Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Goldilocks of Church

A couple of months ago I got into the usual conversation with my dad about church and why I don't go. It ended with him saying, "go to a Buddist church, a Catholic church, a Lutheran church, I don't care. Just go."

Here's the thing - I want to go to church but I don't want to go out of my way to do it.

I am a United Methodist but I don't like the UMC in my neighborhood. I have mixed feelings on which church to attend...its complicated. I'm kind of granola in a lot of ways and get turned off by fundamentalism, and it seems a lot of churches are going towards the contemporary services, which I am not into at all. I just want an old fashioned boring church with a smart sermon that isn't about saving the world through witnessing and no electric guitars or soulful singing. I am absolutely not going to sway or link arms with anyone, and I don't hug. I just want to sit in a pew, hear/read the lesson, and pray silently. Done. I don't want to be on a committee, I don't want to pray with you, I don't want to join the choir, I don't want to go to Bible study, I don't care if you're happy to see me if or you missed me when I was gone. I like old fashioned Puritan church without eye contact.

I took a survey once to see what my "actual" religious beliefs are and it said I was a Quaker. There is actually a Quaker church in my town but it's a long drive. Yeah, I'm lazy that way.

I guess I am a little cynical about the mechanics of spirituality; I believe in God and but I'm not all concerned about making everyone believe the same things. I'm somewhere in the middle of understanding the feel-good and therapeutic aspects of spirituality, while also applying some common sense and logic to how people determine their beliefs in a higher power. But that being said, I missed church and wanted to find one to attend.

Since I am lazy and hate to drive, I decided to start with the churches in my immediate vicinity. The Methodist church I used to attend had a sign out front that advertised that they had a "new name and new traditions," so I decided to give them another shot for the 11:00 service. But within minutes of entering the sanctuary and sitting down, I looked around at the band, the projection screens, and the number of people hugging, and realized that "new traditions" was a fancy way of saying, "like everyone else." I felt bad, but I bolted.

I drove half a mile to the Lutheran church. Pulling into the parking lot I spied a sign that notified me that 11:00 was the "contemporary" service. U-turn.

There was one church left, a Presbyterian church across the street. I was late, but I decided to give it a shot anyway and ended up slinking into the back and sitting against the wall. I scanned the bulletin to see how much hugging I had missed but didn't see any mention of it. Interesting.

A cursory glance around the church made me feel at home. There were large, sunshine-filled windows, high ceilings with exposed rafters, and the usual church light fixtures that look like enormous car cigarette lighters hanging from the ceiling. The hymns confirmed that Christianity was keeping alive the tradition of discrimination against altos, as they were all sung in an octave just below a dog whistle. The sermon was thought-provoking and actually related to the Bible, not just a sales pitch for salvation. I started to really like this place. I could get used to this.

At the end of the service, however, I was taken by surprise - a sudden call for us to all join hands after the benediction and sing a closing song set to the tune of "Eidelweiss," a song that always makes me cry. But this time, it felt sweet. I didn't even mind holding hands with the old man whose hearing aid appeared to be sending signals to an alien satellite (he has since had it fixed).

I felt a little bit like Goldilocks that day, trying church after church until I found one that was just right. And in the following weeks, the church has stayed true to its first impression.

I've made a bit of a habit of attending church since then, and it's worth going out of my way to get there. I feel refreshed and happy when I leave, and I'm having a hard time finding the downside to that. I'm glad I took my dad's advice to heart. Just don't try to make me hold hands and sway.