Visiting Churches

Church #53: Home for Easter Sunday

Our journey of visiting fifty-two churches in a year is over. I’m sad and excited at the same time. Our reunion with our home church community looms large. We will be home for Easter Sunday.

It’s Easter, and we’re returning to the people we love and have missed. I expect a joyful homecoming and a grand celebration: personally, corporately, and spiritually. 

We arrive early to meet our kids. While our daughter and her husband attend this church, our son and his wife make an hour drive to spend Easter with us, beginning our day together at church, home for Easter Sunday.

I hope for a discreet return, but friends spot me right away. They’re glad to see me but not sure if we’re back for good. I confirm our adventure wasn’t to find a new church. They’re relieved. 

Our reunion blocks the flow of people, so I excuse myself to find my family. Even arriving early, there aren’t many places left for six, but they did find a spot. I sit down and soak in the ambiance.

There’s nothing special about the building, except its age. Located in the heart of the downtown area, the sanctuary is over 150 years old, far from contemporary. Even with many enhancements, a dated feel pervades.

To start the service, our pastor welcomes everyone, telling visitors what the regulars already know: there’s no plan for the service today, only a general intent. Its length is unknown, so it will end when it ends.

He reiterates that we have freedom in worship: We may sit, or stand, or kneel. We may dance or move about—or not.

As is our practice, children remain with their parents during the service, worshiping along with the adults, but often in their own way.

There will also be an open adult baptism later in the service. With the place packed, he asks the congregation to slide toward the center of the seating to make room on the ends for those still needing seats. 

The worship team starts the service with a prayer and then kicks off the first song. The energy level is high. After thirty minutes or more of singing we hear a brief message.

The church is in a yearlong series—I’ve kept up by listening online and apprised Candy on key announcements and teachings. Today, the lesson is about Abraham and Sarah, her scheme for her husband to produce a child through her servant, and his boneheaded acceptance of her misguided plan.

Our pastor ties this in with Easter: We all make mistakes, and we all need Jesus, who offers forgiveness and provides restoration. 

Next is baptism. Our pastor shares the basics of the tradition. The rite is the New Testament replacement for Old Testament circumcision, which he addressed in the message.

Baptism symbolizes the washing away of our sins, a ceremonial cleansing, which publicly identifies us with Jesus. Other creeds say baptism (by immersion) portrays the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Can’t it be both?

People desiring baptism may come forward as the worship team leads the congregation in more songs. Even before hearing the full invitation, one person walks forward and then another. A line forms. 

For many churches, baptism is a somber affair, conducted with reserved formality. Not so for us. We treat it as a celebration with unabashed enthusiasm.

Our church leader prefers baptism by immersion, but the floor of this 150-year-old building lacks the structural integrity to support the weight of a baptismal pool.

Instead, we use a traditional baptismal font, with the goal to get as much water on the recipient as possible.

After an elder douses the first person with water, a raucous celebration erupts from the crowd. We cheer this woman’s public proclamation of faith. We baptize a dozen this morning, with more that will happen at the next service. What a glorious Easter.

With the baptisms complete, we resume singing. After a couple more songs, the worship leader concludes the service and the crowd slowly disperses.

We eventually make our way out after ninety minutes. Some have already arrived for the next service, which starts in half an hour.

Today we returned home for Easter Sunday. It was an amazing reunion, a grand celebration, and a fitting conclusion to our yearlong pilgrimage.

[Read about Church 52, see the discussion questions for Church #53, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

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Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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