24. The Church Bit
It has been so long since I have regularly done Sunday morning church, that I had forgotten that air of excitement and activity that happens in the family home before the tradition of Sunday morning church. I was expecting to enjoy this service for perhaps quite different reasons to the previous weekend’s services. Knowing the character, personality and some of the history of my friend and his family, I was correctly expecting a comfortable and somewhat Texan encounter with the creator of the universe.
Our friend, being the Pastor travelled in alone early, but the rest of us arrived just as the first service was finishing. The car park was full, people were going in, people were going out and everyone seemed to be talking to everyone, it all resembled a very well dressed and very well organised country train station on race day. Except being Texas it was the men wearing the wide-brimmed straw hats.
We decided to go to Sunday School. Sunday School for adults is an American phenomenon, I have never seen it anywhere else. At this stage most Kiwis probably have a vision of real live grown-ups, sitting in a circle on the floor playing games before cutting out shapes which represent that Blind Bartimaeus couldn’t see anything. Once again Kiwis, your isolation disadvantages you and in this case many of the people present probably could have only managed a one-way descent to the floor boards. Instead we sat on hard pews with all the other Bible or God junkies. My definition, in this case, of a junkie is someone for whom church just isn’t enough and who needs to subject themselves to a Bible study either immediately after or before their church service.
I think the elderly lady leading actually taught about Holy Spirit. It was quite a refreshingly strong and powerful Bible study which invoked quite a bit of intriguing discussion. Once again I almost needed to repent of my preconceptions, I had somewhat expected to get a little bored listening to an elderly lady lead a Bible study, whilst I shared wooden pews with the elderly, in front of a whiteboard in what I defined as a traditional church. Oh, how smug and judgemental we get from within the comfort of our own denominations. At the end of the lesson we and what we do were introduced and everyone gathered round us and exercised that life-giving tradition of prayer. It was great. The previous week people had mostly prophesied over us and given us hope and expectation for things that may come and now this week people were praying that God would equip and empower us for that possible journey and for what we are doing now.
Upon leaving Sunday School, I did feel somewhat refreshed, but I also felt a little like Blind Bartimaeus, the church lobbies were so full that I could not see a thing. Our host was trying to guide us, but having a husband as a pastor and three kids to manage meant that she had much larger fish to fry than gathering coffee and getting her guests to the less traditional service at the other end of the building complex. But alas, once we got in the correct lane, the flow took us past the coffee, past throngs of chatting people and into our seats. ‘Less Traditional’ is a interesting duo of words to use. In my experience as soon as a Christian or probably any other group has met a couple of times, there are people in that group who will all but kill you if you decide to do things a little differently. We in church are about as untraditional as you can get, but still we have people who will buck the system when we try to do things differently, the worst or best example of this being a time when we tried to give some money away. The previous two times we had given it to the same lady. But this time we were trying to give it to someone else who we thought had more need. We altered our tradition and some struggled with that. However it could have been a lot worse.
I had not long been in my seat when the kids turned up and reminded me that I should have never grown up. Us grown-ups on Sunday mornings get to worship God through drinking coffee and standing up and singing. Where as the weans in this church on Sunday mornings got to worship God through sitting down and colouring-in. The kids seemed to have been given crayons and colouring-in books by the children’s church. I would love to colour-in for worship, especially if I could colour in on blank pages. Those pictures in colouring-in books are like recipes for me, merely possible options of what could be done. Anyhow we are supposed to be worshipping God and we are most definitely not supposed to be distracted, which in itself is an interesting and not necessarily correct notion. Sunday morning worship is exactly that, it is the worship of God. I would suggest that God doesn’t just want you to focus on him through every little moment of worship. Yes he should be the centre of our lives, but during worship allow him to distract you, allow him to remind you of the places he has taken you and the people he has introduced you to. God for all of us, is anchored in the context of our lives and experiences. He is anchored at the intersections where our lives and experiences collide with other people’s lives and experiences. During worship, sing your heart out to God, tell him you love him, but also allow him to take you on those happy distracting journeys and to show you why you love him and why you should worship him. And if you are like me and are still lost in the mystery of God and don’t come close to understanding the ‘why war’ and ‘why kids are dying in Africa’ questions, then worship is a time to bless God with your faith and humility and a time to let him know that you don’t understand the big picture. And let me tell you a secret, even the really brainy don’t understand the big picture, we are all winging it on a prayer, we are all like blind Bartimaeus worshipping through colouring books. That is why it is called faith! Why? Because it doesn’t take answers to worship God, it takes questions, thus it takes faith. But yes I agree, answers are so, so nice.
Anyhow the worship set was a little different to how I usually like it, I am not used to people talking or giving notices in between songs. But as far as I could hear, the worship was perfectly culturally relevant. It sounded like Garth Brooks(80) leading a Hillsong band(81). And I hope that for any Texan reading, that that was a compliment. The kids disappeared to children’s church after the chorused country twanged worship set finished. The teaching didn’t stand out, I vaguely remember that it somehow related to aspects of the dreaded Halloween. I remember concepts not sermons, so it is not inherently a bad thing when I don’t remember, especially after such a good Sunday School.
