Request for a buddy

I am putting it out there that I’d like someone to accompany me to churches on a Sunday morning. My new church visit speed has hit a new low and I’d like to find a way of not stopping together. If anyone would like to come along to any church I haven’t yet visited please let me know and we will plan it. I am discarding the rule of ten miles as well as the need for any particular order. I am ok with a one time partner or longer term. I just find myself wanting some new motivation. I also decided some time ago to accept invites to someone’s home church. I prefer to drop in unannounced but I can be ok with a more solid plan. I’m just looking for idea to keep the project interesting.

Church #66, Friends Meeting in Albany (Quaker)

Date: 11/9/14

Church name/type: Friends Meeting in Albany, Quakers

Pastor: the unique style of the meeting doesn’t seem to require a pastor

Style of worship:
Well, they sit, mostly quietly for about an hour. No, for real. And it actually wasn’t too bad. It’s a time for listening to see if God is going to speak to us. If anyone has a message they consider good for sharing they share aloud.

These were the messages this week:
1) Someone spoke about feeling welcome and having been given coffee that was exactly the way she liked it. This really seemed to have made her happy.
2) Another person said some remarks the Pope made were along the lines of God having given up some of his power in creating us. Some of the power is in us.
I tried to look up these remarks for reference but was unable to find them. The Pope says a lot of things I guess.
3) A visiting Quaker Friend? Quaker?….anyway, a visitor felt led to make the effort to find a local Friends Meeting and things just seemed to fall into place allowing her to be here on time.
4) One person observed that it’s amazing we are in what’s called the ‘goldilocks zone’ where life is possible.

After approximately an hour we all greeted each other then there was sharing of announcements as well as the standard joys and concerns. I stayed a long time talking with members of the congregation about different things.

Impressions:
I guess I really liked it. I say I guess because I can’t figure out why I liked it so much. It’s difficult to sit mostly still and quiet for an hour. But then again, I often like things that are a little difficult. It makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something worthwhile. I’m drawn to the fact that Quakers don’t have much doctrine going on. They seem to believe that God speaks to (or potentially speaks to) everyone equally. This is nice. I’m going to have to learn more and probably write more.

Church #65, Albany Second Branch, Latter Day Saints

Date: 10/19/14

Church name/type: This is a branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Called Mormons by some. (Not to be confused with fundamentalist Mormons who allow multiple wives to one husband) This church is called the Albany Second Branch.

Pastor: There is no pastor. They call that job Branch President. I did not write down his name.

Style of worship:
Very unusual. The Sunday morning gathering can be called a service, but seems to be more commonly called a sacrament meeting. It had the usual components: songs, announcements, scripture, prayer. The communion (if that’s what they call it) was different in that it featured bread and water (vs. wine or juice). The sacrament meeting itself was odd to me because it was dead silent for the bread and water, but sort of full of noisy chit-chat during the scriptural talk time. Different people from the church are asked to prepare these little talks and it felt like no one was really listening.

Impressions:
I had some trouble with this one. I expended a lot of energy trying to absorb new information, be polite in my reactions, and not let how different it was get to me. And in some ways, it was strikingly different.

There were three separate hour-long portions. First the sacrement meeting, then a doctrinal lesson, last a male/female segregated session. The middle hour made me feel the most uncomfortable. It was a class of women and a couple of older men, but it was taught by 18year-old-looking guys who were referred to by everyone as ‘elders’. It is hard to describe how weird that felt. I don’t have a problem with male teachers or young teachers. But usually teachers have professional training. This felt like kids telling me what to think and how to think it by virtue of the fact that they were male and raised LDS. The lesson was mostly something I’m going to call ‘prescriptive spirituality’. There seem to be a lot of parts to LDS that are prescriptive regarding metaphysical things. (Do this and this happens. Say these words at this time in this place and this will happen in the afterlife.) The entire lesson was regarding the ‘sealing’ of families in a temple so they would remain intact into the afterlife. One can also seal families posthumously if the need is discovered. This is why genealogies are important, or so we were told. I know my own faith tradition is weird, but I’m struggling with how weird I felt hearing this stuff.

Then the last hour, the women only group, was actually not very weird at all. It felt like any gathering at all the progressive protestant churches I’ve been to. We all tried to share ways to reach out and be good to others; to gain understanding and offer support. Everyone from their different lives offered different perspectives. It felt really normal. I hate the fact that I had to describe it as normal just there because the rest felt so strange. The young woman I talked to at this church was sweet and earnest. She’s a missionary from California and apparently that means she’s a greeter for newcomers to the church. She wants everyone to join the church. I’ve never quite felt like I fit anywhere, and I could never fit with this group either. I hurt sometimes and I don’t know what my life is doing. I shared something of this sentiment with my new friend. I think I hurt her. I left her without an answer for me. Sometimes I wonder if my project is becoming my journey to sadden others.

Church #64, First Presbyterian Church in Albany

Date: 10/12/14

Church name/type: First Presbyterian in Albany, PCUSA

Pastors: Pastor Miriam Lawrence Leupold and Pastor Glenn Leupold

Style of worship: fairly straightforward format with follow-along bulletin, with choral pieces punctuating occasionally

Impressions: The bulletin and welcome literature list more than a couple programs the church is involved with along the lines of social justice. I like that. I’m also impressed with an interior window of stained glass depicting a scientist teacher named Joseph Henry. It’s actually really cool for a church to embrace science. I personally love science and think it’s great that God gave us the ability to wonder and discover. In some cases Christian groups seem to actually have a strong dislike for science (or certain of its theories) so it’s encouraging that this church had a portrait of science build right into the wall.

