Sunday, May 02, 2010

This afternoon I attended a luncheon fundraiser for ovarian cancer awareness at the behest of a friend with the disease and members of her church. I opted to attend their morning worship service so that we could all drive over together afterwards.

Jeff loaned me his car with the satellite radio so I picked up the 10:15 service from St. Patrick's, about 25 minutes into it. Ap. Dolan was thanking God during the prayers of the faithful that the NYPD had foiled the Times Square bomb plot yesterday. I appreciated his clear speaking voice and listened about twenty minutes until communion began. Then I scanned to a Christian praise music station and turned the volume low.

I arrived late to the worship service only to learn that the teens had taken over the church for the weekend. Therefore, there were no ushers to seat me at an opportune time; I could take a seat immediately. Ah, informality!

The teen praise band was finishing their set of these numbers: "I Wanna See," "Heart of Worship," "Enter This Temple," "Healer," "I Can Only Imagine." Perhaps providentially, I arrived in time to hear - and participate in singing - only the last song. There was a video testimony by a parishioner who had accepted Christ while on a mission trip last summer. Then two young parishioners walked up front and gave another testimony to the congregation about chastity. I wondered how the older folks felt about so much sex talk at church. The offering was taken up while an original song was performed, "Dying to Live." And a boy went forward and read the Scripture for the day, Hebrews 12:1-2. And then the evangelist was introduced by the youth pastor.

They had met last summer while on the mission trip. The message is entitled "Leaving a Lasting Legacy" (sermon with intro from youth pastor) and grew out of the evangelist's close brush with death. Both of his parents are deaf and he eventually met the man who evangelized them because the deaf community is so close-knit. Maybe having a sensitivity to nonverbal cues, the speaker seemed adept at tailoring his message to his audience.

He started by saying, "Jesus can balance your checkbook" but then, maybe noticing that some people bristled at that idea, changed his tone and even put down wealth & prosperity preaching. I felt that he was watching reactions, especially mine since I have a face like an open book. I'm an easy read. But I was relaxed - let my guard down - as this isn't my church. So even if he comes back, it's nothing to me. But I do worry about the good people there: they all seemed taken in by him who may be a charlatan. It's so difficult to judge in that line of work. We closed with "All Who Are Thirsty." I knew none of the songs because this was teen praise music, not middle-agers's music.

I ended up giving two people a ride over to the hotel that was hosting the luncheon. And I was glad that the radio was low but set to a pleasant station when I turned on the car. We talked about the freshness of the service and I said that most people don't experience such a thing until they get to college. But here they have it, right in high school.

Someone made up T-shirts for everyone in our group of ten with a verse from Scripture printed on the back. I don't think I've ever worn Scripture before, not even on jewelry. I wasn't self-conscious - I'm rather self-forgetful, actually. But I could hear people reading it off our backs in mumbled tones as we walked by.

After we took our seats in the ballroom, the mayor of the town opened us all with a word of prayer "to the Lord." The ladies at my table murmured with giddiness at how unexpected that was. In an effort to calm them down, I pointed out that "Lord" is a rather generic title. However, I was privately rejoicing at his Italian name.

When the keynote began, I noticed a lady at our table draw out a Bible and a notebook and decided she was working on an evening Bible study presentation. So that gave me permission to draw out my Bible and read Proverbs. The keynote was interesting but I really had no inclination to be there. Ladies at our table were wondering after the keynote whether the speaker was a Christian because she mentioned God. I pointed out that she also mentioned matzos.

One of them who has known me a long time overheard that I had been at their church that morning and she sidled up to me later to ask me discreetly what I was doing there. I told her that I just thought it would be nice to worship with everyone before sitting down to lunch together. As it turned out, no one needed a ride back so I was able to leave immediately afterwards.


evanscove said...

Was that Catholic church you vistited, or a contemporary evangelical one? Or some other kind?

At least that fellow didn't promote the "prosperity gospel." I've had more than my fill of that kind of stuff! Sounds like you weren't too comfortable there.

I can relate, though. We probably have all been in situations like that where we felt out of place or just not at ease somehow. I hope the rest of your week was more enjoyable!


Moonshadow said...

The church I visited is a PCA church in the midst of a facelift, structurally and culturally.

It always considered itself evangelical, but now it's adopting some mega church features: overhead screens, small groups, praise music.

I was more comfortable there when the service was staid - something of an anomaly even in this traditionalist part of NJ - not so long ago. Now worship there just seems like all the rest.

Happy Pentecost to you!

evanscove said...

A PCA church? I'm a bit surprised...

I have mixed feelings about these attempts to be contemporary. On the positive side, I realize they're trying to reach the younger generation with the gospel and keep them in the church. However, I feel a lot of it can be very shallow, degenerating into mere entertainment with a religious twist. And some of it strikes me as being quite juvenile. But in the end, I suppose it's for God to judge. Nonetheless, those kinds of church services don't appeal to me.

And a happy Pentecost to you too! Happy birthday to the Church! :-)