This week, my first foray into the world of Religion, I decided to visit two churches: A local Methodist church, and a local Fundamentalist church.
Note: This is my first post. If you’re wondering what the hell this is all about, what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and why I’m doing it, then read the about page.
Crown Hill United Methodist Church
I really wanted to give this church high marks. I liked the church, and I liked the churchgoers. I felt welcome, and the pianist was very good. The inside was nice, too. I especially liked the hanging tapestries that were designed to look like stained glass, and the banners hanging behind the pulpit were also very interesting.
The church is small, it looks like it can hold maybe 70 people or so in relative comfort, and perhaps 90 in a pinch. This Sunday, I counted only 20.
I was attracted to this church because during the time my state’s legislature was debating same-sex marriage, a message of encouragement appeared on the sign outside. I thought this would be a pretty tolerant place.
I’m not wrong about that, but the services left me a bit disappointed, and even a little depressed. I can’t help but feel that this church is dying. There just aren’t enough attendees to make it viable for the long term.
The services started at around 9:15, and lasted just under 45 minutes, finishing up at about 9:56.
We prayed six times. I know some of my religious friends will say that prayer is a great example of doing good, but I’m not including it in my grading criteria. All churches pray. To me, prayer is part of the “dogma and ritual” that I specifically do not include in my grading process. The atheist in me thinks that prayer doesn’t do anybody any good, and in fact gives people a false sense of having done something good, so a church that does nothing but pray about something is actually a net negative to me, but I’m leaving that aside for now, and just ignoring it.
We sang seven hymns. There was no choir, but the pianist was really quite good, and some of the folks in the church had pretty decent voices. This made the music rather pleasant. I didn’t know any of the songs, but that was okay, there were two hymnals available that I could read from. This, too, is not counted towards the grade.
So why did I mention two things, prayer and singing, if they had no bearing on the grade I gave the church? To illustrate something that disappointed me: The actual sermon was only about seven minutes long. We spent the majority of the time singing and praying, and a little bit of talking or shuffling about in between the singing and praying.
The pastor did tell an anecdote, about another church with which he’s affiliated, that is closing down, and there were some announcements, and some moments of quiet reflection. The lay leader (the Methodist version of a deacon) read an interpretation of the part of scripture that the pastor was going to discuss, and then the rest, the actual sermon, was over in the blink of an eye.
The actual sermon was only seven minutes long. So, what was the message?
It was Mark 4:35-40. Jesus was in a boat with some followers. The wind whipped up, the seas grew rough, and ol’ Jesus was sleeping right through it. But his followers were pretty scared, so they woke him up. Jesus, being somewhat annoyed from being awoken from his nap, told the winds and waves to calm down. They did, and then he proceeded to berate his followers for “doubting him.”
That was the whole message. What do I take away from this? What uplifting and compelling message was bequeathed unto me from on high? That if I think my life sucks, just let Jesus handle it, and don’t doubt Him for a second.
I cannot begin to say how disappointed I am that on the eve of Memorial Day we didn’t talk about ending war. Or helping those who were sacrificing for our freedom. Or … well anything but … “Don’t do anything. Let God handle it. And don’t annoy Jesus by having doubts.”
My disappointment was made greater by my poorly managed expectations. On the program notes, the words “First Sunday After Pentecost, A Day of Remembrance and Peace with Justice Sunday” are prominently splashed across the front in big bold letters. And then no mention of “Peace with Justice” was made at all during the service. Nor was there any discussion about the quote from Archbishop Romero, also on the front, which mentioned unjust social structures being the root of all violence.
I would have loved a lesson about peace and justice, and dealing with unjust social structures. Instead I got cranky Jesus in a boat.
In between prayers, the pastor did say something that I thought had some merit: He said that it’s okay to allow yourself to be loved, and that we all deserve love. I thought that was a nice message, and hit on one of my criteria. It was the only thing that hit on one of my criteria.
Was I given advice on how to live life and be a good human? Was I encouraged to help my fellow creature? Was there any discussion about how to make Earth a better place?
No. But the piano player was good. So good, in fact, that half the congregation (about ten of us) stayed after the pastor left the sanctuary to hear her continue to play the postlude, which was quite beautiful and moving. I would say that she was very nearly a virtuoso. Definitely professional-level.
The people were so nice and welcoming that I feel bad giving their church a bad score. But it failed at being a good church, I think.
Being good to your fellow human: 0
Help your community: 0
Be good to yourself: 1
Good and timely advice: 0