Church Incognito; An intergenerational, literal and KJV only church; my experience at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church

A few Sundays ago my friend Rameel and I attended the church of a woman we met at the Open Mosque. We both arrived a little late, but we were greeted warmly nonetheless, and we found our way to our mutual friend’s pew.

During the time we stood and sang hymns, I took time to get a feed on who made up Valley Baptist Church; a somewhat diverse group ethnically speaking, but there were multi-generational families gathered as well. Most of the hymns I recognized, so I followed along while those gathered sang.

During the meet-and-greet portion of the service, I ran into a guy I have known for a very long time. I talked to him about how long he had been going to that church (as I know him from a church we once attended together). He told me he had been attending there for close to 3 years, and he liked it better than the church we used to attend together because he much preferred reading the KJV only and he liked hymn books over Powerpoint slides.

The message Pastor Hemphill gave that Sunday was on contrition, that is repentance. It was a good message in and of itself, but at times the language found in the KJV threw me off; not that it was off-putting, it’s just not my lingua franca and consequently I got lost in a sea of thee’s and thou’s.

After the service, my friend Rameel met with the pastor because he had some questions. While I don’t know the full nature of their discussion, I was greatly encouraged by pastor Hemphill taking time out to talk to my friend. During this time I talked to Rameel and my mutual friend, and she filled me in on some addition in’s-and-outs of the church, I was encouraged to find out more from her.

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While my views differ from what’s presented at Valley Baptist Church, I was greatly pleased by the hospitality of those my friend and I met, especially by pastor Hemphill. It’s one thing to have doctrines, theological perspectives, and beliefs, but it’s entirely a different thing to put them into practice. What I observed and experienced firsthand was practice over doctrine, and that has made all the difference to me.

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

Church Incognito; Social Awareness and Social Justice, my experience at a Church of the Brethren

A couple of months ago I went to church at a Church of the Brethren, a denomination I knew that was known for conscientious objectors and being very verbal when it came to issues of social awareness and social justice. The Sunday I went to was no different as the church shooting in Charleston was brought up and discussed at length (which I for one think is a good thing). It was very encouraging to hearing this issue brought up as well as police shootings of recent brought up in church, as I think that these are issues that people face all too often and I think that the church should foster discussion about this more often. The church does already, but I think more is required, and not just by pastors but by the congregation as well.

The congregation was multi-generational; it was encouraging to see kids with their parents and grandparents coming together to worship God together. When it came to worship music it was very hymn based, and I enjoyed that because I don’t worship in a setting where we don’t sing hymns. I tend to fall in the middle when it comes to contemporary worship music and hymns, I like a good deal of them and appreciate the sentiment expressed.

After church I struck up a conversation with one of the parishioners. He shared with me what being a follower of Christ meant to him as well as what being aligned with the Church of the Brethren church. He had been a member of the church for a long time, and for him faith kept him following Christ but also the memories tied up in attending that church for so long. All the while he had a nostalgic look upon his face and I gathered that with the stories he shared with me.

I was also encouraged by their posture in reading the Bible, that for the most part they read the Bible seriously but not altogether literally. Marcus J. Borg’s Reading The Bible Again for The First Time comes to mind when followers of Christ choose to do this, and I for one agree it must be done in this fashion.

I too can say one of the reasons that keeps me coming back to The Orchard every weekend is the memories I have associated with it and yet I realize that it’s not a bad reason to go but I realize it shouldn’t be the only reason I go. Yet we all go through seasons of life, and sometimes a church works for a while and there are times where your best bet is to leave on good terms and find something else (not necessarily better in all occasions).

Overall it was a good time communing with the people who attended the Church of the Brethren. I appreciate followers of Christ who exemplify the beatitude of “blessed are the peacemakers” because it is one of several things I want to align myself with and practice in my faith system of a Red Letter Christ-centric Universalist. I want to have a hand in Tikkum Olam / Healing The World, and it starts with my individual efforts that ripple outward rather than inward.

~Nathanael~

Church Incognito; Communal, Interracial, Intergenerational, my experience at a 7th Day Adventist Church

On Father’s Day weekend I went to the local 7th Day Adventist Church, and based on their interpretation of the Bible they meet on Saturdays not Sundays.

