16 January 2016

The "Right" Church


The Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist,
Spokane, Wash.

There were seven or eight other people in the pews at Saint Luke's Episcopal Church for the 10:00 a.m. service last Sunday. 

There were almost the same number in the choir, and nearly everybody shook my hand. Rev. Frances Twiggs' sermon took each of the Baptismal Covenant's last five questions in turn. 

“Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?”

“Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”

“Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”

“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”

Communion was open to all. So I went forward. 

I felt welcomed.
And conflicted.

Most Sundays this last year I've been in church somewhere—the Lutheran churches, the Catholic church, the Southern Baptist church, the Assemblies of God church, the Acts 29 church, the Missionary Alliance church, the community church. I go. I think about worship services, sermons, worship spaces. And I wonder if I'm asking the right questions.

If all Christians are part of the body of Christ, what justification is there for worshiping with one part of that body and not another?

To be fair, some churches, like some people, may depart from the larger body of Christ by their teaching and practice. How exactly this works itself out is perhaps what the Anglican Primates were discussing this week. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians to excommunicate the man who had taken his father's wife. 

But near the end of a recent episode of “Blackish,” Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross) and her husband, Andre (Anthony Anderson) are deciding, after visiting a couple churches, that they might keep looking. 

“It took us three months to find the right mattress,” she says. “So, I mean, it's okay if it takes us a minute to find the right church.”

“I know,” he says, “Find the right people, the right community, see if it's right for us.”

Whatever I like to say about doctrine, liturgy, opportunities for service, or small groups, sometimes I think it's code for “what makes me most comfortable”—“what's right for me.”

As plausible as it sounds, it's also nonsense. What's the point of church, if it isn't mostly about God?

When I met her later, Twiggs explained the art pieces around the nave and side chapels were part of an exhibit from the Gruenwald Guild, an ecumenical artistic community near Leavenworth, Wash. 

Twiggs asked me how long we've been in the area. I said a couple years.

She's recently moved from Brooklyn, N.Y. She asked me what brought us here. I said work.

Work brought her to these parts too, she said, but then she added, “well, God.”

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