Monday, May 16, 2011

May 16th

So, Keith and I tried out a church yesterday. We talked about doing this the entire time we lived in Kentucky and never did. I can't say that I regretted such lengthy procrastination; my experiences with organized Christianity have been, generally speaking, off putting.

The church we ended up attending is this really old, white painted church with stained glass windows five minutes from our house. It served as a hospital for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War and was the church that the plantation and slave owners attended before that. (The pastor's wife told this to me.)

It had a sign with the service time written on it. The name of the church was: "The House of God- and a house of prayer for all nations." That seemed innocuous enough; absolutely nothing to argue with there.

True to form, we were too early for comfort, so we just drove by. There appeared to be only three people in the parking lot. That did not seem auspicious, so we kept driving.

We made a big circle and in the course of ten minutes, passed by four different churches. Two of them seemed deserted and one was too large. We were kind of like the Goldilocks of church hunting: this one is empty! This one has no service time displayed! This one is too popular!

Then we came back around to the original church. It was still, to all intents and purposes, empty. We decided to park anyway; it was a charming little building and we were all dressed up and everything.

If fact, I felt like I'd regressed, gone back in time. I was wearing a sleeveless, rayon polka dot dress with a circle skirt and a gathered bodice and black and white Italian leather heels with a discrete, black ribbon bow over the peep toe. I wore my hair down and when I say down, I mean down. I'm the frequently dismayed owner of a waterfall of dark hair. I was carrying a small, maroon leather bound, King James bible in my un-manicured, but clean and tidy hands. I wore no jewelry, and no make up.

If there's anything my early Christian training has taught me, it's how to look the part. The sleeveless nature of my dress was maybe a chancy thing, depending on the strictness of the unwritten doctrine of the church, but since it wasn't a Baptist church, it was a good bet that my uncovered upper arms would not cause any undue consternation among the dearly beloved.

We went up the steps cautiously; I put my hand on the door handle when suddenly it was swung open with a shriek, a shriek, my friends, of pure delight and I was suddenly enveloped in the strong and slender arms of a woman whom I had never seen before in my entire life. (Am I using "whom" in the previous sentence correctly? I wonder.)

They all but killed the fatted calf for us. I sound sarcastic, and in point of fact, frequently have been, but their warmth and openness really was genuinely moving. We were introduced to everyone in the church, which happened to be four people. By the time the service ended, there were seven people, not counting us.

When the pastor's wife, who had been the lady greeting us, stood to make announcements, and announced that there was a laundry list of announcements, I couldn't help but wonder where could all this wealth of necessary and relevant information be originating from?

It turned out we were part of the announcements. I think we got thanked, by name, first and last, for coming in about four different times. There were two birthdays, a rescheduled prayer meeting and an up coming seminar. When it came time to leave, we had three different flyers in hand.

I noticed the scripture for the service and looked it up, my rusty Bible-chapter-finding skills jumping once more to dim life. Ah, the excitement filled Bible drills of yore. I assisted Keith to locate his scripture with a lightly veiled look of moral smugness.

When I read the text, my eyebrows shot up. I wondered who on earth would plan a sermon around I Corinthians 1:10-17?

10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

11 My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas "; still another, "I follow Christ."

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.)

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

It was a very interesting sermon. It was thought provoking and very reassuring, in the light of my religious past. A church where they preach only the cross of Christ is very much up my alley.

Because there was such a small congregation, there was a large amount of intense eye contact from the passionate pastor, who sometimes thundered his message and sometimes whispered it, all the to the supportive accompanying chorus of his wife's fervent amens.

It was an racially mixed congregation, which is one of the church's founding principles, and another reason why it suits Keith and I so well. If we end up adopting, we want an ethnically and racially diverse church family to support ours.

The church had this feeling, an almost disturbing feeling, of reality. Of human reality, to be exact. Though I'm not quite sure how to describe it. There didn't seem to be any pretense. I hugged the pastor's wife as warmly as if she'd been a friend of mine for years, after the sermon ended.

At the end of the service, the pastor gave a call for anyone to come up, to get saved, to rededicate their life to Christ or to join the church. I wrestled with my in-house guilt, which gets resuscitated instantaneously under those conditions.

"You are a back slider," said the guilt. "Go up and rededicate your life to Christ, amidst humility, shame and feelings of hopeless for the future, which you will surely mess up. But that means we'll just get to have this conversation all over again, at that future date. I look forward to it: it'll be great. I own you. Go up and seal the deal."

Then, thank God, I remembered that my life had been dedicated to Christ years and years ago and I never undid it, and it always belonged to Him and I don't care what the hell it looks like to anyone else, because it's none of their business and my guilt can go to hell.

So then, I lifted my head with this feeling of joy and assurance and took in a deep breath of sweet, undeserving victory. Such is grace.

One pitfall of church avoided. Several more to go, I suspect. Despite this, we'll go again.