Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

This past Sunday, my pastor returned to the pulpit after an 8-week break. Every seven years, the church provides this long sabbatical to the senior pastor because, seriously, pastors have got to have one of the most emotional and time-consuming jobs out there; we don’t want ours to burn out. He seemed refreshed and glad to be back, and we were glad to have him back. A little absence can do wonders for relationships.

His sermon was pretty much a “thank-you” to the church. And it reminded me that I don’t voice my appreciation enough. My church has done a lot for me, and I’m truly blessed to have been raised in such a church. Multiple things I’m grateful for:

1. Rearing: I admit it—I slept through my own baptism. Hey, I was four-months-old. While I have no actual memory of the event, I still consider it highly important. I keep my certificate of baptism in my Bible. When there are baptisms at church, I participate with the rest of the congregation in promising to help raise this child in the church, and I know that once the church promised that to me as well. At third grade, the church gave me my own Bible. This is also the age most kids start taking communion. Though there is no official notation at this age, there is the understanding that you are becoming responsible for your faith, and the church is there to help you out. At sixth grade, I went through confirmation class, which included having an adult mentor. The mentors/confirmans don’t get to pick each other, but they almost always seem a good match. The mentors usually are members of the congregation who don’t currently have children in the programs, who are looking to connect with the youth in the church. They’re fulfilling that promise made 11 years ago to watch over the child’s spiritual development. And when young graduate high school, the church goes all out. Our Senior Sunday is dedicated to them, through the sermon, music, potluck lunch. Their mentors give them a gift from the church. I can’t express how much better Senior Sunday is than actual graduation. And I’ve only mentioned the mile markers.

2. Intellect + Faith: I joined the church on Easter Sunday 2001. I don’t remember the date. I’m not even sure if it was March or April. Evangelicals would be ashamed since knowing the exact moment of professing Christ as Lord and Savior seems really important with them. I do remember I wore a blue dress and white platform sandals and the silver cross my mentor had given me. And I remember touching the baptismal water as a remembrance of my baptism and making the profession of faith. It wasn’t an altar call; it wasn’t emotional. We had practiced earlier to know exactly what we were saying and agreeing to. It was the result of weeks of study. But that didn’t make it less sincere. I don’t like making decisions without knowing exactly what I’m getting into. But I also don’t like being told what to think/feel. That’s why the slower, more intellectual path to confirmation suits me so well. And I don’t need to get my emotions toyed with every Sunday morning. I want insight and communion, not ranting and waving and tears. Faith goes beyond reasoning in many ways, but it’s not purely hormonal reaction. My church promotes looking at the context of the Bible and church history to better understand the faith. Individuals are responsible for looking deeper into the aspects that they need to. The introvert in me loves the calm, reasoned approach to faith that picks my mind as well as my heart.

3. Family: Mega-churches make me cringe. No offense to people who actually get something meaningful out of them (and clearly lots do), but I like going to a church where I know 95% of the people there. 100% would be even better. In high school, my youth group was about 20-25 kids. We knew each other really well, making for a great group cohesion. I have people in the church that I consider family because we grew up so close both in and out of the church walls. The closeness and sincerity of the church community spills out into the larger community. I know these people on deeper levels than I could from any other context. Plus the potlucks are like awesome family reunions. My church is large enough to sustain itself plus various missions, but small enough that no one gets lost in the crowd. The denomination itself is like this too; everyone knows everyone, or at least someone from that church. One big family.

4. Concern: I went through a rough time a few months ago, and it was the first time I truly appreciated the concern for me people of the church had. I don’t know how they knew the right things to say (there are no secrets in small towns, so I wasn’t surprised they knew the situations). I still have some of the note cards sitting on my desk as a reminder that people who aren’t even my close friends are thinking of me and there to help me when I’m down. Some of the women’s circles mail cards to college students just to let them know the home church hasn’t forgotten about them. It’s the little gestures a note or a sincere “How are you doing?” that mean the most sometimes. (Though I got so sick of “Have you been able to get a job?” It was even more annoying knowing that it was coming from the right place so I couldn’t even be upset as the asker. Bless them.)

5. Liturgy: I think I’ve mentioned before how much I appreciate ritual. My church follows the traditional liturgical calendar, and though I hate the shade of green we use for Ordinary Time, I normally don’t mind it because it’s part of the ritual. It’s not about pleasing my tastes but being part of the Church. I like Advent and Lent and Holy Week. I like reciting the Apostles’ Creed and singing the Doxology. I’ve heard people say that such repetition is boring and at worst, insincere. It’s only insincere if you don’t mean it each and every time. Yes, it’s easy to go through the motions in such a setting, but that’s why it’s important to reflect on the words and recite them with your whole heart each time. And I’ve gone through the motions plenty of times at contemporary services, so it goes both ways. It’s about finding the worship style that gets you to God best.

6. In-fighting: There isn’t any. Nothing big that results in splits or people having to chooses sides or anything like that.

7. Random History: My church is known in town for the cannonball lodged right above the front door. During the Civil War the (uncompleted) church was serving as a stables/hospital and got caught in some crossfire. It’s just a unique quirk I like. Also, the building literally sits on the corner of Main Street and Church Street. It’s almost enough to make my metaphor-loving mind explode.

While I’ve lately been feeling drawn to a different kind of church for spiritual reasons, it doesn’t change the love I have for my home church. I love it so much that thinking of leaving for the right reasons is still almost an impossible decision. Even if I do go, I appreciate the support of my church family and the solid foundation I was brought up on.

So thank you, GCPC!

(Seriously, this was a summery. I started writing and realized I could gush on and on about my church. This is as concise as I could do.)

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