On Saturday evening at 5:35, I loaded my two children and their four playmates into the borrowed navy blue van (which came with the four extra children) to drive twenty minutes to our destination.
At the children’s ministry desk, I checked in my two children and registered each of the other four, who were just one time visitors. Thirteen minutes later, the kids were checked into children’s church. Unburdened by my wiggly, giggly, screechy companions, I walked down to the main sanctuary.
At 6:09 pm I walked through the doors of the sanctuary into darkness. To my right was the soundproof cry room, where parents of babies can sit and observe church through windows and hear the service through the speakers. I walked through the second set of doors and into the church sanctuary. The room was darkened and the congregation was standing singing along with the worship band “We Are Here for You.” Twin screens about 10’x12’ displayed one or two stanzas of the song at a time. There were no song books.
The next song was a familiar hymn from my days as a Follower: “Jesus Paid it All.” As these old hymns so often do, this one brought tears to my eyes and a rush of memories. We sang eight more songs and as I sang along with the congregation, I looked around and wondered who in this large room really deserved to be there. Who should I shun? Who is not worthy? Of course I knew the answer – it was me. I was not worthy to be there, but I was loved and welcomed anyway.
After the tenth worship song, the worship leader prayed while the congregation remained on their feet.
At 6:27 pm, the worship leader asked us to prepare our tithes and offerings while we listen to a prerecorded four minute video with church announcements, bible studies, potlucks, women’s retreat information, and student ministries announcements. I wrote a check and felt guilty for giving less than a full tithe.
The pastor is my age. He’s dorky, but in a cool way. He and his gorgeous wife have been married twenty years and they have five children. He wears black-rimmed glasses and has a soul patch on his chin (which he used to refer to as his “flavor-saver” but I think someone finally clued him into what that term actually means). His dark hair was styled with hair gel and came to a point near the top of his forehead. He was wearing grey slacks, rolled up at the bottom and a blue t-shirt.
The congregation is mostly young. Most people are in their thirties, forties, and fifties. Not many older folks. And the people who go to this church are quite attractive (maybe it’s from clean living).
The pastor asked us to pull out our bibles and follow along. The sermon was the third in a series of four sermons about heart conditions. This one was about half-heartedness (Luke 8:14). The pastor paced and bopped around the stage while sharing anecdotes. He was getting our attention and getting warmed up for the meat of the lesson – the sermon would come back to his opening stories several times. The sermon, which started out light, quickly became serious.
After the service, we stood to sing again. The first song was another hymn from the past.We sang a final worship song – the twelfth song of the service, the pastor prayed for us again and the lights came on. I turned and talked with my best friend. On the way out, we stopped and visited with others. No harsh feelings, no glares, no shunning, no gossip.