“We, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, are people of God, who are called by the Holy Spirit to pray, worship, joyfully proclaim Jesus Christ, & compassionately witness & serve others in Christian love.”
March 31, 1030 AM
I fully expected this service to be a Pentecostal experience because of the “Evangelical” description and the church’s name had “Holy Spirit” in it. But it wasn’t nearly as exciting as that. A picture of the laughing Jesus hung at the front of the church, left of the beautiful stained glass windows. And a man with a wonderful baritone voice sat behind me which helped the dismal hymns feel more alive. Those seemed to be the only two winsome things about this service.
At the start of the service, a man stood to announce the sudden death of someone in their congregation. I kept thinking how that could have been a perfect opportunity for the pastor to begin the service with words like, “Mary’s passing is a reminder of why we worship God. We come to give thanks and praise for God’s gift of eternal life, for Mary now and for all of us later. Let us enter this time of worship with hearts full of wonder and joy at the amazing grace of God in Jesus Christ.” But no, the aged woman pastor continued with the service without the slightest adjustment.
I found myself judging this pastor. I felt she was just too old to be leading this little flock. She seemed to struggle with walking, she was barely audible from the back of the small chapel, she never smiled and her sermon seemed rigid and mechanical. It felt like she was just going through the motions and not really allowing herself to be present and attuned to the congregation. But then again, I wondered about my own bias, because of her age. I knew nothing about her, after all, and there were almost fifty people in this little church, which meant something. I’ve been in larger church buildings with fewer people. Either the laity here do love and accept her or they are incredibly loyal to the church itself, perhaps even just to the ritual of worship.
Either way, I tried to open my mind about the pastor, even though I kept wishing she’d smile a little. When communion time came, I went forward and took a small cup of grape juice from a tray that a lay woman held up. I copied the others and knelt at the communion rail. I noticed others had empty communion cups. The pastor came down the line and offered us a piece of bread, saying, “the body of Christ, given for you.” Then her assistant, a choir member and cantor of the communion ritual, came by. He held the chalice which had wine in it. He filled the empty cups with wine from the chalice. For me, he placed his other hand on my head and said, “the blood of Christ, given for you.” I guess the grape juice is for the non-drinkers. Oops.
Anyhow, that was all done well. It was a little disconcerting, however, to see that the man with the chalice was barefoot. Do you know how hard it is to pray when you’re looking at someone’s bare feet? It’s a bit distracting. I felt like he should have at least worn socks.
Anyway, after the hour long service, we sang the “closing hymn.” Which usually means we get to leave after that. But no, they had us sit back down and we spent the next ten minutes or so hearing announcements. That kinda ruined things for me.
As I left the service, I shook the pastor’s hand. She smiled for the first time and I could see why she didn’t smile much. Her teeth were in terrible shape. It looked like she hadn’t seen a dentist in her lifetime. Then, I felt really guilty for judging her. This is why I need church, to repent of my sins.
Overall, several people said “good morning,” but no other introductions and no other conversations to welcome me, the stranger. This church FAILED the WELCOME TEST.