Sunday, December 27, 2009

Asha sent out an email announcing a "new members" class on Thursday mornings with some materials by John MacArthur. She said the church website would have more information. I checked and found nothing, so I followed a link announcing a church plant in Hamilton.

Their "preview" service last Sunday was snowed out by the blizzard - was it only last Sunday? - and rescheduled for this morning. A friend of mine from high school is the secretary of a church that meets in an abandoned theater. As far as I know, she's done that her entire professional career. So the idea isn't anything new. Except, in this case, the other screens are still in operation: the parking lot was jammed but not everyone was heading to church. Movies on Sunday morning?! I can't say I've ever considered that. If I had nowhere to go on Sunday morning, I'd stay in bed.1

Their location was a good choice, very public and visible. I stuffed my NLT Catholic edition inside my coat, made sure to lock my car, and tried to act as if I do this every Sunday. Ushers associated with the church wore distinctive T-shirts and I was guided past the concessions into the theater. I haven't been inside a theater in probably ten years but nothing much has changed. There were about ten rows in an orchestra section down front, but I was shown a seat at the end of a full row in the middle, next to a preteen boy there with his mother and sister. The preteen had a cup in his cup holder and I hope it was hot chocolate. I was uncomfortable sitting next to a young boy 'though I wasn't supposed to be. The song leader told us to be at ease in the cushioned theater seats and not be uptight as if we were at church. But we were forbidden to fall asleep. The countdown on the screen showed :41 seconds, so I was just in time.

We were ordered to stand and sing along if we could as the band played four songs, of which I can remember the last three: "Hosanna (In the Highest)", "The Stand" and "Revelation Song".2 The rock music was loud but very well done. The guitarist was very good. After the second song, I grew tired of standing and wondered why I should let my cushy theater seat go to waste. Weren't comfy seats the venue's main selling point? I sat down, feeling like a rebel whenever a usher went by to seat a latecomer. Ironically, the next song was all about standing!

As the message started, we were told to be seated. But then, almost immediately, the preacher asked those with physical or emotional ailments to stand. Well, my ailment made standing uncomfortable so I stayed seated. The young boy next to me stood. Then the preacher asked us to stand and pray over or with anyone next to us who stood. So there was no avoiding it. I lugged myself to my feet and prayed for the young boy to my right: Please, God, get this boy and his family out of this church, in your mercy. Or something very like that. When I was done, I sat down and the message continued a bit more.

The Scriptural text was Eph. 1:4-14 and I've said before that the metaphor of adoption works better for me, theologically, than language about being born again. Unfortunately, we were assured that our mere presence at the preview service constituted our adoption into the family of God. Then, we were shown a video interview with a couple who adopted a girl and then were blessed with five biological daughters afterwards. The couple featured in the video were present in the orchestra section and I had recognized them from seeing them enter at the start of the service and be seated. They acted like "somebody" as they took their seats, and I began to suspect that the orchestra section was reserved seating.

To wrap things up, Josh invited people to accept Jesus. The next move was very familiar from my Campus Crusade days: bow your heads and close your eyes and if you accepted Christ, please make eye contact with me up here so I know. He acknowledged a few people's signals, genuinely, I hope. And while our eyes were closed, lo!, the band had returned to the stage for a final song: "O Holy Night" which I know only from the Home Alone movie.

In our packet - everything was branded with last Sunday's date - along with sermon notes, was a business reply card for contact information. I expected this and had no qualms about filling it out. I just wasn't sure about dropping it in the collection basket because I had no money to give. So I held onto it until way too late. We were invited to (Pizzeria) "Uno" for lunch, at our own expense, of course. And as much as I would have liked to, I had to get home. The neighborhood was familiar from two years ago when we ate brunch after Bible study at the Bob Evans. That establishment is now out of business.

Not knowing anyone, I had no reason to linger and socialize. The staff handed out free Christmas tree ornaments and I couldn't help but take one. I suspected it would advertise the church and, yup, it does. It's an image of their trailer.

First Preview Service from 217church on Vimeo.

I greeted the preacher on my way out and said, "A nice message," and he saw that I was still holding the business reply card and could he have it? So, sure. He says in January, he'll be reading through Proverbs, one per day, and will email out reflections. Oh, yes, the New Year, time for "reading through the Bible in a year" schedules, etc. Actually, Janet's has been going along pretty faithfully.3

And as I walked to the car, my legs felt unusually good. Josh had requested that anyone who receives healing, either at the service or in the following week, be sure to let him know. And I wondered to myself whether this was a church plant ... or a church split. How many church splits are disguised? It wasn't full-blown Pentecostal but healing and wholeness was emphasized, along with "things that unite us." Josh promised that he could probably sit down on any of our couches and talk for hours and neither offend nor be offended. Maybe, but I'm somewhat theologically beyond the Protestant pale. In short, the church is about service and not doctrine. It's better than not going to church at all, but I'd guess that between half to three-quarters of the people come from other churches. I wondered whether they would ever hold holy communion.

1 my husband said he'd gladly go to the movies on Sunday morning.
2 Maybe the first song was "Hungry (Falling on My Knees)".
3 I've tried following along but I just don't understand the point of her questions.

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