One clear negative thing though, I am pretty sure that the Bible asks us not to lead others into sin. At the end of the service I was fraught with temptation. Often when you go to new churches, they like to embarrass all new people by asking them to raise their hands. I am not sure why this happens, perhaps it is so the regulars can identify them, thus knowing to be kind to them after the service and to make sure that they give them a warm hearty invitation with no ulterior motives to return next week. But here they did it a little differently. Sometime during the service they said that ‘if you are new here please feel free to grab a welcome pack from down the back’. No one was about to unintentionally embarrass us into returning. The welcome pack was a coffee cup full of chocolate, book marks, the pastors’ calling cards and general church information. This is where the temptation came in to play. Suddenly I was a thinkin’ and a schemin’. How could I get two of these welcome packs? Like one for Sharon and two for me. Could I get one for my first time at Sunday school and one for my first time in the less traditional service? Or could I come back next week and pretend that it was my first week again? Anyhow I made the kids jealous and grabbed my coffee cup full of candy and made my way out of the room. But in the foyer all these lovely people kept on stopping me and introducing themselves and asking me if I was new here. I never raised my hand, do I have a big red X marked on my forehead, how do they know that I am a first timer? Ditch the chocolate-populated coffee mug Kel you twat, and then you can stop explaining that you are passing through.
Well, as it turned out I still had the key to the Honda in my pocket and I was keen to know if the pastor had his own car-park within metres of the church door. You see we all have mostly stupid barriers that stop us going to specific churches. These barriers could be the ‘war and African kids’ thing, or possibly the ‘pastor is a Democrat’ thing or it could be the ‘they pray in tongues or they pray to idols’ thing. But for me it is the ‘does the pastor have his own car park right in front if the building’ thing and ‘why can he not walk through the car park like the rest of us?’ thing. I am sure my mum loves me because I am such a deep objective thinker. And the verdict was, my friend who is a pastor in this church and probably was one of the first to arrive that morning actually parked his car in the furthest corner of the car park thus allowing everyone else the privilege to park close to the building. Glory hallelujah and other nice religious words, God is real, I can worship here, my Texan friendship can survive and I AM NOT FICKLE!
Anyhow I mosied around outside the church, just filling in time. I knew that with our friend being one of the pastors that every Tom, Dick and Harry would have something very very important to share with him before they went home this Sunday morning. I wandered inside and bumped into the kids, they also knew that they were in for a long wait. Pastor’s kids all seem to have the same look whilst waiting for their parents to finish their post-church conversations. It is a look that says, ‘I don’t want you to talk to me because I am the pastor’s kid, I don’t want you to talk to me because I am the one just standing here bored, waiting. But I do want you to talk with me, but only if it is because you value me and actually want to talk to me.’ The four, or should I say, the three of us boys played while we waited, we poked faces at each other through the glass door. It perhaps wasn’t the most appropriate thing to do, especially when church members were trying to leave through that very same door. But it was fun and we only managed to squash four fingers in that door.
Then our Halloween lady came out and wanted to show us their children’s church. In most of the churches that I have been part of, the kids meet in whatever left over space there is that the adults are not using. Maybe a kitchen a hallway or something like that. But no, not here. We followed her down into the basement. After seeing the little monsters the two days before, this seemed like a rather appropriate place for them.
And here in the basement all of America’s Halloween secrets were revealed. Their children’s church was rather similar to how I imagine Pakistani terror camps to be except the terror these kids were training for involved trick-or-treating. We walked into an awesome monster-training labyrinth. Training rooms for all scenarios. First everything was brightly coloured, clearly this was a direct ploy to building up a resistance to massive amounts of sugar. Then we went into a stage theatre room. It was here where the kids got to experience dressing-up in the scariest of all costumes and where they could practise their most contrived methods of ‘trick-or-treating’. It was an ingenious idea of the church to give the kids such a facility, but it didn’t stop here, oh no, we were just warming up. Across the hallway was a movie theatre. Here the kids could watch methods that had previously worked and learn how terrified housewives respond. No doubt the most important use of this room was to subject the kids to massive amounts of monster terror. The kids need to be desensitised to the sight of gory monsters, there is nothing worse than children showing fear when out on the field or front yard. Up the hallway was a kitchen. It is in this room where the kids not only practised overdosing on and building a resistance to massive intakes of sugar, but also where they learn to identify what are the most potent kinds of candy. This is very helpful for them when trick-or-treating. When a terrified home-owner presents them with a bucket of candy to pick from, kid monsters need to be able to make an instant decision. ‘Can I grab all of that candy, or if I can only get a handful, which candy is the most potent and destructive?’ Then there were theory based rooms. In these rooms I expect that the kids learn lessons like ‘Don’t scare the home-owners too much before you get the candy’ or ‘it is always best to enter the home-owner’s property on the footpath with a cute smile, but once you have your candy, then feel free to scare the pants off them and to leave through jumping excitedly over their front lawn.’
I know that you know that I jest. But they were amazing children’s church facilities and thus endeth another American Sunday church service. From here we went home, lunched and prepared for our visit to one of my favourite places and to one of America’s best kept secrets.
Hang around for my next edition to hear about a heavily armed Kel and a jazz cafe.
For past chapters click here. Or look on the side panel.
You may have noticed some bracketed numbers in this chapter. These numbers correspond with explanations and definitions that are in an accompanying glossary. To read the glossary you will need to by the yet to be released book. Sorry!
And to donate towards the production of the ‘Clueless in America’, just click on the button.
Ta (Kiwi for thank you)