Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Faith. It's defined by Merriam-Webster thusly: 1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1) : fidelity to one's promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>
I was raised to be a Christian, from very early on. As an infant I was baptized in the Lutheran church, and honestly, I don't remember going to Sunday School & church when I was small, though we must have, because I knew that the Greek Orthodox church our Greek friends attended did things differently than "our" church. Even when we returned to the States, and moved to Kansas, I recall going with my friend next door to her Presbyterian church, and it being a little bit different, but more like what I was familiar with. I always knew that Christmas was about the birth of Christ, and that Easter was related to his crucifixion and resurrection, even when we weren't going to church or Sunday School regularly. When we moved back to TX, we first joined a Lutheran church in our town, in what I suppose was Mom's attempt to try and salvage her marriage and hoping that we would attend church "as a family". Yeah, that didn't last terribly long, a little over a year, I think. Eventually she gave up and we returned to her United Methodist roots. I got involved in the youth group and made friends, went through confirmation classes, and joined the church. For the past 30 years, I've been a Methodist. I haven't always been active in a church, and many times my membership has been at a church nowhere near where I was living, simply because I didn't move it, either because I was lazy, or because, well, the church I found that I was most comfortable in just wasn't quite home.
In 1987, a friend and neighbor invited me to a Bible Study, held in her home, led by a member of her church, for young adults. By the beginning of 1988 I had joined her church. Epworth United Methodist Church. Immediately, Epworth was more like home for me than even the church I first joined upon completion of confirmation, a church I was active in for several years. That summer, my younger brother died in a motorcycle accident, in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. After blood family, the first people I called were those neighbors who had introduced me to Epworth. I made that call as soon as I saw a light on at their house, shortly after 7 a.m., I think. Before 8, my pastor had arrived at my house. Note that I was the ONLY member of my family who attended Epworth. My mother, grandmother & brother had all kept their memberships at a larger Methodist church in town. By the time I arrived for Sunday School, the entire congregation had heard the news, and was praying for and with me. Those same people, fewer than a dozen of whom had ever met my brother or my mother, filled the sanctuary to overflowing, practically, for his funeral a few days later. As much as I was loved at my first "membership" church, Epworth has truly been family for me, for many years now.
Over the years, my faith has remained strong, despite hardships and sadness. My beliefs have evolved, and I've come to a point in my life that I embrace and incorporate bits and pieces of various belief systems into my daily life and it works for me. I try very hard not to be judgmental, especially of other people's beliefs. It is not my place to judge. Your salvation or future lives are between you and whatever deity you choose to worship. Personally, I think that we are all worshipping the same entity, it's just that we visualize and refer to that entity in different ways. My beliefs are not any more right/wrong or valid/invalid than yours.
Through some personal experiences, and experiences of those close to me, combined with some study on my own, and talking with people with other beliefs, I've come to the conclusion that I am a Methodist, and that at least as long as my Christian journey continues, I am always going to be a Methodist. I am always going to have a preference for a traditional service on Sunday mornings when I'm in church, complete with piano or organ, hymns that I know and love and can find the words and music to in the hymnals in the pews, rather than a contemporary service with a bunch of amplified instruments, words to the songs on a screen, and a show.
I have never understood why I needed to go through anyone else to talk to God… I was taught from early on that I could talk to Him whenever I wanted or needed. I have never understood the mentality of roles in the church being defined by gender. I have never understood why someone other than the actual parties involved in a marriage having any say in the religious upbringing of the children born of that marriage. I have never understood excluding anyone from church based on location, color, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, parenting status, clothing, living situation, or anything else.
Many years ago, I went to church with a guy I was dating. It was a relatively conservative, small church affiliated with a much larger VERY conservative denomination. The Sunday School teacher went on and on about "ritualistic churches, such as the Methodist church." Uhh, what??? Because my boyfriend was divorced, he was not allowed to be a greeter, usher, read aloud, or lead a prayer in church. The fact that he thought they "loved and accepted" him completely baffled me.
This past weekend, I attended a small church out in the country with some friends. Friend A is a member there, and they've been wonderful to her over the years, so I understand, and she loves it. So Friends C & D met the pastor at the funeral for A's husband in the Spring. Friend C went a couple of weeks ago to the regular service, and LOVED it. Since then, she's said to me a few times "I really wish you would come with us one week, I think you'd like it for the times you don't make it to Epworth". So this weekend, C&D decided to go again, and I went with them. NOT my cuppa tea. I DID have a bit of background: Pastor was raised in a conservative (and in my experience largely judgmental and closed-minded) denomination, and spent some time on the country music scene. The church looks much like a warehouse or industrial sort of building from the outside, with a steeple on top. The inside has some lovely woodwork, and the altar area seems more like a stage than an altar. There was a drum kit, an electronic keyboard, an electric guitar, a bass, an acoustic guitar (plugged in), and a fiddle, in addition to a half dozen microphones. It really felt like to me, after a few minutes of initial hellos and visiting with a handful of people who welcomed us, that we'd been dropped into an old-tyme country gospel show… There were maybe 3 songs that had the words projected onto a screen above the pulpit, but much of the music was the musicians/singers (pastor, 3 other instruments, & pastor's wife singing). I will say that everyone up there is talented, though country is NOT my choice in music, unless the only other option is rap. The men were invited down to pray at the altar prior to the sermon, though at one point there was an invitation for anyone to come down. The message was good, about having people around you who will have faith FOR you during those times when yours might falter, as the man who was lowered through the roof by his friends who were trying to get him in to see Jesus so his paralysis might be healed (Mark 2:1-12); as well as being one of those people for others in your life. I just don't think that church needs to go on for an hour and 45 minutes… especially when close to 45 of those minutes were a country gospel show and included 85% of the music for the entire service. Yeah, NOT going to be going back there, probably EVER. I don't think that it's wrong, or bad, or anything like that, it just doesn't appeal to me, and as sweet and welcoming as the people were, it's not going to meet my needs on those days I can't make it to Epworth.
It did remind me, again, that I am blessed to be part of a church that is at least as welcoming as that little country church. We have awesome kids, and awesome adults, and an awesome pastor. We are small, some would say we are old-fashioned, and we are family, and I like that whole family thing.