avanta7: (Liberal Jesus)
This morning I went to church. And it didn't fall down.

To the best of my recollection, the last time I attended a church service was last Easter, shortly after we moved to Gadsden. No, I didn't attend any Christmas services, and I did actually feel a little guilt about that at the time, but not enough to motivate me off the couch and into clothing suitable for a church service on a cold and snowy Christmas Eve or Christmas Sunday.

Anyway. I've been reluctant to start attending any church here because of preconceived notions about their close-mindedness and legalism simply due to our location deep in the Bible Belt. (Contempt prior to investigation -- I haz it.) Legalism will drive me out of a church faster than the dreaded "Hand of Friendship" AKA "Passing of the Peace" moment. Of course, the hypocrisy of my own close-mindedness (i.e. those preconceived notions) has not escaped me...

And so. This morning I decided I would start the church-shopping process, and went to the 10:45 service at First United Methodist Church of Gadsden. Beautiful building, gorgeous stained glass -- the aesthetics are important. If I hate the building, I won't go. Decent choir, female associate pastor, male senior pastor. Lots of blue-haired ladies in furs in the congregation, which tells me this is the church the "upscale" Methodists attend. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but an older more affluent congregation tends to be more conservative in its theology and approach to social justice issues, and my own theology/social justice leanings are definitely NOT conservative.

The sermon, therefore, left me pleasantly surprised. The text was from Matthew 4, the calling of Simon, Andrew, James, and John. Reverend Thompson's point [vastly simplified and restated here] was Jesus' simplicity in calling these men: "Follow me," He said. And that's it. That's all He asked of us. Reverend Thompson specifically mentioned that Jesus DIDN'T say: "Believe these ten [or 12, or 47] specific things." Jesus doesn't want legalism; he wants us to follow his lead. As in the childhood game, when we follow the leader, we do what the leader does. In other words, to follow Jesus, we should literally ask ourselves, "What would Jesus do?" And so, it's not about the doctrine, it's not about the "rules", it's about following Christ and being the best Jesus we can be.

Okay. Theology-wise, so far so good. Haven't got a clue of this congregation's position on certain social issues, but I'm willing to go on a second date.
avanta7: (Sanctuary)
So I've had my membership at St Mark's UMC for the last year and a half or so. I like this congregation a lot. Their "politics" and world view are progressive and welcoming. They truly practice the Methodist slogan "Open hearts, open minds, open doors." And it's a reconciling congregation, which is important to me.

But due to the distance (over 40 miles, and about 1 hour's drive), I've been a sporadic attendee to say the least. I might make choir rehearsal once a month, and maybe two Sunday services a month at best. With the prospect of adding children to our home in the near future, it looks like participation in this particular congregation is going to fall by the wayside -- it's just too far to drive several times a week for children's and adult activities.

You may remember I went to Sacramento because none of the churches in this immediate area was progressive enough to suit me. (I even considered switching denominations!) I doubt much has changed in the last 18 months.

Regardless, I'm considering transferring membership to Marysville First UMC. Conservative and fusty as it is, it's the closest Methodist church to home, and it will be much easier to maintain an active relationship there for me and the children. But I struggle with this. Can I compromise my progressive position in regard to the church's stance on GLBT and other social issues simply to make participation in church activities easier for my children? Will being raised in a conservative congregation teach my children intolerance? What happens if the minister preaches a sermon with which I disagree vehemently?

Spouse is not a believer so all religious education decisions are left to me; our compromise over the issue: when the children reach their majority, they can decide whether or not to continue. And when asked about this issue, he says, "Do what you think best." *sigh*

I'm open to suggestions, advice, criticism and/or a kick in the pants.
avanta7: (Default)
So naturally I called my mother, which went better than I expected. We chitchatted for about ten minutes about general stuff: I told her about spouse's recruitment interview and his follow-up interview coming up next week; she talked about taking Grandma out to a family friend's house Friday night to play Mexican Train (a form of dominoes). My grandmother was quite the domino player in her day, and had a good time, although they had a good laugh at themselves on the way home at 9:30 that night. Grandma said, "Look at me. I'm 96 years old. What am I doing out this late?"

