Sunday, June 27, 2010

i went to church last Sunday--but wait--it gets even better!

Two days ago, I went to Macedonia Baptist Church with my friend Keion Jackson. As I remember it, when I asked to go with him a few months ago, I also asked "Will I be the only white person there?" He answered "No, there might be four or five of you."

Last week, when I reminded him of that conversation, he said "Really? Did I say that? There might actually be two." He paused, "Including you."

But I was still up for it because the mystery behind a gospel church has always intrigued me. Now that I've been to Keion's church, I can tell you honestly I have never enjoyed a church service so much in my life.

Anyway, I tried to be inconspicuous which is challenging when you're the only white person. I sat all hunched down, thinking no one would notice me. Then Pastor Brooks asked the visitors to stand. Reading my panic-stricken look, Keion apologized, "I didn't know they were going to do that." After a slow-motiony minute of standing up in all my Caucasianess, the pastor asked the members of the church to share their hospitality with those of us visiting. I can't tell you how many people came up to me, shook my hand, smiled and made me feel as "right at home" as someone like me can feel at a church.

In case you forgot, I was raised Missouri Synod Lutheran. If you've heard Garrison Keillor make fun of Lutherans, you know why we are such an easy target. But sitting in Keion's church, I kept thinking "This is fantastic!" There I was, in the middle of people expressing joy in their relationship with God through testifying, clapping, "amen-ing" and singing like I've never heard. Lutherans just don't do that.

Here, when the congregation sang, they sang with their whole hearts and voices and bodies. Early in the service, the Men's Choir sang a song so moving, tears rolled down my cheeks. Even members of the Men's Choir had their hankies out. As a matter of fact, so many of us were weepy, a woman was handing out Kleenex. The lyrics were something like "When I think of all the things I've done that I should not have done . . . something something . . . I'm so graceful for His mercy." (Sorry for the bad paraphrasing.)

Watching those men sing and sway and sing some more like they really meant every word, and thinking about my own missteps and moments I wished I could undo, well, everything just came together. Or, more accurately, came apart. It was as if my heart broke open.

After the song, Pastor Brooks said "Something just happened in here. Either some of you all have done some things you feel bad about or you just like good music." Everyone laughed. He went on, "I have a feeling, it was a little bit of both, wasn't it." And before long, he had us laughing all through his sermon.

I'll never forget that church service.

I feel like I should have a point, but I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's this--if you ever want to go to a church service that will stay with you in all the right ways, I'll put you in touch with my friend Keion. And I'll go with you too. I'll even bring Kleenex, just in case.


  1. Awesome! Next time I will have you come to church with me too! : )

  2. To save you some time I can tell you to not even bother "witnessing" to me. 'kay? Sounds like an interesting experience, but not for me.

  3. @ flora, once a year is usually enough for me. jk. i'll let you know when i'm church-curious again. thanks for the offer.

    @toon, duly noted. and seriously, having known you since you were just a pup and still fearing you, you have no worries. notice how i don't have the nerve to show you my sketchbook, and you even asked for that.

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  5. Kirk and I used to always sign up every Christmas season to hear a local Gospel Choir at the Powell Gardens chapel. A very beautiful, emotional experience each time.

    Not at all like the stand-up sit-down speak Latin in unison experience of my childhood.

    If you ever want to go back, I'll be happy to add to
    the Caucasian Population.

  6. Denise, I'll let you know when I go back. No plans in the near future
    but you never know. They're moving to a new building soon which is good for them but I think the structure added to the experience. Old churches always feel more comfortable to me. I will have to check out the Christmas thing at Powell Gardens. Thanks for commenting.

  7. When I was in college, my best friend was Jewish. I had never been to temple and she had never been to a Catholic mass so we decided to attend both services together. I was raised Catholic (I was the one who was sent to church every Sunday to "represent" the family since my dad didn't think everyone had to go-just one, and for some reason it was not him!). That Catholic stuff is so full of guilt and sin...even little babies are born with sin if they're born Catholic. I knew even as a little kid that I was a confirmed heathen but I still gave it a chance and tried to figure out why people were drawn to it. Anyway, Donna and I attended a service that was just encrusted with Catholic guilt...probably during Lent (I remember all the statues were covered with purple fabric). It was not very stimulating to the eye or the soul. Now, attending temple was an entirely different story. The day we attended was the festival of Purim. Everyone was handed a noisemaker and whenever the villain's name "Hamen" was mentioned in the story told by the rabbi you booed and stomped your feet and spun the noisemaker. It was quite a contrast to what we witnessed at the Catholic church just one week before. My friend Donna told me that with her religion, the attitude was that Jewish people might screw up sometimes but in their hearts they're good people and that they just need to get back on track if they find they have fallen off it a little. That concept just floored me. What? No guilt? No sins? No confession? I used to feel guilty because as a little kid, I couldn't think up any sins for confession that I had commited the previous week. Now that's just plain wrong-making little kids feel bad for being good. Anyway, after the service we went to a lower floor where there was an enormous food spread created by someone's family who was preparing for a future Bat or Bar Mitzvah. It was fabulous. Everyone mingled at cloth covered tables, drank coffee and ate hamentaschen. This was almost 35 years ago and was my introduction to other people's faiths. I loved it. Since then I have enjoyed attending Christmas Eve mass at Grace Cathedral (Episcopal) in San Francisco with the ultra-rich, the drag queens and the junkies off the street playing air guitar with the choir and I have enjoyed attending Satsang of the Guru Maharah Ji... but that Catholic thing? Once I left home, I never went to church again. I find a lot of grace and love and spiritualness and community in other faiths but regarding the Catholic faith, those qualities have always been elusive to me.

    Renee-that sounds like one fabulous experience. Denise-that Powell Gardens Christmas thing sounds really wonderful---and last Christmas there was snow on the ground, how pretty would THAT be?

  8. @maria--lutherans sound just a stone's throw away from catholics, but i remember there was all that business about the 95 theses being nailed to a catholic door. AND i remember telling a friend of mine when i was in my teens that Lutherans seemed very similar to Catholics, and boy, did she give me the stink eye. Have you ever read Frank O'Hara's My First Confession? Yeah, i never understood how little kids could do anything worth confessing. Aren't they just finding their way? In fact, aren't we all just finding are way? Let us know if you want to do the Powell Gardens Christmas thing. Dick and I will come and fetch you. Happy Work Week Eve. And thanks for reading.

  9. My mom and her family were Lutheran. My dad and his family were Catholic. That's why my father and mother had to elope (gasp). I don't know nuthin' about being Lutheran because that's how it goes with having one half of your parents being Catholic. I just looked up the 95 theses on Wikipedia. So if you're a medieval Lutheran, you can pay someone to get that sin scrubbed out of your record book? I think my dad turned out to be more Lutheran than Catholic if that be the case.

    I don't think I've ever read Frank O'Hara. Flannery O'Connor? Love her. James Joyce? Pompous ass. Guess i have a 50% chance of something. Thanks for the recommendation. ;-)

  10. Hey Renee-Me again. Tell Dinky Happy Birthday! :-)