6 in 6: Diary of an intentional church shopper


I haven't been to church in a while (feels like a while), and partly because of reasons I've discussed recently, and partly because I'm hopelessly lazy. We don't subscribe to Relevant magazine here at the library, but they've been sending us free issues in hopes we'd begin to pay for them. :) Our last free issue came today, and there's an interesting article by Jason Boyett. He writes that he has gone to a Southern Baptist church his entire life, and so Relevant asked to him visit six different denominations on six different Sundays, and keep a diary. He also had to keep to himself in order to gauge the friendliness of the congregations.

I'm only going to post one of his diary entries, but the article provides "quick stats" on each denomination next to each entry, and I am curious what any of you think of his brief descriptions of the denominations.

United Methodist: "Believes people can lose salvation if they fall into unrepentant sin. Accepts divorce as a "regrettable alternative," but also supports remarriage. Emphasizes that spiritual gifts are to be tested by the value they give to others, not personal enlightenment or joy."

Presbyterian: "Strongly rejects the use of icons and images. Discourages but accepts abortion, and encourages dialogue regarding the practice. Opposes gambling as an abdication of stewardship."

Southern Baptist: (he didn't attend his own church) "Avoids the use of creeds. Believes once a person accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, they can never lose their salvation. Accepts baptism as a sign of necessary obedience in Christian faith, but rejects the practice of infant baptism."

Roman Catholic: "Accepts the Bible and the Apocrypha as sacred texts. Prohibits remarriage unless first spouse dies. Believes all who die in God's grace go through post-mortem purification system. Opposes women in leadership roles in the church."

Episcopal: "Undecided on the acceptance of homosexual behavior but opposes same-sex marriage. Does not support death penalty. Accepts the Apocrypha for edification. Supports unity within the Christian church. Allows for a moderate use of alcohol."

Assembly of God: "Supports loyalty to the government, including involvement in military activity. Believes people are saved by faith, but may forfeit salvation by rejecting Christ. Focuses more on evangelism than social justice."

As you likely guessed, I'm going to share the Episcopal entry. I was bracing myself for a scathing critique, mostly because this article was written by a Southern Baptist (I'm prejudiced, I know). But the entry actually makes me want to go back to church and quit my hiatus. Don't take this as a "Ha ha! He liked my (currently favored) denomination over them all!" He liked different parts of all the services he attended. I'm sharing this because I really appreciated his words, as they so closely mirror my own love for Sunday mornings at Saint Mark's, and made me think how much I've missed them:

My favorite service so far. The "Holy Eucharist, Rite II" begins at 10:30 a.m. I open the wooden doors and see a monstrous pipe organ backing up the choir loft. The entire place is lit by sunlight pouring through the huge windows. Beautiful.

I take a seat. Behind me, the choir begins singing a hymn, "They Cast Their Nets in Galilee," which I've never heard. Wearing white vestments, they proceed down the aisle into the choir loft. We then stand to sing another hymn, followed by the first reading of the day, and then the choir chants Psalm 27, Gregorian-style. Cool. We alternate between Scripture readings, hymns (no projected words) and prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. It's a challenge to juggle the worship-order handout, the hymnal and the prayer book. I need a third hand.

The sermon is short and unspectacular, but it's given by the associate rector, who is female--the first female pastor I've encountered so far. She offers a brief exposition of the "great light" lectionary text and its fulfillment in Jesus as the culmination of Israel. It's a pretty intellectual approach. Then we recite the Nicene Creed, followed by the "Confession of Sin." Together, as a congregation, we recite a wonderful prayer, including this passage:

We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

When we finish, the priest says, "Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ," and it's such a good reminder. I love this part.

For the Eucharist, we proceed a row at a time to the front. I hear the administrant's voices: "The body of Christ, the bread of heaven. The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation."

I can't overemphasize the satisfaction I get from this service. It's contemplative, reverent and serious. There's no swaying or hand-clapping, but the congregation participates through prayers, confessions, and responses. I hear more scripture read than in any Baptist service I've attended. Communion is central--just like last week's mass--but the Episcopal church lets me participate, acknowledging me as a fellow Christian. That's significant. The liturgy is different, but the words are deeply meaningful. I get the sense that the focus of the service isn't on the music, or the preaching, or even on making visitors feel comfortable. It's on Jesus. It's crazy how that seems so revolutionary.


My denominational romp has been rewarding and educational. Granted, no single church represents the entirety of any denomination, I have learned a few things about myself along the way. Before, I probably would have said my top criterion in joining a church would be based on its pastor. How good of a preacher is he? How inspiring is the sermon?

But not now. My favorite service was the Episcopal church, and I hardly recall the message. What I remember was the sunlit atmosphere, the liturgy, the feeling that I was participating in something ancient and holy and serious. I'm not about to leave my own church community to join them, but it does make me think hard about how we do church...

For the whole article, pick up a copy of the May/June issue. Here at the library or wherever they're sold. Its cover is weird: the word "Injustice" in large all caps behind a picture of a guy standing on a woman's back as she lies facedown in a puddle. Nice. The title of the related article is: "War, Consumerism, Faith, Culture, Politics & Gay Rights: You Asked the Questions--We Found the Answers." Oh, re-he-he-he-heeealay? (Ace Ventura, anyone?)

Actually, their panel who responded to these 'burning' issues is intriguing: Steve Brown, Shane Claiborne, Chuck Colson, Cindy Jacobs, Brian McLaren, Nancy Ortberg, Jim Wallis, and N.T. Wright.


Anonymous said...

what an interesting article. i'm sort of fascinated by the specific things that caught his attention, especially the ones that he tracked across the different traditions—the preservation of the saints, divorce, and the role of the deuterocanon. it's so random, but so deeply personal at the same time. who can say what these three things have to do with one another without understanding him and how he came to be who he is today?

it was, however, a little horrifying to see each tradition boiled down to these few things. i grew up in the assemblies of god and am now catholic and i can feel both of these traditions inside of me crying, "but that's not who we are! that's not what makes us us!" in general, church shopping strikes me as such a bizarre thing—to judge subjectively a thing that you are going to believe to be objectively true. even the metaphor of commerce is so strange and appropriate... and strange.

but yeah, interesting article. i'll have to check it out!

Maryann said...

It is intriguing what stuck out to him. If I had to sum up denominations in three or four small statements, I'm not sure what I would focus on, but your right, it would never feel like it caught the 'essence.'