Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Church #1 of 10: Blessed Semi-Assurance

I love the walk from the gym back to my apartment. It reminds me of the walk to Stevenson in Oberlin. A leisurely stroll, only pasta and soft-serve demanded our future attention. It reminds me of the people who walked with me; Leah, Rachael, Kathryn, Megan…and I feel them with me on this journey. Our walk gets slower and slower…

I considered using the Likert Scale to provide you with data. Aren’t things more interesting when there are numbers involved? Then, I could calculate averages based on denomination, location and even size of congregation. We’ve put our schools, children, crime, and successes into statistics…and then we’ve sorted those numbers by race, gender, religion and ethnicity. Why not churches, too?

I did actually open an Excel document after church yesterday and I started entering headers: Welcome, Theology, Music, Prayers, Sermon, etc. Then, I realized that covenant would require me to gather ratings from not only myself, but also every person in attendance. Really, if I want to be accurately in covenant, I would need to gather this data over time, calculate standard deviation and whatnot. Statistical covenanting would require a lot of work, and even then, I don’t think it would be fair.

So, I closed my spreadsheet and set out to write something mildly entertaining and yet thought-provoking (cue theme music). In some circles, I could be compared to Doogie Howser, but in my mind, I am nothing more than one of many lost souls. I am a privileged, entitled, lucky soul, seeing as so many suffer persecution at the hands of the church and I can attend 10 services with little to no drama, and my parents will even come along. This journey isn’t turning out so bad after all.

Merriam Christian Church, a Disciples of Christ congregation that’s been around since the 1920s, is located in Merriam, KS, one of the small, quiet villages in the Greater Kansas City Metro Area. There were 66 people in attendance Sunday morning (my dad is a numbers guy) and I would guess that 80% of them were white, wearing expensive clothing, and over the age of 65. This was not a bad thing. Not only did me looking “so young” finally coincide with me actually being “so young,” but my age seemed like the most accessible point of welcome, as well. “Megan what? Highfill? Glad to know you. You’re so young!”

My mom and I were invited to sing in the choir by a friend of hers, who also invited us to the church. It is kind of an odd way to experience a church for the first time: robed, standing and singing. I felt comfortably welcomed but uncomfortably out of place.

There should be a book written on the length and comedic value of announcement time at various churches. This church discussed (and I do mean discussed, not announced) the frustration of handling donated flowers after a service, a missing red bible and, my personal favorite, an interdenominational gathering with Nazarenes. It was then that the hippie-esque pastor (who is wearing a hat on the website) said, “We’ll make Christians out of those Nazarenes yet.” He was joking, I think.

The service was a constant battle between things I agreed with and things I did not. The pastor referenced biblical times as a period in history that we cannot fully understand and then suggested that only God had control of our future. We sang one of my favorite hymns, “Blessed Assurance,” (which I love even without inclusive language) and then sung a hymn while the pastor performed an altar call.

Regardless of its not-for-Meganness, it had a genuine, almost historical welcome. I felt as if this church was the same as it had been 70 years ago, when people were still inclined to gladly know each other.

This is the second Disciples church I’ve visited since leaving CCCUCC and its similarities to the United Church of Christ are obvious in more than just the order of worship. Both denominations practice a much-appreciated “open” communion table, and both stem from a respect for tradition but an intellect for modern ideas. I can understand why both denominations are considered mainline and yet very few people in my part of the country have actually heard of them. They represent an original Midwest, a Little-House-on-the-Prairie Midwest, a feel-good, love-your-neighbor Midwest.

It’s helpful to know that spirit is still alive, though I may not always agree with the theology that comes with the treasured traditions. Maybe somewhere, there is a balance, of progressive thought and timelessness. Maybe it’s possible to have my cake…and be a humble servant of Justice, too.

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