Church this morning consisted of arriving much too early for choir practice, but being welcomed into the band rehearsal with open arms. The sermon was tangentially connected to the opening of The Da Vinci Code this Friday: a sermon entitled "The Christ Code." I can't tell you how much I appreciate the open-mindedness of this congregation. Not only did our minister have nothing bad to say about the novel or the movie, she said she and her husband have a babysitter for Friday night so they won't miss opening night. (She did make the point I always make when discussing this book -- it's fiction, folks: a rollicking good yarn but nothing more.)

This afternoon spouse and I washed our cars and cleaned the garage floor. Now, the washing machine churns away; a steak thaws on the counter, its destiny the grill; and the final episode of The West Wing airs in less than two hours.

It's been a lovely day.
avanta7: (Sanctuary)
Today was a special church conference at St. Mark's, my first as a new member. The agenda had one item: Whether or not to become a reconciling congregation. I'm pleased to say that the motion passed by an overwhelming majority with 85% in favor.

I love my new church.
avanta7: (Religion Back)
I think I found it, I think I found it!

After reading [livejournal.com profile] ottawabill's thoughts on going to a Sacramento church and treating the drive as a time of meditation and spiritual renewal, I got on line and looked around at UMC congregations there. And I believe I found what I've been looking for. I just didn't know it had a name.

The church is St. Mark's UMC and it is a reconciling congregation.

I found the following statement in the February 15 church newsletter:
Reconciliation Statement )
This is what I've been looking for! Although my previous church home, Quapaw Quarter UMC, is not an official reconciling congregation, it practiced these same principles.

Now. If only the place lives up to my expectations. Heck, if it even meets them halfway! I'm planning on attending Sunday morning to check things out.

(One question. I know what LGBT in "LGBTI" stands for, but the I? Anyone care to enlighten me?)
avanta7: (Religion Back)
I thought I'd give First UMC in Marysville another shot before giving up on the local Methodist congregations entirely, so I attended services this morning. And the service was nice, if nothing special: we sang some hymns I really like; we had the usual congregational prayers; we had a good attempt at a student trumpet solo for special music; and then the minister began his sermon. Our biblical texts were the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11; and Elijah's whirlwind ride to heaven in 2 Kings 2. How these texts ended up being the basis for a sermon on how the studies of science and sociology lead people away from God I'm not quite sure, especially since today is the birthday of Charles Darwin, and several hundred churches across the U.S. are commemorating that fact with messages on the compatibility of faith and science. What I am quite sure of is I won't be going back.

And is it really so much to ask that the organist/keyboard player actually know how to play well?

Here comes the tough part: Do I abandon the Methodist church altogether because there isn't a compatible congregation in my immediate area? Not that there's anything wrong with switching to Lutheran, Presbyterian or Episcopal, but I love the Methodist church. Or do I stick with the denomination I love and travel an hour or so a couple of times a week to a congregation in Sacramento?

I guess I can't really answer that question until I attend Presbyterian, Lutheran and Episcopal services here.


Jul. 10th, 2005 08:19 pm
avanta7: (PinkWall)
Today was my final Sunday at my church. The pastor called me up in front of the congregation to give me a blessing. It's a sweet little ceremony, perhaps unique to this particular congregation. I've never seen it done at any other Methodist church. I cried. Of course.

Then I sang the offertory, one of my favorite old-timey hymns, "How Great Thou Art." Perhaps I should say, I almost sang it. I made it through the first two verses all right, but I broke down on the third chorus. And then, and then, the congregation picked it up and sang the rest for me. And gave me a standing ovation afterward.

Hot Springs, a town roughly the size of Yuba City -- in fact, it's somewhat smaller -- has 14 Methodist churches. Yuba City has two. Well, three, but one's Korean. I don't speak Korean.

Finding a new church may be a challenge.
avanta7: (Default)
I cried as the pastor put ashes on my forehead. Again. Sheesh, Communion Sundays and Ash Wednesday and Christmas and Easter and when singing certain hymns. They're getting used to seeing me bawl by now.

I shouldn't be so flippant about it.

My gratitude is so deep that it expresses itself through tears. I consider my life a gift from God, even on the bad days. Sobriety will do that for you.
avanta7: (Default)
Tomorrow (Thursday 9/23) at 8 a.m. on CSPAN, Rev. Betsy Singleton will give the opening prayer for the House Session in Washington, D.C.

Rev. Betsy is the pastor of my church, Quapaw Quarter United Methodist, and the wife of Vic Snyder, Democratic Representative from Little Rock AR.

Woo hoo!

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