This Sunday morning, I went to visit the University Christian Church, which is of the Disciples of Christ denomination.
I really had my wires crossed this morning. I got up a little later than I had planned, and then had a semi-panic moment when I saw the time and realized that I had to get going right now to make it to the church on time. Thing is, I wasn’t late at all. For some reason, I had it in my head that the service started at 10:00, when it actually started at 11:00.
So I rushed around like a maniac, and out the door in record time, and left the house with myself in an insufficiently caffeinated state. When I got there, a few minutes before 10:00, I wandered around until I found some people who were going in to church. But these weren’t the Disciples of Christ I was looking for. These folks were Baptists. They rent space in the church from the Disciples.
The baptists were very friendly, had me sign in and gave me a nice patriotically-themed name badge. That’s when I saw the sign about them being Baptists. I said I was here for the University Christian Church, and they pointed out, I think with a little disappointment, that the church I was looking for met on the other side of the building.
So now I know where the Baptists are. See you in a few weeks, guys.
After wandering around a bit, I ran into the pastor of the University Christian Church. She welcomed me, and told me to be free to walk around and explore, so I did. It was a really big building, and when I found the chapel, it was very impressive.
Architecturally, it truly was a grand space. Grand in the way the Catholic Church was, but not dripping in gold and statuary. It was bigger than the Unitarian church, and while the UC church was much older than the Unitarian church, the Unitarian church was much shabbier and used-looking. I regret not having a decent camera with me, my cell phone just doesn’t do the space any kind of justice.
I was very early, so I ended up sitting in a community space on a couch with some of the other members. They were all in their 60’s or 70’s, and that made me feel very young. We talked a lot about this church, and I relayed to them the story of my grade school teacher, with whom I’m friends on Facebook, who wanted me to visit this particular church because her grandfather helped establish it. We also talked dogma a little, and they all assured me that this was a very liberal church.
Now, I’m not doubting that they feel this is a liberal church, and the Disciples of Christ certainly do have that reputation, but the sermon today wasn’t very liberal. In fact, it would have felt at home in any of the other very conservative places I’ve been to. But we’ll get to that.
Once services started, I sat up front again. As big a space as this church was, the setting was very intimate. I was literally four or five feet away from the pastor most of the time. Even though this part of the building could hold 1200 people, there were only 29 in attendance today. The big communion table had been moved from its place atop the stage, and placed down on the floor below, the pastor didn’t preach from her podium, but from the floor, and a bunch of chairs had been brought in an arranged in front of the first row of pews, forming a small, cozy space inside the giant hall.
Later, I asked if the number of attendees was normal, and one person said it was. They just don’t have the number of people going there that they used to. It’s kind of sad, really, to see such a grand old place with so few people in it. Like the Methodist church I visited last month, this place felt like it was dying out. And I mean that almost literally. The median age of attendees must have been right about 60. I was perhaps the second or third youngest person there.
While we gathered, a man played the grand piano (very nicely) and a young woman sang an aria. Her singing was absolutely lovely. There were several times during the service where she sang solo, and it was always wonderful, and when we sang hymns together, her voice was loud and strong and kept us on pitch and on time. We were her backup band.
There were the usual announcements by lay members, some thanks to the church leadership, some prayers for sick family members and things recently in the news. I’m going to skim over describing them because they really weren’t all that distinctive from any other Christian church I’ve been to, with a few exceptions.
There were times when the pastor would chant something and the congregation chanted something back. What we were supposed to reply was printed for us in the church bulletin. That was helpful. I was lost during the Thursday morning mass at the Catholic church. Everybody knew what to say but me.
Also, the confession was interesting. We all confessed in a very general and generic way to a pre-written script, together, out loud. And here’s the part where a point is earned: The pre-scripted confession actually advises the flock to “open our hearts to the surprising prophets in our midst.” And we were told and agreed to, in unison, to pay attention to and be tolerant of opinions of dissent, be tolerant of people speaking different languages, having different methods of worship, political views, appearance… it was some really good humanist stuff.
