Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Getting Religion

I am a sinner and my girlfriend is parting company with her mate of 26 years, so it is as good a time as any to get religion.

As with most men, her husband preferred spending an hour at a home-improvement store rather than at church, and as with most sinners, I preferred hanging out with other sinners to assure myself I wasn’t alone. For me that meant going to a bar or to church, and on Sunday mornings, well, going to a bar seemed very Irish and I’m French, preferring wine or a less fermented variety.

My girlfriend, Anita, got a head start church searching and ventured solo the week before. Though she was not impressed with the church’s misplaced and alternative political viewpoint, she had an overall good feeling about the place.

By next Sunday when I jumped on board, we’d decided to wade into nearby fellowship waters. Our goal was to stay in our area of the city, as well as to find a small church in which we felt community and where leadership provided guidance for good living, upheld positive values, and maintained cohesiveness within the congregation.

When we arrived for the 10:45 service, there wasn’t a car in the huge parking lot. This I took as a sign. Church hadn’t been a part of my life since my love and I split in 2006. Maybe, I thought, God had different plans for me, like communing at an Irish pub, though I’d probably have to move to Chicago to find an open bar on a Sunday morning. The sign on the church’s door read: Join us for our annual Labor Day picnic in Bear Creek Park.

Because we were all dressed up and needed somewhere to go, I exclaimed, “Let’s go to my old church!”

We arrived at Calvary after the other thousand congregants had and parked a distance from the new structure. In this new building that had risen since the fires of my relationship hell, ever more people needing the love and dynamism of Pastor Al swarmed to hear him preach. He makes people’s hands, voices, and hair rise. I love this guy. And I like that the congregation isn’t dominantly white. Yes, Pastor Al can put the fear of God into a soul, and my friend said she was one of them.

The Sunday next, we waded back into nearby fellowship waters. This time, September 11, the parking lot was full, as was the sanctuary with first-service attendees. Arriving early is my modus operandi, whether to a party or church. That way I can observe those coming in and, in this case, coming out. It’s education. As we walked out the door after the unchurchlike service, we glanced at each other knowingly. Next?

My neighbors for years encouraged me to attend a vibrant, open-minded downtown church. Though both neighbors were members of other downtown churches, they knew my spirited nature. Three times I had walked this church’s labyrinth, a structure indicating the church’s deeper walk with the mysterious. On September 18, Anita and I thoroughly enjoyed the Congregational church, their engaging, approachable pastor, and their music, particularly the handbell choir. Still fanning embers of tradition, such as singing from hymnals and having a choir, their members seemed very involved in contributing their time and talents to the communities, microcosmically and macrocosmically. Anita and I both felt it was a viable contender in our quest.

The following Sunday we headed north a few blocks to an extremely unprejudiced, unbiased, nondiscriminatory, liberal church.

The following Sunday, the first in November, the sisters took tradition a step further and visited a Methodist church. Anita’s neighbor joined us on this expedition because she was, in fact all of us were, raised with Midwest Methodist teachings. Time stood still in this space. The congregation was primarily white of hair, limited of hearing, and slow in communicating, except for a boy who slickly grabbed a plastic container of communion juice and downed it on his way to Sunday school. That’s the spirit! This kid I could relate to. In his wit, the pastor assured us, our communion time would also come.

Throughout our grand adventure, I learned that some churches say A-men and others say Ah-men. Nothing about women. They all say the Lord’s Prayer too, with variations on sins, trespasses, and transgressions. Why they all pointed their fingers at me I’ll never know.
Other neighbors are members of the Episcopal church, or the Western branch of the Church of England. I’d only been to this church a couple of times for a wedding, maybe a funeral—same thing, so I looked it up in my iBook’s Oxford dictionary. “Church of England: the English branch of the Western Christian Church, which combines Catholic and Protestant traditions, rejects the pope's authority, and has the monarch as its titular head.”

Rejecting the pope’s authority sounded good, and I love monarchs, even planted milkweed to attract them, but what’s this about a titular head?!

Neither Anita nor I had any proclivity to figuring out when Catholics sit, stand, kneel, or fall prostate, or is that prostrate, on the marble, yet this Episcopal church fell very close to Catholic ground. The people were the most welcoming, gracious, and all sang like the Vienna Boys’ Choir, even the choir itself, singing from the heavens behind us.

By this time we realized that all churches these days have Communion on the first Sunday of each month. Each serves its version of bread and wine, but this was the second Sunday of the month and the priest was wiping the cup. I turned around and asked the kind, educated man behind us if Communion is a weekly event, and he replied, “You can have Communion here three times a day.” Great!

As we were leaving the chapel’s beautiful property, vast and elaborate as it is, we averted our attention onward. My friend and neighbor had invited us to attend an evening service at her huge Presbyterian church, so Anita and I prepared to accept. We weighed our options: try a Lutheran church if one exists in Colorado Springs, look online for any small Bible-based churches nearby, or go to the first one she visited, where I’d only been for a wedding. And that is what we did.

Three gals, Anita, my neighbor across the street, and I were enveloped by handbell music when we walked into the sanctuary. In a gentle, flowing service, I felt peace, acceptance, and the presence of real love. The pastor talked about forgiveness in a way I’d never heard, wrapping his talk eloquently around Joseph’s story, using integral parts as meat and leaving some details for dessert. Lovely.

Had I been healthy, I would have been there with my friends the following Sunday, but I shall be there the next—and likely the one hereafter. Amen.

African sky © 2002 Bob Groat

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