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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Worshipping: Four Churches in Seven Weeks

November 22:  Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta Georgia

December 20:  Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

January 3:  St. Brendan Catholic Church, Clearwater Beach, Florida

All other weeks:  Church of the Savior Christian Reformed Church, South Bend, Indiana

Today's theme is the visit of the magi and the Epiphany of Christ among the nations.  As I worshipped this morning, I reflected on the greatly varied experiences I have had in churches in the last seven weeks. 

11 AM--church was full by 11:15
I was glad when Sarah Schreiber invited me to the Ebenezer Baptist Church with a few of her colleagues from Calvin Seminary.  We were in Atlanta for the Society of Biblical Literature convention and I had hesitated to make the journey by myself.  Walking through somewhat sketchy neighborhoods and knowing I'd be in a racial minority made me uncertain.  It was a great experience to worship with Martin Luther King's former congregation.  The music was loud and spirited.  The sermon was loud and even more spirited.  People were dressed up and standing up in support of what they heard.  The theme was from Psalm 34 on giving thanks--and was definitely an Old Testament challenge more than a specifically Christian message.  The pastoral prayer, delivered as we held hands, came from my soul along with the pastor's words.

A few  weeks later we  met our daughter Laura and three of her children at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church.  The church was beautifully decorated for Christmas and full of congregants, young and old.   The music was grand and the organist was an expert in interpreting the hymns at the organ. The pastor spoke meaningfully on the Magnificat.  She said it was banned in parts of Latin America and left in Latin when the rest of Scripture was translated into the vernacular during the Reformation because it was so disruptive to the powers in charge.  It was a joy to watch the rehearsal for the children's Christmas pageant afterwards and hear Jasper read his part and see Ruth and Sam practice being sheep! 

Then there was this morning's service at St. Brendan's Catholic Church.  I had taken the shuttle from our hotel and bought groceries at Publix.  Wearing my sneakers and informal clothes, carrying my bag of food, and realizing my unfamiliarity with the mass,  I took a back seat.  I was greatly moved by the music and the words--even the familiar words of the carol's refrain " Gloria in Excelsis Deo" brought tears to my eyes.   The monsignor's slight accent and occasional stumbling over the words of the liturgy made me really concentrate and take the words into my heart. I had a great sense of the "mystery of the faith."  The sad part--the words "I am not worthy to receive..."-- are so true for me in a Catholic church and I knew I would not be welcomed to participate in the mass.  So at that point I left.

Deacon Bill Gorman wrote about Epiphany in St. Brendan's worship folder:  "Don't be looking for stars to follow.  Christ is right in front of you.  Sometimes you will find Christ in your family, your friends or the poor, homeless and the migrant."

 I guess that is why worshipping in our own church is best.  We do have honest and excellent preaching and our music is praise and not performance.  But we look around and we know the stories of many around us--their joys and some of their sorrows and needs--and they share in that for us.  Many of the stories in our church's Advent devotional booklet told of how Christ came through the love and concern of others.

When I struggle with my own doubts and unbelief, I need to live with the mystical aspects of faith and look for Christ in my community. 


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