Over the years, I have attended many churches, looking for just the right one to settle into with my family. I have been Catholic all of my life and have a great relationship with the Catholic church I attend. However, my husband comes from a non-denominational Christian background, and we have sought to find a church that we can attend together where he feels comfortable and accepted. It's not that the church I attend does not accept him, but not being raised in the faith, it is not always easy to understand and participate fully. I liken it to the Jewish faith into which one is born and learns throughout their life. It is often very difficult for "outsiders" to jump in and take an immediate active role, which is what my husband wants to do. I respect that and I desire to strengthen our faith/spiritual life as a couple, so I am very open to exploring other options.
We attended one General Association of Regular Baptists church which was nice, but quite dry. The pastor was great, but the worship lacked greatly. There simply was no real "spirit" present in the church. We went there for about a year on and off, but could not really settle in there. Next, we tried a non-denominational Christian church where the music was great and there seemed to be a lot of enthusiasm, but we found that when the pastor asked us to close our eyes, bow our heads and raise our hands in order to make a commitment to pay for new parking lot lights, we simply could not return. Another church was welcoming, lived within their budget, and had friendly people. The music team did a nice job. It was hard to understand the cheerleading section: the selected people throughout the congregation waving metallic pompons and jumping up and down. And it was almost impossible to not laugh at the man hopping around in circles on one foot in the front and center of the church. I understand that other people have different worship styles than perhaps I'm accustomed. That's perfectly alright, but this performance simply was not our family's style. The blowing of the ram's horn during the songs and the pastor's flicking water out of his drinking glass (as a sign of baptismal blessing?) at the congregation were enough to convince us not to return.
Then there was the Southern Baptist church which we attended for over a year. It was a very small church with an intimate congregation with whom we cultivated several friendships. Being a reader of the New International Version of the Bible all my life, it was hard to go back to the Middle English King James text which was read at every meeting. The pastor couldn't always pronounce the words and sometimes it seemed as though he didn't even understand them. I may be missing something here, but, if the goal of reading a translation that's closer to the original text is to more closely understand God's message, why should we have to translate it into our native English to understand it? Shouldn't we just read from a Bible that's already been updated to the way we speak (and understand)? It was pretty well expected that you would be reading from the KJV, so we felt like outsiders with our NIV's, and were borderline shamed for having that version of the Holy Text. I volunteered as a music minister and assistant choir director, or as the pastor would call me, "piano player." You see, women couldn't hold the title of minister in this church. I guess it was sacrilegious or something. I had been a music minister in the Catholic church for 16 years (being duly recognized as such and even compensated for it). I persisted, despite the constant jabs at Catholicism, which I have now found to be a common theme at Baptist churches in general. We finally left after realizing that we were spending more time criticizing the church than getting anything out of it. Instead of being nourished by the Bread of Life, we were left feeling famished.
After several months without regular attendance at a secondary church, we started going with some friends of ours (who left the previous church around the same time we did) to an Evangelical Free Church. Before we went, my husband informed me that this church was really more non-denominational and was known for welcoming all faiths. It sounded nice. We started off by going to a Wednesday night Bible study. We did the usual shaking hands with all the strangers while smiling and nodding and pretending like you'll remember any of their names five minutes from then, and we were seated as the pastor began to preach on the book of Jude. The pastor was a large, round man in a very large, round, red cardigan sweater. I tried hard to concentrate on his very dry style of preaching, but found myself focusing on the substantial red sweater instead. After elaborating on the three verses chosen for that evening, he went on to do some preaching on the evil of Catholicism and how they're all going to go to hell if people like us don't "save" them. After several more episodes of Catholic-bashing and some fist-making and teeth-grinding from me, it was finally over. Amen for something. Believe it or not, we returned the following Wednesday evening to give it another try. This time we took our kids to attend the youth activities which began one-half hour prior to the Bible study. As we made our way toward the downstairs room where the elementary aged children met, we heard what sounded like Barney the purple dinosaur singing about that "Ol' Time Religion." It was like walking through molasses to get to the room where the "music" was coming from and my husband attempted to sneak back out the door from which we came about three times, but I finally pushed him far enough until someone saw him and then we were committed. We met a couple of the adults in charge, introduced our children to them, and then had a seat with them for a few minutes while a couple of women stood in front of the group and tried to look enthusiastic enough to get the kids to join them in singing about the books of the Bible. It was one of those horrible melodies that adults think kids like, but even to a kid, stuff like that is unaesthetic and ridiculous. One or two kids were actually paying attention and trying to sing along, while the other 6 or 8 kids were fidgeting on their chairs, running around the room, and doing other things to demonstrate their gross lack of interest. At one point, one of the women in charge was restraining a young boy in a bear hug. Perhaps he had skipped his Ritalin this night. We felt bad leaving our kids there, but Bible study was about to start and our evening would probably not be any better than theirs. The Bible study went much the same as the previous week, with a few less Catholic cracks, and a giant black cardigan was preaching instead of a red one. We haven't been back in a few weeks and I'm not sure if we'll return at all.
While the Catholic church may be exclusive in its ritualistic order of doing things-- knowing when to sit, stand, sing, pray, and what words to recite at the proper time, I have never once in all my 30+ years in the church, heard ANY religion criticized or bashed. I have not heard about the evils of Protestants or Muslims or Buddhists or Shaman or Wiccans...or anybody! It seems that in my church (and I am not speaking for ALL Catholic Churches...just mine) there is hope for everybody. I love that message of hope and acceptance and of faith that God will reach out to ANYONE who calls on Him/Her. That is what it's all about: it's all about love. Jesus taught love. The Bible tells us that God is love. Through Christianity, we are taught to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. When we criticize others, does that show love? Does it serve to build some people up when they tear others down? I continue to pray that all will understand the truth of God and the love of God. I think that somehow I have a role to play in fostering that understanding in others. So, when I sit as a sheep amidst wolves, I am to demonstrate that I am not the one they expected me to be. I hope to open the eyes of many hearts by my presence. Even if it's one person, I suppose the agony of enduring another God-in-a-box message will be worth it. If nothing else, it strengthens my own faith and solidifies what I already believe.
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