Archive for the 'Church visits' Category

Kidney stones and the Lord

Well, peeps, for the first time in weeks, I went to church today. But I’m going on record as saying that a girl has a hard time concentrating on anything, never mind the devine, when one is in nagging and massive pain. Here’s the deal: It seems that the practice of drinking way too much caffeine over the years has given me a trifle of gravel in me kidneys, and now the gravel is taking its revenge. By that, I mean that I learned last December that I have a kidney stone, and now it’s whupping my agnostic tush. That may not make sense but this really hurts. It’s nagging and highly distracting, especially (for whatever reason) when one is hanging out on a wooden pew.

Anyhoo, I went to Urban Refuge today, and although I can’t give details because I was really preoccupied, I think I really liked it. Check this out:

One of the main messages that we would like to communicate at our weekend service is our need as a church to bring Shalom to the city. Maybe you’re asking “What is Shalom?”. The common translation for Shalom is the word -Peace. However, it’s broader than that. Shalom refers to peace in all areas of one’s life, so this entails physical, mental and of course spiritual.

Trust me, folks, there will be more about this. I’d like to go back next Sunday, when hopefully this kidney stone business (or whatever it is; I’ve always heard that kidney stones are worse than labor, and while this sucks, it’s nowhere near that) is resolved. Anyway, the above text is from their “about us” statement. Good stuff.

Updated to add: I just read that this church is affiliated with Evergreen Community Church, and that makes me chuckle. Representatives of this church stopped by my house once, long ago, and I still have a water bottle that they gave me. It says “Experience God, Not Religion.” 


The Program

Midnight again, and posting about the Lord. Good times.

I haven’t been to church in quite awhile, and it’s bugging me, so I’m going this Sunday come…well, I’m just going. But it occurred to me last week that I went to something very churchlike last Saturday. I have several friends who are in AA, and I went to a speaker meeting with one of them last week. A speaker meeting is slightly different from the usual format, in which a lot of reading and discussion take up most of the meeting, and someone speaks for a short time. In a speaker meeting, obviously, someone speaks a lot and there isn’t as much (or any) discussion.

Anyway, if you know anything about AA, you know that a spiritual component is very important to the program. You don’t have to believe in God, but you do have to believe in something that’s bigger than you – many people think of the collective energy of the meeting they go to as their higher power. But AA is very much like church for reasons that have nothing to do with the spiritual aspect.

There’s a common purpose that everyone shares (to stop drinking). There’s a shared set of principles that every member believes in (the Twelve Steps). There’s a text that everyone refers to (the Big Book). There’s definitely a community of faith that makes it pretty easy for most people to talk to each other, whether they know each other or not, and whether or not they’re at the same place in the program.

What I liked about this near-church experience was that I think it had something that a lot of churches aspire to but don’t have. One of the things I’ve heard mentioned at more than one meeting (I had a partner for many years who was in the program) is that weakness, not strength, is what binds the members of the program together. They come together because there’s something they can’t do unless they have a lot of help. That seems to create a bond that allows for humility, kindness, dedication, effort – so many complex and positive things that come out of the shared principles. On the other hand, sometimes when I’m in church I feel that people come together because they’re many different things – strong, angry, frightened, judgmental, needy. But unlike AA, because there isn’t that admission of common weakness, it’s easy for people to hide the weaknesses they carry with them.

Not that I’m accusing churches everywhere of being filled with hypocrisy. Don’t get me wrong. I just have felt that bond more strongly when I’ve gone to AA meetings with friends, although maybe I was romanticizing the whole business. Anytime you go to a place where you think people really get to belong, it’s attractive. At any rate, it’s good to know that it isn’t necessary to go to church to feel like there’s a community of faith out there.

Then again, without being an alcoholic, I seem to be missing a fairly important qualification for membership. 🙂

What? No communion?

This was my exact reaction to one aspect of the Presbyterian service I attended the other day. It’s not that I’ve never been to a church that didn’t have some kind of communion (or communion lite) as part of the service. But it’s been awhile, and I spent some time doing my usual worrying [“Should I do it? Should I not? Wonder where I walk to get there? I hope I don’t fall and crack a tooth.”] before I realized that there was no such in the program.

