I am ashamed.
I also want to switch churches.
The first problem I’ll explain below.
The second one is only a half-truth, because I do love my home church. For one thing, most of my best friends go there. For another, it’s unapologetically Bible-based, God-fearing, and truth-speaking. For another, it’s a lot closer to home than the church I want to switch to.
About 850 miles closer.
See, we went on vacation last week to a little town on the coast of Florida . . . the sort of rare town left on the Gulf these days that maintains a sense of history, a sacredness of nature, one Piggly Wiggly, no fast food joints, and no high rises.
Like many Southern towns, there’s a church on every corner. The Baptists, the Episcopalians, the Catholics, the Methodists–each of them own a corner spot on main street.
But they’re small.
And because of their smallness, they’re rather charming, and, well, curious-looking.
On the first (and only) Sunday of our vacation, I dragged my mom along with me to the Methodist Church–the oldest church in town. My intent: to sit in the back row, sneak in a few iPhone pictures, write some notes on the hairstyles, dialects, clothing, and face contours of parishioners for character studies for a future novel, and sneak back out.
But ooooooohhhhhh noooooo.
God, and the pastor–a charismatic young Grecian named Themistocles (“Themo” for short) from Maryland (you can’t make these things up)–spotted my mom and I the instant we walked through the creaky wooden threshold. Seeing as how the head count was 62 the week before (this, of course, posted on an old attendance/hymn board in the front of the sanctuary), I suppose we stuck out like a couple of sore Yankees. He ran over, shook our hands, and introduced himself. Once everyone had taken a seat, we were asked–along with a couple of other mortified first-timers–to stand and tell everyone our names, where we were from, and a little about ourselves. (Have I mentioned spontaneous public speaking gives me panic attacks?)
Themistocles praised God for “all the visitors God spoke to, to come worship with them that day.” Then he began to pray over each person in that sanctuary, laying hands on the hurting, asking others to surround and lay hands on the broken, commissioning a team going to serve in Nicaragua that week, and calling everyone by name.
I sank in my pew, ashamed that I’d come there to scope out “what kind of people went to a church like that.”
Red-faced and avoiding Themo’s intense gaze, I flipped through the program, and noticed the prayer needs of the sick, the hurting, the healed, the newly married, and the newborns were listed by name on the back.
Then Themo began to preach.
Oh, how he preached!
He preached for 30 solid minutes on Romans. About grace and hope. About sanctification and edification. About justification and condemnation. About faith and forbearance. About kindness and patience. Good and evil. He even mentioned the word predestination–Lord have mercy!
Most of all, Themo talked about how the Kingdom of God is busting out all over, and that we are the ones–you and I–to usher it in.
Then he asked the youth of the church to come forward and receive communion.
He asked the youth to come forward first.
The coming generation.
The ones many of us think should take communion last–if at all.
The teens and pre-teens walked forward, knelt in a semicircle before the communion table, ate the bread, and drank the wine.
And then, we who were used to going first were last.
We sang the doxology in harmonies without a choir to help us.
And I realized how much I miss singing that sacred prayer at the end of the offering.
An elderly woman played the organ, and we sang Amazing Grace.
A young man (who happened to look like Chris Martin) and another played acoustic guitars, and a teenager played the bass, and we sang…
Your love never fails
it never gives up
never gives up on me . . .
. . . this one thing remains . . .
. . . and on and on and on and on it goes
yes it overwhelms and satisfies my soul
and I’ll never ever have to be afraid
’cause this one thing remains
this One thing
Big church, big music, big theology, big exegesis, big feminism, big programming, big movements, big projects, big cheap grace, and yes, even big discipleship.
What does all the big mean, if we’re missing this One thing . . .
. . . this One thing that remains in the hearts of 62 parishioners as it has in the tens of generations of hearts before them, embraced by the chippy clapboard walls of a church most postmodernists would dismiss . . .
. . . but where, on a Sunday morning in June, this One thing was bigger than I’ve felt in a hundred Sundays of big church put together.
The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.