. And I like them!
Now, in my experience up until this point, most Methodist churches are pretty uniform. And most of them offer either 2 or 3 services. If there are 2 services, it’s usually an early “contemporary” service and then a later “traditional” one. If there are 3 services, the earliest service is generally a short but traditional one, followed by the contemporary service, followed by the main traditional service. This will all be important in a minute.
So! Sunday! We had picked out the church we wished to attend. When we arrived, Otto and I were pleased to see that it was much more New England-y than any other church we’ve attended here in Georgia; the building was very reminiscent of the sorts of places we known up north, and that was very comforting. It was also much smaller than the other church we’d been attending, which seemed like a point in its favor because part of the problem with the other church is that we felt sort of anonymous in such a large group.
Anyway, the place was utterly mobbed. We found some seats way in the back and sat down. Someone started playing the piano. And then someone started playing the guitar. And then someone started playing the drums.
Otto and I exchanged A Look.
The music continued for a while, swelling and then falling back, and a man began to speak. While the music was still playing. It all began to remind me of a Christian Rock video. People held their hands in the air. (I have never understood that; I guess it’s a gesture of giving yourself up to God? But to me it looks more like you’re hoping you might catch a little rain, like maybe if you pray hard enough rain will fall from the sky RIGHT THERE and you could then wash your face with it.)
Every time there was a break in the activity, there would be a swell of applause as if the Oscar for Best Actor had just been awarded to Jesus himself. (“I’d like to thank the Academy, and my Father, and especially my friend Judas, because—I’m sorry, I told myself I wasn’t going to cry—um, well, he really made it all happen….”)
It took about two minutes to realize that for whatever reason, the third service at this church was a contemporary one and not a traditional one. Oh, well. We’d get through it, maybe find out if this church offers a traditional service at a different time.
And then someone called up a particular family, saying something like, “I need for the Doe family to come on down here and stand with me, please. Please, Mary Jo Doe and Billy Bob Doe and especially little Cindy Lou Doe. Yes. Stand before me! Some of you know that Cindy Lou Doe came to this family about a year ago from a Russian orphanage…” he went on for a minute, and I thought to myself, Hey, that’s sort of nice, recognizing this family and their adoption, okay, today must mark some milestone (I couldn’t figure out what it was… maybe the adoption was finalized?), that’s very sweet, great. And then the person speaking said, “Let us lay hands on the Does, yes, COME ON DOWN and lay your hands on this family!”
And almost the entire congregation got up and went down to “lay hands” on this family.
I mean that at least two hundred people raced forward to attach themselves to the giant huddle forming at the front of the church. If I was little Cindy Lou Doe underneath all of those hands, I think I’d be screaming bloody murder for everyone to GET OFF OF ME.
Then an impassioned prayer was said, and afterwards as folks returned to their seats, everyone clapped and hooted and cheered.
This became a theme, I noticed. Any time anyone said or did ANYTHING, the congregation gave it up like mad. Every hymn—wild applause! (Plus, every hymn went on for fifty-seven verses, all the better to give the line of ladies with microphones time to really get into their sing-song-y “tell it! tell it! tell it! tell it!” chorus with FEELING.) Everything the pastor said—wild applause! Every random announcement—wild applause!
By the time they got to whatever prayer where people started blurting out “that’s right” and “tell it!” and “mmmhmmm, AMEN!” Otto and I had to stop looking at each other for fear of laughing.
“Um, Mama?” Chickadee whispered to me at one point, “I think this church is sort of… ummm… ENTHUSIASTIC. And I don’t mean that in a good way.”
I tried to breathe very slowly, in and out, through my nose, to avoid guffawing.
I have to say, she hit the nail on the head. I don’t think we’ll be returning to the First Methodist Church of Great Enthusiasm, but I hope God understands that we gave those folks our best shot. Hallelujah, amen, and it was a great honor just to be nominated.