Upon entering I quickly got a feeling akin to family reunion, that these individuals having not seen each other for a week (perhaps more) were so glad to be in each others presence. I introduced myself to the greeter and shortly thereafter I made my way into the sanctuary.

It was crowded in a way that wasn’t unnerving, so I found myself midway between the front and the back, and I took time to get acquainted with my surroundings. There were a diverse group; inter-generational as well as interracial, and when it comes down to it I like being in churches such as that. It was also encouraging to observe that there was diversity in those who read the Bible, made announcements, etc.

The service started off with some hymns that I personally didn’t know, but out of respect (and definitely a love for hymns) I stood and was present to it all. After a few songs I bore witness to and partook in a corporate church exercise I had never done before; kneeling in prayer together from where we all happened to be seated beside our portion of prayer. I’ve prayed on kneelers in Catholic and Episcopalian churches, but this was kneeling in the most basic of terms.

Shortly after this the pastor gave his message about living in the end times, and how they, the 7th Day Adventist Church were The Remnant. That in following God by way of following the different doctrines and beliefs, they were going to be the ones who remained when it all went down. He also spoke about things going on in the world at large and the world around us, how there was conflict between Secular culture and Christian culture, and more to the point, the culture of the 7th Day Adventists. He touched briefly on ways other denominations did things that weren’t in line with what God wanted, in particularly Pope Francis and consequently the Roman Catholic denomination, all the while pointing out that this further proved we were living in the end times.

After the service I was invited to attend their potluck lunch, but since I was fasting because of Ramadan I just sat across the table from the pastor and we talked as he ate. It was enjoyable to talk to him and pick his mind, he found out I was involved in youth ministry and that I was in the Behavioral Health field and so he picked my mind as well. It was good to have a sincere and intellectual discussion about life and faith and everything in between, he furthered the sense of  it feeling like a family reunion in my mind. After lunch I took some time to talk to the people around me about what being a 7th Day Adventist meant to them, a lot of them referenced the view of being The Remnant, which is a part of Adventist doctrine and theology. One man was very talkative about his faith and what it meant to him, and I was greatly encouraged by the length and breadth of our discussion, especially because it never came across as preachy, rote rhetoric, or mere head knowledge, he did what he could to take his views as a 7th Day Adventist and practice them out in daily living. That is a kind of belief I can completely relate to.

Overall it was a worthwhile time spent amongst 7th Day Adventists. It was good to engage God in a new-to-me environment and to pick the minds of the pastor as well as members of the congregation. The Adventists I encountered were very charitable with their time and hospitable with what they had, the nature of the “Acts of the Church” as found in the Bible seems to be very alive and well amongst them and I gather that it wasn’t for show, that this is truly how they connect faith with living on a daily basis and not solely on Saturdays. And for me that has always been what keeps faith alive, application not mere memorization.

~Nathanael~

Church Incognito; Intellectual, Communal, Missional, my experience at a Lutheran Church

On the Saturday night before Mother’s Day I was talking to my friend about my Church Incognito project. I was still undecided as to where I’d be going to church on Sunday and he invited me to St. Olaf’s Lutheran Church, as he and his brother and his mother and grandmother would be there! I love my friend so it was an easy sell.

Upon arriving to St. Olaf’s I arrived almost at the same time my friend and his family did! So it was great to finally meet them! As we walked in we were all greeted warmly by the ushers as well as our mutual friends who also attend the church.

As I entered the sanctuary I scanned for familiar faces as well as to get an idea of who attends St. Olaf’s, and it was encouraging to see a diversity of older individuals and their families as well as younger families, and there were even multi-generational families represented. I am always encouraged by the latter because it’s something I would like to do someday, that is, go to church with my kids and my kids children. There’s something beautiful to it and I am pleased to see it happening in real life.