I missed it. How goofy is that? I never know whether I should do it, as I’ve discussed in earlier posts, but despite that I missed that part of the service. It seems like a very personal part of a gathering to worship, and without it, there just seemed to be something missing from the experience. I haven’t been able to determine whether this is the usual practice for Presbyterians but it doesn’t seem that way, and my gues is that it isn’t even the usual practice for this church.

What does communion (I suppose I should be saying the Eucharist) really mean to people? Do you believe in transubstantiation? What does it mean, not doctrinally, but personally to you? Comment away.

Go, Presbys!

Well. The Presbyterians know how to put on a service, I can tell you. Ministers everywhere in black robes reminiscent of advanced-degree graduations (no doubt there’s a historical reason for that), singing every other whipstitch, you name it, it was sharp.

The church I went to is located on the edge of downtown, and they make a lot of the fact that they’re an urban church. But this place was big on tradition. The church has been there since 1857 (they’re commemorating their 150th anniversary this year) and much was made in this service of the history of the church, especially a former pastor who had led the church from 1941 to 1965.

That made it an unfortunate first service for me. Not that I don’t care about history or tradition, but I didn’t get my usual dose of Thoughts to Ponder because it wasn’t exactly that kind of sermon. Still, part of the reading was from Luke, the story where the devil tempts Jesus and Jesus uses the scriptures to smack him down. That’s always a good passage for someone who is struggling to do the right thing even though the wrong thing has a great deal more appeal.

The church is huge, taking up most of a city block, and inside the sanctuary is a wide-open room in the round with a second-floor gallery. The dark wood, huge straight-backed chairs for the clergy and stained-glass windows all reminded me of an Episcopalian church I went to once. It had a nice blend of the ornate and the formal with the human and accessible, of which I’ve usually found one half or the other missing in the churches I’ve been to. The friend who suggested this church said that it has offered her opportunities to create a sense of smaller community within the larger community of the whole church.

In an odd coincidence, some friends of mine went to a different Presbyterian church today, and I’m hoping to get their take on it to add to this. More on this later.

The Presbyterians

It turns out that this week’s choice of denomination is right in line with the Scottish half of my heritage. From Idiot’s:

The PCUSA is the result of a merger of numerous strands of Presbyterianism, with its main thread having originated in Scotland in the seventeenth century.

Near as I can tell (and although I can breathe again, I can’t claim to be able to concentrate), the Presbyterians came out of the Reformed tradition, which is distinguished by its covenant theology.

Covenant theology provides a way for Reformed theologians to describe God’s contractual way of doing business….If we are obedient to the terms of the covenant, spelled out in the Gospels, God will fulfill the promises of salvation and eternal life. Some think covenant theology laid the foundation for many liberal political ideas that culminated in American democracy.

That’s kind of a cool idea. And the reason I’m visiting this church is that a friend of mine who belongs to it told me it was a nice combination of traditionalism and a vigorous commitment to social justice.

Ignorance is…well, it’s something.

Part of the fun of being an agnostic is being wildly ignorant of things that others are well versed in. What’s a communion veil? What’s Ash Wednesday again? How does that whole salvation business work again? But on occasion, the ignorance of the agnostic works against her. For example, an agnostic who gets all excited about visiting a synagogue would do well to remember that the Jewish holy day is Saturday, not Sunday. She would also do well to remember this before, say, Saturday evening.

Having done nothing of the sort, I missed my opportunity to visit the Jews this week. So instead, I visited the Catholics. More on this soon, except to say that what with Ash Wednesday this past week, it was probably a better choice. Right then! Catholics ahoy!

Next church

I’ve bagged on the esoteric church for the time being, because I’ve been going to all Christian churches and I don’t want to be so one-note. So this Sunday, I’m planning to go to a synagogue. I’ve never been to any Jewish anything, not a service or a seder or even Shabbas dinner. But Judaism is the forerunner of Christianity and I’m looking forward to learning more about it.

Any Jews out there who would like to tell me the basics so I don’t make a fool of myself? I think it’s remarkable that I’ve reached the ripe old age of 30-mumble and I’ve never even set foot in a synagogue.