The church building is pretty and looks kept-up. I note a decent mix of ethnicities. There was a person behind me making some noise who most likely had a disability. I mention this because I think it speaks well of the kind of welcome a church offers if they are cool with unintentional disruptions. Coffee hour after service was also a really nice time. A fair number of people came up to me and initiated conversation. So it’s an outgoing congregation.

I wasn’t sure what to take from the sermon. We got to hear the story of the golden calf Moses’ people worshiped while he was on the mountain talking with God. I was immediately struck by the fact that these people literally decided to worship gold. Maybe this should make us realize that chasing after money is a problem. The pastor giving the sermon likens this worship to our own obsessions today. We were asked to consider the ‘golden calf’ we might be worshipping. This would present itself as the thing we make our ultimate thing. It all came back to a refrain I’ve heard before: anything you focus on that is not God, is the wrong focus. I wonder what to make of this message in light of the fact I have no clear idea of who God is. Mixed messages come in constantly from all my church visits, from people I’ve met, from the bible itself. So this sermon’s takeaway point fell a bit flat for me. I guess I can agree with the idea that if one’s life revolves around something and that something fails or falls apart, one is devastated. I see this could be a huge problem…but I think I’m not wrong in saying that making God your ultimate focus could also result in this same problem. So again I’m left unsure what to do with this sermon.

Why we don’t sin

So I want to spend some time talking about why as Christians we choose not to sin. This is partly an expansion of something I mentioned in my review of a church called White Couch and partly a response to a comment I received on that post. The pastor made a remark in church to this effect: “We shouldn’t sin because sin makes Jesus sad.” In that post I said:
“The way Jesus feels about us should be the last reason not to sin. The first reason should be the other person we are hurting and the second reason should be the damage we are doing to ourselves.”

I was (intentionally) implying it is silly to decide not to sin based on how it makes Jesus feel. Jesus and God, and even the Holy Ghost being almighty, can handle themselves, I reasoned. They don’t actually need me to protect their feelings. I got a reply to this post disagreeing with my statement and asserting that we do not sin primarily because sins are against God and therefore the pastor was correct.

Still I find I have to disagree with this line of thinking. I happen to believe we are not following what God says simply because he said it. I believe God is a God of love. I believe he cares about us and wants us happy, contented, and well-taken care of. This being the case, I think God established a set of rules for us NOT because he likes arbitrary rules, but because those rules actually help us all to be happy, contented and well-taken care of. I think sin is not ultimately about disobedience. In my understanding of it, sin is about causing harm to ourselves, another human, or another piece of God’s creation. I think we have the ability to see that it is better for us not to sin, and I honestly think God prefers us to think about why we are doing a thing vs. just doing it OR ELSE.

Another way of looking at this might be to consider what it would look like it we did assume all God’s rules were arbitrary and to be followed without question just because God said so. I read a news story about a man who was drenched by water after being swept away in flooding during Superstorm Sandy. He took refuge in a nearby (evacuated) house. To gain entry he broke in. Once inside he left a note explaining that he took only blankets, was suffering hypothermia, and feared death. In the strictest sense, this man destroyed property and stole. Would this be considered a sin? If obedience to the rules is our means of determining rightness vs sinfulness, I think we have to say yes, this man did sin. I am not comfortable with that and I don’t think I’m alone in my assessment. I contend that when we excuse this behavior we are using our understanding of the reasons not to sin rather than simply seeing sin in terms of obedience to God’s instructions. I’m really on-board with the idea that God gave us brains so we could think, and I’m a fan of doing that. In the end, I just don’t think we avoid sin to please God. I think we avoid sin because it makes things more awesome for everyone and that just makes sense.

Church #63, Trinity United Methodist

Date: 9/14/14

Church name/type: Trinity UMC, United Methodist Church

Pastor: Jeffrey Matthews

Style of worship: structured with a follow-along bulletin and musical chairs style greeting time

Useful takeaways:
So I’ve actually been inside this church before. It was for a youth function back when I was more involved with youth groups. The service this day (and in summer) was held in a small chapel off the main sanctuary. There were probably between 20 and 50 people in attendance.

Music was good, being provided by acoustic guitar or pipe organ (the chapel had its own organ!) The group songs went through every verse and nearly everyone was singing, which I happen to like. I mean, if you’re going to sing, why stop at verse two?

We heard an interesting take on the story of Don Quixote. Pastor described him as a man who wanted a better world. He spoke of an impossible dream. This theme was also applied to the future of the church. It was unclear if Pastor meant the future of Christianity or Methodism in general or specifically Trinity Church, or perhaps Trinity Church the building. We heard it is nearing the 81st anniversary of the building. The pastor recounted some of the history leading up to the creation of the current building. It was actually the second rebuilding of a church that was lost to fire twice. During the building of Trinity, the congregation worshipped in a space that was a Jewish Temple called Beth Emeth. (That building is actually the current location of Wilborn Temple, church #47 on this blog!)

The last thing in my notes was a prayer wish that on the edge of the possibility of war we all remember to see each other everywhere as people; brothers and sisters. It’s a good wish of ever I heard one.

Problems/Improvements: None I can detect, besides the vague feeling of uncertainty implied by the sermon. Is this church’s future in question or was I just reading too much into an introspective sermon?