As the service started I was encouraged by the pastor making it known that he wanted St. Olaf’s Lutheran Church to be “intentionally making this place a place of welcome”. There was the passing of the peace, there was re-greeting some friends, and then it was time to sing hymns and reading Bible verses corporately.
Having grown up in the church for nearly my entire life long term memory has served me well. I enjoy singing hymns, especially as one voice within a church. There weren’t any “new” ones so I was able to find the cadence with the congregation and sing along. Even reading the Bible out loud and in community is one of my favorites as well, especially when it comes to reading what’s attributed to the doings and beings and sayings of Jesus. The power that comes with unity when it comes to serve God and serve others is hard for me to put into words, but for every instance I am able to worship God in the context of church I am ever grateful.

The service was good, Mother’s Day was the theme and so the message was along the lines of why God made moms. It was systematic in nature with bullet points:
1. Moms FEEL with us.
2. Moms PROTECT us.
3. Moms SACRIFICE with us.
4. Moms CREATE a home for us.
5. Moms MOTIVATE us.
How do we respond?
How can we honor our moms?
1. We OBEY them.
2. We BLESS them.
3. We TAKE CARE of them and lastly…
4. CHOCOLATE!

All very good, and Bible verses supported these points. And after a few more hymns, church was over! I was invited by friend’s mother to spend mother’s day with them but I already had mother’s day plans of my own so I politely declined.

Overall it was a worthwhile time spent at St. Olaf’s. It was good to see old friends and some new, and to finally connect with some people I knew solely on Facebook at first. I love Lutherans, they’re for the most part an intellectual group of people and I for one appreciate people who have smarts that they utilize in a communal-missional sense. Lutherans have that in spades, and while I might not align myself denominationally I have no qualms with those who do provided they recognize their identity in Christ first and foremost. Hearing about faith is one thing, but I am ever pleased to see it in action, and Lutherans for the most part have that down.

~Nathanael~

Church Incognito; where spiritual identity comes first and cultural and heritage come after, my experience at a Messianic Jewish synagogue

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A few months ago I attended Devar Emet (The Word of Truth) Messianic Synagogue in Skokie Illinois. It was a lengthy drive but it was worth it. When I arrived they had just started, I was given a kippah (male head covering) and I was invited into the sanctuary.

The congregation was smaller, but there were older individuals as well as older, but they all were united in worshipping God together. The music was primarily in Hebrew, I was provided with a guide that had the Hebrew on one side and the English translation on the other. Some of the songs and also the prayers were familiar to me having gone to a few synagogues before, and the familiarity made it all the more easier for me to engage with the worship. It just happened that their sister synagogue of sorts were visiting them, so in a way it also had a family reunion feel to it as well.

If any of you readers have experiences with church camp, it kind of had that vibe to it; communal, relational, intentional, and worshipful. I was the novice to this experience, but I was warmly welcomed and I communicated with others my intentions of being there and I also talked about my church incognito project.

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Over lox and bagels I asked questions, seeking to find out why they identified with the label Messianic Jews. For the majority of people I talked with were of Jewish descent and practice. A lot of them attested that for them Messianic Judaism was a continuation of their Jewish faith, as if they didn’t skip a beat in faith traditions but merely stepped off one platform onto the next. There was also the feeling amongst the individuals that while their identity was Jewish, it started off as a spiritual identity and then merged into their cultural and historical identity.

I shared that there was a time in my life when I gave thought to aligning myself denominationally that I almost went the route of Messianic Judaism. I was informed that it might have been difficult for me to do given that I was not raised in a Jewish setting, that had I been it might have been an easier jump had I done that. And in a way it does truly make sense when Christian denominations have ties to heritage and culture, past as well as present.

I was asked by a young man if my Church Incognito project was to find some identity and place to call my own. I informed him that I wasn’t, that I was already involved and active in a church I called my own. He was encouraged that this was the case and he encouraged me to enjoy this time of exploring different denominations.

Overall it was a worthwhile time to learn and partake in Messianic Judaism even if for only one time. I was greatly encouraged to have talked to individuals who can speak at length about what their faith means to them on a spiritual as well as cultural level. I have a great level of respect for those who are able to incorporate their faith into all facets of their lives rather than attempt to live a compartmentalized life, it is these individuals that strike me as the most sincere and devout.

-Nathanael-