This morning I visited the Seventh Day Adventists near Green Lake.
It was an absolutely beautiful day, and the two mile walk from my home to the church took about forty minutes, winding around the lake among the geese, joggers, bicyclists, and some Rat City Rollergirls practicing their technique. There were also a couple of very brave sunbathers using body paint instead of actual bikini tops. I’m not sure if that’s actually legal in Seattle, but a couple of bike cops went by and they either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
I got to the church about twenty minutes early, and did my usual thing of walking around looking confused until someone stopped me to talk to me. It didn’t take long. In most churches I’ve visited, people notice a new face almost right away, and this church was no exception.
A man introduced himself and steered me over to the guest book, which I dutifully signed, and we talked a little about the church. Interestingly, he told me that he wasn’t a member here, that he was Episcopalian, and attended because his wife was a member, and he really liked the church community. He mentioned that he didn’t quite agree with the Seventh Day Adventist dogma, but when I pressed him for details, he didn’t want to elaborate. I think he didn’t want to discourage me from attending.
I didn’t get a lot of dogma from my visit, but I did pick up a pamphlet that explained the differences between Adventists and other churches.
After talking with him for a little bit, I went into the chapel. This is the “churchiest” place I’ve been to yet. It had a high ceiling, with exposed beams under a very steeply raked roof. There was a huge beautiful stained glass window behind the pastor’s podium, and lots of other stained glass windows along each wall. There was an immense pipe organ, and the pews were long wooden benches, like the kind of pews you’d expect to see in a church in an old wild west movie. When I picture a church in my imagination, it looks a lot like this.
There was also a balcony, with a space for a choir, and a glassed in room. Mormons take note: They have a special place reserved for mothers with noisy kids. Just sayin.
There was also a baby grand piano on the stage, and I sat near it, in the front row, because I was hoping someone would play it. Alas, nobody did.
The music person played the pipe organ instead. Now, you’d think this would be a pleasant thing, but I didn’t find it so. I think the fault with that lay not with the performer, but with the organ. She certainly seemed to know what she was doing, but the organ sounded like a county fair calliope, and it was way too loud. It got annoying after about a minute.
People began to swarm in, and the organ belched out some Bach that would have sounded better on a harpsichord or a piano, and conjured up images of wooden horses going around in circles.
Nobody sat in the front row with me (people rarely do) but the folks who sat behind me were friendly and introduced themselves. They told me that today would be lightly attended because of the holiday. As it was, half the place filled up, which I guess was somewhere around a hundred folks. If this is half attendance, then they’re a pretty lively church.
The pastor came in, said a few announcements, and then we got up for an opening hymn. I suspect the hymn was a pretty nice song, but I don’t know for sure. I couldn’t hear it over the circus music blasting out of the organ, completely drowning out the congregation’s singing.
There was a brief prayer, and then the children’s story. Kids were ushered in down the center aisle, and took up seats near the very front. Some of them sat next to me in the front pew. The pastor sat down with the kids, and a story teller, I suppose a “Saturday School Teacher” told a heartwarming story about how she got a cat for Christmas when she lived in Africa.
In the story, her parents went shopping for food and presents on Christmas day, in a nearby town. I get the impression that they lived out in the country, and her parents might have been missionaries. They had stopped at a farm and picked up a kitten that was for sale. But the kitten was a wild cat, and when they got it home, it didn’t want to have anything to do with the humans, scratching and biting them. Over time, however, with care and feeding, the kitten came to love the family. The story teller equated the kitten with people, and the loving family with Jesus, saying that this is exactly how Jesus feels about people.
It was a nice story, and the kids seemed to like it, but I felt like it was a lost opportunity. I suppose there could have been a message about how treating people or animals with kindness reaps rewards, but instead it was used as a reason to praise Jesus for being such a great guy.
Then they did something clever. The kids were given buckets, and told to gather money for the congregation. They were so cute, who could possibly resist giving them offering money? It was very effective. For the next few minutes, I could hear the plink! plink! of money dropping into the plastic buckets as the children collected the offering.
The next thing was a “new testament scripture lesson” which was actually just a guy reading a few lines from the book of Luke. There was no lesson, per se. The passage was about Jesus berating his followers for being too self-important, and Jesus bragging about how humble he is. At least, that’s my take on it. Your opinion might differ, it’s Luke 22:24-30 (NSRV). And while I just wrote a bit of sarcasm into that paragraph, I also note that the message of humility is a good one, that deserves a point on my scale. I almost don’t want to give it a point, because there was no real discussion, no real “lesson” here, just a dry verbatim reading. But the message is a good one.
As a side note, I’ve heard a lot from the book of Luke since I started doing this, and I’m starting to think that Jesus was a pretty cranky guy. He sure seems to yell at his followers a lot. Then again, I suppose we all need to be yelled at from time to time.
During the reading, the pastor sat and fiddled with his phone. He had turned it sideways, and had extended the keyboard out, and was either reading his text messages or sending texts while the young man read from Luke.
If you’re a pastor or a speaker in a church, don’t fiddle with your phone where the congregation can see you. It’s a little insulting.
Okay, now is the time in the blog post when I say something positive: I liked the sermon. The pastor got up and delivered a pretty lively and engaging talk that began with the American Revolution. He talked a little about revolution in Egypt in the modern day, and segued nicely into the revolt of the Jewish slaves in Egypt as told in Exodus, and ended up giving a little history lesson about Jesus being betrayed at the last supper.
I would say that, next to Pastor Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, he’s probably the most entertaining speaker I’ve yet heard. He walked around, gestured wildly, and spoke well. There was also a message in there, which falls under the category of good and timely advice, although I personally disagree with it. The advice is this: You should forgive people. You see, Jesus knew that he was going to be betrayed by Judas, and that the other apostles would abandon him before it even happened, and he forgave them for it.
Now, I’m all for forgiving someone for cutting me off on the freeway, or saying something rude, and that sort of thing. But I’m not a big fan of forgiving people who are involved in a conspiracy to commit murder, or any other very serious offense, and I don’t think you should either. However, my criteria states that I accept advice as “good” advice even if I disagree with it, so it gets a point.
After that, we had communion. We were given a cracker and a little plastic cup of grape juice, and after the pastor and another young man (a deacon? pastor in training?) said a special prayer, we all ate the cracker at the same time and then drank the juice.
The cracker was a half inch square, dry, salty, and very dense. It was like a saltine, but as if someone had taken three or four saltines and pressurized them down into a dense mass, and then colored them brown. It was slightly less tasty than it sounds. A few sesame seeds would have gone a long ways to making it more palatable.
Is there some holy law that says communion has to taste bad? 1 Corinthians 11:23-30 Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you, and enjoy it not, for it is dry and salty and will coat even the roof of your mouth, as if you had eaten sand.
After communion, we sang another hymn, which I couldn’t hear, and then the organ serenaded us Barnum & Bailey style as the pastor left the chapel.
Being good to your fellow human: 1 (forgiveness)
Help your community: 0 (no mention)
Be good to yourself: 0 (no mention)
Good and timely advice: 1 (humility)