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; 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~

Listening as a spiritual exercise; day 3 of Ramadan

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Today I entirely slept through pre-dawn breakfast. I tried to wake up for it but my body was tired more than hungry. Yet when I came to from my slumber I was hungry, but I resisted the urge to something and I started my day. It started off with a bit of prayer and a bit of writing, as I took some time to write about day 1 and 2 of my experiences of Ramadan. I see a lot of every day practices as being spiritual, and by writing it out I find it to be more apparent with how spiritual the event truly was. When I was done with my writing I set out to go to a new church per my church incognito project…

My understanding of the Seventh-Day Adventist was very limited, and per my adventurous spirit, I set out to go to the one in my community to experience it corporately. With open ears and an open mind, to listen and talk to members of the church about what being Seventh-Day Adventist means to them.

Now I won’t disclose what I gleaned from my time at the Seventh-Day Adventist church because that’s what my next post is going to be about, but I will say this, I talked to the pastor as well as members of the congregation and it was truly rewarding to talk at length but also to listen at length as well. I now have a broader perspective of what Seventh-Day Adventists than I did before and it was truly a good time inasmuch a God time.

This was my first interaction with anyone today and it truly set the course for actively listening to those around me for the duration of the day. I actively listened to what my pastor said per his message about fathers and it nearly moved me to tears because I recalled my time of being a father once before; it was a brief slice of my history, but I am thankful to God for the time I was a father and I look forward to the next time! I even found myself more engaged to the conversations over dinner with friends and acquaintances; I usually listen, but I found myself more in tune to what was being said and I think I contributed more than I usually do.

So with all that being said, listening was my keyword on this third day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The Great Listener, for God truly listens to all of that we say and God eagerly awaits for us to communicate. God still speaks, but sometimes God’s voice is found in the still and the silence rather than the noise, and sometimes we ourselves need to sit in the still and silence in order to listen to hear the voice of God.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
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-