I haven’t written for a while, but I feel inspired to write some thoughts down today and the inspiration for writing is our experience in a church this morning that is not our Home Church. We have no plans to leave our church home because we love it and feel loved there. However, every once in a while we think it is good to go and visit God in an unfamiliar place where one isn’t caught up in the friendships and comfort zone of the familar.
I was raised as an LCA Lutheran Christian and through the years our synod evolved and changed. I believe it transformed from LCA synod to ELCA synod with maybe (not sure on this) one change in between the two. My husband was a Missouri synod Lutheran when we married. All my life I have attended Lutheran churches until we moved to Austin almost 20 years ago. While Lutheran churches abound in the upper Midwest, we were shocked at how few are here in this very large southern city. We tried attending one Lutheran church that was a long drive from our home, but we did not feel at home there. We felt like invisible visitors in a strange land. So we continued our search.
My entire family is Lutheran (and has been so all the way back to the boat which brought our ancestors from Sweden to America). My Great-great Grandmother was one of the founding members of our home town church where we worshiped throughout our growing up years in our little village. My Mothers brother who was closer in age to her children than to her was like a brother to us too. He was ordained as a Pastor in that same church and was seen as a “son of the church.” He eventually went on to become a Lutheran Bishop. So, to say that I am Lutheran to the core would be an understatement. It was part of our identity, my identity, and a big part of who we were as a family.
So now here we were, newly arrived to this city in the south and we wanted to attend a neighborhood church where we could worship with other Lutheran members of our community, only there was no Lutheran church close by. We knew joining a church would help us “bloom” where we were most recently planted.
The closest church to our home was a Protestant Ecumenical church, not Lutheran! But there were Lutherans at this church every Sunday, most likely with similar reasons to ours for being there. What should we do? We decided to try it and we immediately felt at home there. It was small in size and the traditional service played old hymns we were very familiar with. Music is a very powerful life force in ones memory, so from one Sunday to the next, as I sang the same songs my Mother and Grandmothers sang in my youth it made me feel very close to them and my heart would open up like a flower.
When my Mother came south to visit and attended our church on Sundays along with us, I asked her what she thought about our attending a church that wasn’t strictly Lutheran. She said to me “Oh I like it ! It reminds me of the church we attended when we lived in South America.” (Which was also an ecumenical church). l felt so much lighter about things with her approval. I am a traditionalist in every sense of the word, so while I loved our little church, I wanted to make sure that my Mother, who was now the elder in the family, approved. She did!
We continue to attend this church almost 20 years later.
When I was in high school, my best friend was Catholic, and I would go to church with her before school and enjoy sitting in that very, very old church where the smell of incense wafted through the air and where it felt like a sacred and Holy place. I enjoyed listening to the Eucharist… I can’t remember anymore if that is the correct word, but it was sung out of a little hand book and the sound that resulted in the high domed church sounded and felt ethereal to me! I felt close to God there.
Years ago, when my husband’s job took us to South Dakota, I became good friends with a southern Baptist neighbor lady and another woman who was Catholic. OUR family, of course, found our way to the Lutheran church, though this one was of the ALC synod branch.
Our daughters piano teacher was a Methodist and she was very active in her church. One time I found myself in that church during a Sunday service and noticed the differences from our church. At the same time, I was more taken with the similarities. I enjoyed my friends and we all attended Christian Womens Club luncheons together, though we all worshiped on Sunday in different churches. I learned a lot from my Baptist friend who often shared her favorite sermons with me. I still carry some of the imagery her stories put in my mind and revisit them from time to time.
It is interesting how God works through us, all of us, even the very young. When I was living in a small northern Minnesota town (another of my husbands job transfers), I met a neighbor woman who became one of my fol’s. (Friends for life❤️) Over time, in the process of getting to know each other, we eventually talked about our faith and how we came to it. She was born to a non practicing Jewish father and a non practicing Christian Mother, which meant the family did not attend church. When she was grade school age, she stayed over at her little friends house on a Saturday night. The following morning, she attended Sunday School with her friend followed by church with her friends family. She was drawn in…or at least her spirit drew her in ! Before long, she begged her Mother to go to church with her, and also her much older sisters. It was through the spirit of this young child that her family came to be saved through faith.
I thank my Mother every Sunday for introducing me to the ritual of Sunday morning worship. It is a tradition I hold very dear and an experience I have come to need as much as my daily bread for sustenance and my bed for sleep. It is spiritual food that feeds my spirit.
My life has been a very good life, but like so many others out there, I have not experienced a lot of “unconditional” love. So many of my experiences with family and friends have been conditional, critical, and sometimes judgmental. I want to add in haste, lest you feel sorry for me, that all along my life’s path, God has seen to it that I have always had at least one or more people at my side who have been there to fill my cup with unconditional love. It is through these people where I learned what unconditional love actually was, and through them that I knew I wanted to have more of it and also wanted to GIVE more of this kind of love back into the world. I go to church to quench my spirit’s thirst for more and more of God’s unconditional love to help me through the next week where I am back into a world where sometimes I am made to feel as if I am not “enough”! It is good to be reminded that “lo, I am with you always, even unto the ends of the earth!” Now this is some kind of wonderful promise isn’t it?
Today, because we were nearing the end of our vacation, I wanted to try a different church in town just to have a new experience in worship like we do when we are on vacation out of town. Our only criteria was that we wanted the church to be Protestant and the service to be traditional. This is not saying we think traditional services are the better form of worship, not at all! It is just that in our case, traditional services are what “speaks to us”and it is what connects us to our youth and to our loved ones who have passed away. Many times, through the years, when I am singing an old familiar hymn in church, I have had this sensation of my Grandmother beside me, and in my minds eye I can almost see her and hear her voice singing along. While church is where we go to worship our God, it is also my connection to those I loved dearly as a child.
This morning, we drove as visitors to the church we picked off the internet, and as we pulled into the parking lot, two gentlemen were standing there visiting with umbrellas in their hands. The skies were spitting little bits of rain here and there. As Al backed into the parking spot, their conversation waned and their eyes were on the visitors…us! The minute we got out of the car, they came right over, told us their names and welcomed us with great enthusiasm. They showed us where to enter the church and as we walked toward the church they accompanied us and invited us to a Bible class after the service if we wanted to try it. They were not overbearing….just warm and welcoming. As we walked into the church, we were greeted by no less than 6 people who came up to us to let us know how happy they were about our visit. In addition to this, we were greetd by the Minister of Music, the Associate Pastor and the Pastor.
The service was blessedly full of old time hymns, all of which we knew very well. There was my Grandma again, and so too my Mother, singing right next to me. We witnessed a baptism of a young boy in another area of the church, via a large video screen. The sermon was extraordinarily good and it was bible based with verses appearing on the screens as he preached. When the service ended, many people came up to us to thank us for attending their church and extending the hope that we would be back. I must say, it was a bit of a rush!
What church did we attend, you ask? It was a Baptist church, and I think this was the second time in my life that I have visited one. I loved it and so did Al.
When we were searching the internet for traditional services, there were not nearly as many of traditional worship services as there were Contemporary. So, we just started the list with this traditional church service and will continue to visit other churches every couple of months just to experience other ways of worship. I think it will make us better christians and better friends to others in our church family. Hopefully, now as we attend our Protestant Ecumenical Church we will have a little better understanding of how some of the Baptists worshiped growing up. We want to continue with our journey for a better understanding of it all. We have ideas of worshipping with the Catholics as well. 😇
In the final analysis these are ALL God’s churches and we are ALL God’s people.
And aren’t we fortunate we have so many choices of places to worship and the religious freedom that grants this?