I get the feeling that this sort of thing is told at Disciples of Christ churches as sort of standard fare, and is just part of the program. I consider this sort of thing to qualify as being good to your fellow human, and there was so much of it, it gets the full two points. Good job Disciples.
The benediction was good too, the pastor telling us essentially to be excellent to each other, which also gets a point. Since my scale only goes to 2, this will overflow into “Good and timely advice.” Again, it felt this this was the standard program for Disciples.
In between the prayer of confession and the benediction was the reading from the bible and the sermon. The bible readings were from the second book of Kings and the book of Luke.
Now, I’m not a huge fan of the second book of Kings. To me, the adventures of Elisha the prophet, who features prominently in this book, is a part of the bible that says some things that I just don’t appreciate. For example, the story of the Two She Bears, who Elisha had God send down to devour 42 children for teasing Elisha about his baldness, to me, is a story that is pretty awful.
The message that runs throughout this book is this: Don’t mess with God or he will mess with you, and behave and be obedient, or horrible things will happen to you. Not exactly tickling my humanist fancy.
This particular passage was about a warrior named Naaman, who had leprosy, and was finally able to cure himself of it by giving in to the Lord’s wishes, and bathing seven times in the Jordan. If he hadn’t done those things, then parts would have started falling off, so good going Naaman. Run along and be obedient now.
The other part of the lesson was from Luke, where Jesus had sent out 72 people, in pairs, to different cities to preach the word. And they did, and since they were so faithful, that nothing bad could happen to them while they were doing God’s work. They couldn’t even be hurt by demons. So they had that going for them. Nice.
There was a bit more to the actual verses from Luke, such as being humble and being polite in other peoples’ houses, but the pastor sort of skimmed over that and focused on the 72 being invincible, so that’s what I’m commenting on.
You know, they were interesting stories, but hardly the fare of what I’d expect in a liberal church. In fact, I’d say that her sermon was more conservative than the Seventh Day Adventist sermon I heard yesterday. I kind of wonder if she’s tailoring her message to what her increasingly elderly flock likes to hear.
After the sermon was communion, and I am pleased to report that I enjoyed it. I’ve had communion with the Mormons, the Adventists, and the Non-Denominational Martians, and I observed it with the Catholics but didn’t participate. This is the first one that I thought was enjoyable. The bread was passed around and we were allowed to eat it right away, but the grape juice was to be held in reserve until a prayer was said, and then we would all drink at the same time. It felt like we were toasting something, and I resisted the urge to yell “Prost!” in the middle of it.
The bread was actually good. It was gluten-free too. Someone actually took the time to get communion bread that didn’t taste like rocks or Wonder Bread. The Mars Hill guys had good-tasting communion bread, some kind of short bread, but you had to dunk it in some awful sour-tasting wine, and that ruined it.
And then when we drank, even the grape juice wasn’t bad. There wasn’t very much of it, but it didn’t taste like the cheapest grocery store reject grape juice that you sometimes get. You know, the kind where you can taste the feet that stomped the grapes. No, this actually tasted like the kind of juice you’d serve to guests at your house. Not bad.
There was more beautiful singing before we broke up, and afterwards there was a barbecue of hot dogs, but I didn’t stay for that, as I already had plans for lunch with my girlfriend. One very nice lady offered to make me a “hot doggy bag,” but I politely declined. They were pretty nice folks.
I hope their church lasts a while, but I think it probably won’t. They’re getting some revenue, I’m sure, from the Baptists and maybe some other rental revenue, but I imagine keeping such a large grand old space operational is pretty expensive.
So, the score:
Being good to your fellow human: 2 (various)
Help your community: 0 (no mention)
Be good to yourself: 0 (no mention)
Good and timely advice: 1 (overflow)
Significantly above average. Could have been much higher.
Tasty communion (2 points)
Opera! (1 point)
Total honorary points: 3