Growing up, I never had to move. The room that was my nursery as an infant is the same room that is now storing all of the years of belongings that didn’t join me for my summer contract. With that, there was a lot of consistency in my childhood, including my home church. I love my home church so much. I love the familiarity of it. I love how beautiful the sanctuary is, and I love the ugly brown stage in the fellowship hall where I got a taste of performing at Christmas programs. I love the tiny storage closet that connects the women’s bathroom to a fancy room with a piano, that I’m told a bride could use for a dressing room if she got married at the church. Though I’ve never used the passageway for that purpose, my friend and I spent many hours sitting in that closet, hiding from our moms after church, talking about boys. The congregation at my church has witnessed me grow as a singer, having had to listen to solos before I deserved a solo. More importantly, they’ve watched me from my infant baptism, to my confirmation at 13, and every step in between and beyond. It is such a joy every time I visit home to experience Centenary United Methodist and once again be with my church family.
While I did go to college and experience different churches then, this summer I have been exposed to even more different forms of worship. Each week, I keep my eyes peeled for churches around the area. Then, Saturday night I Google churches around me and pick one to go to according to very important factors, such as how early I will have to get up and whether or not I can walk there. Side note: lots of churches need to work on their online presence. It’s like they don’t want visitors – you would be shocked at how hard it is to find what time worship starts. Rude! I digress… Here’s some highlights of my experiences:
After our very first residency week, Kevin and I were invited to church by the parents of some of our cast members. It had been kind of a long week, simply because it was our first and we were still trying to translate what we had learned in our training into real life. We worshipped along with what we have deemed the whitest praise band we’ve ever seen. I’m chuckling to myself thinking about it, but there are no words. My home church is traditional and sings songs from a hymnal, accompanied by an organ. A few songs into worship, the whitest praise band ever decided to play an old hymn. We were sitting with the family that invited us and the son asked his mom what song it was and she didn’t know, but told him to just follow along on the screen. It was funny to me because it was the only song I actually really knew. After the service, the pastor said that the band was going to continue worshipping and we could either leave, stay and pray, or sing for a little longer. The family that invited us asked if they could pray for us. The whitest praise band ever was the background for such a beautiful moment as we held hands with this family and they prayed for safe travels, energy, and for the kids we would meet this summer. I can’t think of a better way to start a contract.
The next week our originally scheduled town re-scheduled for the fall, leaving us with a week to stay with my older brother in Milwaukee. Because trying to park a minivan downtown is the worst, we researched a church within walking distance from his apartment. This church didn’t come up on the original Google search, but after a few searches, we came across a church called Bent Tree. It meets in the Third Ward (Jacob’s neighborhood) in the conference area at a coffee/wine bar. When we walked in, we were instantly recognized as newbies because apparently this church just started up in February and must be pretty low key since they don’t meet in a church. It turns out it is part of a larger church based in Texas. We participated in worship with the jazziest praise band (keyboard, guitar, and SAXOPHONE player!) then were given time to go refill our coffee before the sermon. After intermission(?), a pastor from Texas was live-streamed onto the screen! It was a really interesting experience, but what sticks out the most is how welcoming everyone was. They were so excited to see new people at their church and for us to be a part of something so dear to them. Nevertheless, we dodged out as quickly as possible after it was over because we were a little bit tired of trying to explain who we are, why we were in Milwaukee for the week, and what we do for a living. Also I’m pretty sure they all thought we were a couple and one woman assumed that Kevin was there visiting the drummer (aka the one other black person there).
I got a little taste of home when I went to a United Methodist Church (after a few weeks of missing due to a visit from my mother, traveling wedding weekend, and oversleeping)…. Aside from one mom with a newborn, a dad and two pre-teens, and me, the average age of the congregation was about 70. I loved it. It was such a small group and you could just tell how tight-knit they were. After the pastor gave the morning announcements, he let the congregation pass the microphone around and give any announcements or prayer requests they had. It was like they were an actual family. Later on, it was time to pass the peace and the elderly couple in front of me said “Peace be with you,” and then KISSED! Ahhhh my heart melted — they are so in love!!!!!!! I was also feeling a little bit bad, though, because it was the two of them and one other woman. She’s third wheeling so hard. Anyway, after her morning kiss from her hubby, the one woman turned around, looked at me, and said, “I don’t know you.” Welcome to small town, USA.
This past week I went to a Lutheran church for the first time since I went with my grandma as a young girl. Now, we Methodists use grape juice for communion, so my little self was not prepared when I took a big gulp of communion wine. I spent the rest of that service consumed with the burning feeling down my throat and the awful taste in my mouth. I also got tired of singing, which says a lot, coming from me. This week, as I sat in this new-to-me church, I was filled with a bit of nostalgia as I experienced a Lutheran service all these years later, this time more accustomed to drinking wine, less consumed with the taste, and more in touch with the meaning of it all.
There are two main takeaways from my tour of churches. One, as Christians, it seems we often get caught up in trivial aspects of church. Should we sing looking at words on a screen or words from a hymnal? Should we be accompanied by an organ or a praise band? Should the pastor be in traditional robes or look like a hipster at a coffee shop? Of course, the denomination of the church isn’t trivial. However, while I certainly have preferences of where I feel most at home and how I personally connect, despite the many differences, they all preach the same thing. God is present at every gathering. We all worship Christ, and I think in the end of time, God is going to laugh at all of us for all of the wasted breaths worrying about the slight variances in what is really a group effort.
Secondly, it is wonderfully freeing going to a church by myself, knowing no one. Rather than needing to catch up with my church congregation, I am able to really focus on what I came to church for. At first, I felt lonely, but then I remembered, all Christians are my church family. It’s like that old kid’s song goes, “I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All of who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together!”