Saturday, October 23, 2010
Heather and I have been in church every Sunday since my return to Winnipeg, but so far we have not once been to an Anglican church. This is proving to be hugely stimulating and satisfying to both of us. Truth be told, I’m having a blast!
They’re all Christian churches. In some profound way they are part of my own faith family, and it is deeply satisfying to be with them as they go about their journey of faith in the fashion that has made most sense to them.
For the most part, so far, the common denominator is that I know and like the clergy. On our first Sunday back we went to a non-denominational evangelical fellowship because we have been good friends with their pastor for several years. I met him in a ministerial association when I was at St. George’s church, and for some reason one day we got together with our spouses and the four of us hit it off with that kind of chemistry that is subliminal, impossible to predict, and the root of true friendship. So, with the choice of any-church-we-like-so-long-as-it’s-not-St.Luke’s-(or another church at which I’ve given leadership), we said to each other, “Let’s go visit ________ at his church!.”
Currently he’s at a quasi-Mennonite fellowship in a small Manitoba town. It took us 40 minutes to get there, and when we arrived (a bit late) we found a mid-sized church building absolutely jammed with people of all ages. We were hard pressed to find a seat where we could both sit together! The crowd had everything from ageing farmers, to young couples with squirming kids, to teenagers bursting with hormones. The average age of everyone there that morning had to be no more than 35.
There was a praise band; lots of singing to words projected on a screen; and a community announcement time where people as often asked for prayer for very personal concerns, as urged others to attend something or work on something.
But for all that burgeoning life, no one spoke to us, or even made eye contact with us (other than the pastor himself, with whom we arranged to spend the rest of the day at his place, visiting and chatting). Fascinating.
At the next 1 one we went to, we knew no one! But it is a big, visible urban church with a reputation for quality worship! When we got in, there was a lot that was slick and modern – a praise band (as well as a pipe organ), projected words to songs (and before the worship began all the bulletin announcements were also projected on the giant screen), and a preacher who paced the stage with a semi-invisible cheek microphone. The congregation, however, was ageing (average perhaps as low as 55 but probably a lot older) and sparse. The sermon was styled as though it was given in a giant amphitheatre holding thousands, which struck me as somewhat incongruous. There was a greeting in the middle of the service, effectively an “Exchange of Peace,” and people did that with good will, and with courtesy towards the two strangers in their midst, but no one spoke to us otherwise, nor made any attempt to draw us into the community. This lack of welcome included the pastor, whom we did not see following the service.
Augustine United Church
Next stop, a United Church. To be fully candid we were not expecting much, since the United Church has a bad reputation for being very trendy in theology, and consequently to some extent theologically shallow. Our reason for going was once more my acquaintance with the pastor. We had met one another in a ministerial, and while it is not a friendship wherein we visit back and forth, I hold this person in very high regard. To our surprise and delight, out of all the churches that we have attended so far, this one was by far the most welcoming. The greeting by the ushers when we came in was warm, the exchange of peace was sincere, and during it people from all around us came specifically to us to say “You seem to be new here... we hope you feel welcome.” After church this attentiveness was continued – never in a pushy or offensive way – to the point where we went to the coffee hour and spent quite a pleasant half-hour with a number of people.
We aren’t stopping. We have a list of churches that we plan to attend. Before we’re done, we hope to visit and worship with Christians of almost every possible stripe. I should add that we probably won’t go to places where the worship is in a language other than English, because we really intend this to be an exercise in participation, not in tourism. We would like to be persons-of-faith with our brothers- and sisters-in-faith, whether they happen to self-identify as evangelical or pentecostal or catholic or orthodox or gay-positive or whatever we Christians tend to hyphenate ourselves into.
I find it to be a marvelously refreshing and soul-enriching experience, and may feel some level of disappointment when we finally say, “Okay, done the list, there are no more to do.”
Of course this very handily puts off the decision about where we would stay, to truly become part of the community. At this point there is no question but that we will end up in the Anglican church somewhere... but where??? Well, we don’t have to answer that just yet.
1 Actually, this isn’t accurate. The next church we went to was a Roman Catholic one. But, as I came to write up our journey for this blog, that visit slipped my mind, partly because the worship was so similar to Anglicanism that it felt familiar and – dare I say it? – “normal.” The priest, another friend of mine, welcomed us, but the large congregation basically paid no attention.
Click here for next Oxbow