Categories
Visiting Churches

Our Second Church Visit but First Service

A Delayed Experience and Worth the Wait

We visited this church as one of our original fifty-two, though I almost didn’t count it. On the Sunday we showed up, they cancelled their service because their minister had an emergency.

With a start time of 11:30, it was too late to head anywhere else. Instead, we hung around and talked with a young friend who was eager to share her faith journey.

Though we had a delightful time celebrating our common faith and God’s work in our lives, there was a disconcerting moment when she shared her church’s narrow theology.

Their resolute view holds that speaking in tongues proves a true salvation experience, whereas people who claim to be Christian and don’t speak in tongues are deluding themselves and not true believers.

That statement separated her from us, with her on the inside, part of the spiritual elite, and us missing out—though I’m not sure if she viewed us as heathen or heretic for professing a faith sans speaking in tongues.

It grieves me when a hard theological stance divides the church Jesus started. This isn’t what he wanted and not what he prayed for the complete unity of his followers, that we would be one (John 17:20-22).

Since they didn’t hold a service when we visited, we head back today for our second church visit, to experience what we missed the first time. Though I anticipate worshiping with them, I’m also doubly apprehensive.

First, my friend’s explanation of their church’s narrow-minded theology haunts me. Though three of the fifty-two churches shared this perspective, she expressed it the most adamantly.

Will my standing with God be assaulted again today? Yet I want to be tolerant. I desire to offer grace and shun possible offense. I pray it will be so.

Second, they cancelled service once. Will they do it again? It’s a worry I cannot shake. Though not purposely planned, we already went to church today, a 9:30 service at our home church.

So if this church again cancels their service, I won’t feel a void. In theory, we should have had ample time between services, but we don’t, with us breathlessly arriving only a couple minutes early.

Better Attended

This time there are more cars in the parking lot, perhaps fifteen or so. On our first visit, it was bitterly cold, windy with a hint of snow. Today the sun shines brightly, with the fall temperature, above normal.

This brightens my expectations.

We open the doors and walk inside, once again to an empty lobby. This serves as an eerie reminder of our first visit. We head to the sanctuary. It’s deserted. Instead, people congregate in a side room as they share a meal.

Not knowing what to do, we stand for a moment, hesitant. Should we go in or make a quick retreat? As I consider both options and am leaning towards leaving, a man spots us and approaches, struggling to swallow his food so he can talk.

An affable fellow, he shares his name and says he’s the pastor. That’s odd. Our friend used the title “elder,” which I also saw on their sign and in their bulletin.

“Are we early or late?” I’m not sure, concerned we once again missed their service.

The pastor smiles. “If you’re here for Sunday school, you’re late.” His eyes twinkle. “But if you’re here for church, you’re right on time.” His playful demeanor puts me at ease.

I immediately know three things: there will be church today, we’re not late, and I like this guy.

He offers us food, gesturing to a potluck-arrayed table. I thank him, but decline, partly because we aren’t hungry but more so because it’s obvious that the time to eat is winding down.

He glances at the partially finished bowl of salad in his hands and then back to us.

“Go ahead and finish eating,” I assure him. “We’ll just wait; it’s okay.”

He gladly accepts this and retreats with his salad, but when no one else approaches us, he returns so we’re not alone. He redirects his attention to us, smartly balancing his unfinished meal with helpful conversation.

He looks familiar, though in a vague way. His name, too, seems like one I should know.

We eventually discover some common background, having attended the same school. Though at ten years older than me, he graduated before I arrived. However, his sister was in my grade.

He finishes his salad while others head to the sanctuary. That’s when our friend spots us. “I’m so glad you came back.” She’s sincere, pleased to see us again. Then she apologizes once more for their cancelled service on our first visit.

We enjoy an extended time of sharing. Eventually her husband comes up, imploring her to get ready for the song set. Today he’ll handle the A/V, while she leads the singing. She excuses herself to prepare.

By now, most people are sitting, and we join them. It’s about fifteen minutes past their scheduled start time, but no one cares. Aside from us, everyone else was there for the meal and presumably Sunday school before that.

The service opens with singing, led by our friend as she plays guitar. Her sound is pleasing yet carries a distinctiveness I can’t discern. My bride detects a slight bluegrass vibe. I disagree but lack a better description.

A nearby drum kit and piano sit idle, though some in the congregation use tambourines and many clap. Some people stand as we worship, while others sit.

Though they have hymnals, we don’t use them. Instead, we follow lyrics displayed on the screen up front. In addition to hymnals, there are also Bibles in the chairs, the KJV.

With seats for over 150, there are about thirty people present: mostly older and predominantly female.

For the opening prayer, everyone prays at once, out loud. It’s most disconcerting, with the assault of their words prohibiting mine from forming. All I can do is listen. I can’t make out any one prayer. Their combined cacophony is a jumble of English.

If other tongues are uttered, I can’t discern them. Later, before the offering, only the leader prays, while everyone else listens.

Three older men (elders, I presume) lead the rest of the service. All three wear suits, the only men so attired, though many of the women wear dresses.

Without being told, everyone stands for the Scripture reading, Hebrews 4:11-16. Then we sit, as the minister begins his message.

His message rambles, with no theme I can discern, though perhaps the problem is mine. Maybe I’m not focused, as this is my second church service for the morning, and now I’m hungry.

He never mentions speaking in tongues, and there’s no hint he views it as a requirement for salvation.

Throughout his sermon there’s much interaction from the congregation, as they react to and agree with what he says, shouting out an “Amen” or “Praise the Lord!”

For a small group, they’re a vocal one.

To wrap up the service, there’s an altar call, and we sing one more song: “Come, Now is the Time to Worship.” (It’s the only song today that we know.)

At one point, a woman comes forward and kneels. The three elders surround her. She doesn’t look at them or say anything, so they must know her need.

The minister lays his hand on her head as the men pray out loud for her while we continue to sing. One by one, they peel away to resume singing. Eventually she returns to her seat.

The song ends, and the service concludes. The people mill about, talking with one another.  

Many folks welcomed us before the service, and most of the rest share a quick word with us now. Some thank us for visiting, while others invite us back. We talk more with the minister, as well as our young friend.

By the time we make our way out, most of the others have already left. We arrive home by 1:00, tired and hungry, but glad to have experienced church with them today.

Takeaway

It only takes one hospitable person to ease the anxiousness of a visitor.

My wife and I visited a different Christian Church every Sunday for a year. This is our story. Get your copy of 52 Churches today, available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.

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.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.