August 22, 2012
I Survived a Church Visit
Now I'm not a church-going type for several reasons, some of which may be evident as you read through this blog post, but generally speaking the problem I have is with religion. Several of my friends are religious....an associate of mine is even a member of the clergy....and if it works for them I'm happy for them. I do consider myself somewhat spiritual, but definitely not religious. I truly believe the average church-goer hasn't bothered to really sit down and think about their religion and how their personal beliefs stack up to that of their professed faith. Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes is a statement that I think rings truer than most would like to acknowledge.
Instead of delving deeply into my personal history with religion, which I doubt many would care about, I'd like to describe this surreal experience I had Sunday.
My wife and I had been invited from my Sister-in-law to attend to witness the introduction of her daughter Anna to the Church. My SIL came from a religious family that still attends (I hope I get this right) an Eastern Orthodox Church. We were told we wouldn't have to stay long and we could dress in jeans if we liked. I dressed like I was going to work because that felt right to me.
We get to the Church and it is really a compound that takes up most of the block. There is the main church building, a couple of associated businesses, and several different smaller buildings for Sunday School. I'm certain that there were more buildings I just didn't see. There were a lot of people milling about and everyone was dressed like they were getting ready for a lunch in the park. OK, this Church is laid back....that's fine by me. We were getting in during the break between services.
The main building is pretty big and filled with chairs. It looks much more like an auditorium than a church. There is a balcony and a whole side wing with some sort of refreshment bar. The stage up front is set up for a band and there are a couple of large video screens.
This is when it really hits me......this is much more than a Church....it is a business....and business looks good. Honestly, I did not feel comfortable. It occurred to me that there were so many people here that there was just no way that you could really recognize, much less know, a significant portion of the congregation. The service were were attending was one of several and this Church has a slate of clergy to serve its needs. The causal trappings just seemed to be a way to make people artificially comfortable in an inherently uncomfortable setting that should not be so.
The service started with a large group of performers coming out and playing what I recall being pitched as more of a musical call to prayer. We all had to stand and they started performing. I'm guessing 15 minutes and 4 songs later the lead vocalist closed it off with an "Amen" and we could be seated. This was followed up with someone (a Deacon...a volunteer....a pastor-in-training?) leading an actual prayer.
I actually cringed when this guy was praying aloud. He was not a very good speaker. Many novice speakers, heck even the practiced guys, tend to add verbal pauses when they speak. If you spend any time in Toastmasters you quickly pick up when someone says "um" and "ah" a lot when they speak. This guy didn't quite do that. His verbal pauses were "Lord" and "God". I kid you not, he said "Lord" or "God" about every 10th word. How do I know that these were verbal pauses instead of an integral part of his prayer.....I'd say because if you took the words out you wouldn't have missed them.
After that was the done the Pastor came up to begin. I remember thinking to myself that this next bit is what I should really judge this particular church on.
Boy, was I right.
Since I didn't go into a long dissertation on my personal religious history, I should make this brief aside to note that I have been forced to attend church confirmation classes in the past and that for some time I was studying to be an anthropologist. I know there are many, many religions in this world and how much damage has been done by one group foisting their religious views onto another. In my opinion the first step in missionary work is usually to discredit a person or group's currently religious views. Of course this can be done nicely, but it is the foundation of all missionary work.
I have never.....ever heard the adjective "non-believer" used by a clergy so frequently. The pastor also showed us a video of some "Harvest" celebration that the church was taking part in. I noticed that the organizer had to have his name plastered on everything pretty prominently, not a good sign, and pretty quickly my expectation that this was some sort of food drive/benefit event faded into the realization that this was a missionary event to get some of us non-believers into the fold. It was clear that if I didn't ascribe into their particular Born-Again Christian views, I was needing to be saved.
The rest of the family was still sitting in their seats and although I really wanted to leave I remained in order to be polite and respectful. As the Pastor went into his sermon I intently listened, actively paying attention to his words. While I liked much of what he said there were a couple of things that jumped out. One was a non-verbal message. Don't ask me how I could point this out, but I'm sure it was my old job....the Pastor was definitely an addict. I'm sure he is in some sort of recovery and I wouldn't hold this against him, but I did have to wonder how much of his faith is tied into his recovery.
The other thing I noticed was a somewhat subtle bashing of other world religions. He didn't come straight out and say, "Those Jews and Muslims are damned to hell." or anything, but he did make some remarks to the effect that any rituals and practices outside of his religion were just wrong.
After the sermon the musicians came back out and I was ready to leave. I was actually ready to leave an hour earlier, but this time the rest of the family was also ready to leave. When we slipped out I noticed that there were just as many people out and about the church compound as there were when we came in.....but this time there was a service in full swing.
I don't know what to make about that, but I do know that I will not be going back to that church anytime soon. If little Anna gets married there in 20 years I think it might be too soon.