Previously on Battlestar Galactica… I had just started going to church. I think I will linger on this for at least one post because it is really important. We talk a lot about how to get more young people to follow the call into the ministry. Well, it is very difficult for a young person to follow a call into the ministry if they can’t find their way into a church.
My first visit to church was, how shall I say it, terrifying. I sometimes hear lifelong church people criticizing modern churches for trying to look more like a mall or an office plaza than a church. However, from a person who walked cold into church for the very first time all by himself, I applaud churches who go out of their way, in any way possible to be welcoming to unchurched people. Most people have no idea how terrifying it is for a seeker to take the first step into a church. Many churches make this worse by making themselves quite difficult to enter in the first place. It is very clear, even from the outside that churches have a structure and language all their own. It seemed to me, as an outsider, that churches wanted to make it clear that I was an outsider.
None of the following is meant as a criticism of Oak Hill UMC, where I first attended, especially since they have since remedied most of these things. I went to the church early, at least a half hour before their 8:30 service. I wanted to check things out. Also, being an outsider, I didn’t know how early one was supposed to get there. I saw two, “first time visitor” parking spaces right in front of the building. Did I park there? No way! Do you think a young outsider want to be instantly labeled as a new person? I parked far away. There were three buildings and lots of doors. Being fairly smart, I went to the doors by the visitor spots and immediately entered into the wrong building. I walked right into the choir warming up. I have to tell you, this was a bad way to start off. Fortunately, the choir director Mary Beth was an overwhelmingly graceful presence (most people don’t describe her that way but she was for me.) After inviting me to join the choir, she showed me how to get to the building where worship was held.
I finally got to the right place, was handed a bulletin, sat in the very back row and proceeded to be completely lost for an hour. I tried to follow the bulletin but I didn’t really know what was going on. At one point everyone stood up to sing and I couldn’t, for the life of me figure out why or what they were singing. (I was later told they were singing the doxology to which I replied, “what’s a doxology?”) And then came Holy Communion. I didn’t really know what it was or if I was really invited. (Note to pastors, just because you say, “all are welcome” doesn’t mean everyone hears “all are welcome.” They may hear, “all are welcome except unbaptized heathens” which may be what some pastors actually mean.”) So I didn’t go, even when the usher tried twice to tell me it was my turn. I was the only one who didn’t go.
In reflection, as I write this, I am become more convinced of the power of prevenient Grace. For, if it were not for the power of God’s grace tugging at my heart, in light of my first experience of church, I would have never gone back.
Preaching in Challenging Times
3 months ago