“In 1974, The Christian and Missionary (C&MA) officially became a denomination, but it still had at its core a heart for overseas missions.”
November 3, 2019, 1045 AM
This local church of the C&MA had two morning services and when I arrived for the later one, the parking lot was both emptying and filling at the same time. I entered the large warehouse-type building where two greeters held the doors open and welcomed me. I used the bathroom and then entered the worship space, where another greeter handed me a bulletin. People were milling about and chatting, probably close to one hundred worshippers for this second service alone. A large folding wall separated the worship area from a basketball court. The “sanctuary” contained a raised platform for the seven-piece band, with a large screen on the wall overhead. A cross hung on the adjacent left wall, and one stood on the right side of the platform area. The musicians began playing the first of three songs. With three guitarists, a drummer, a keyboardist and at least three or four vocalists, the music sounded pretty good. But once again, it felt like we were attending a small concert as the congregation didn’t appear to sing along very well. The lead singer had a nice voice, so maybe everyone just preferred to listen. I saw several folks with raised hands, swaying to the music. But because the congregation applauded after every song, it felt even more like entertainment rather than worship.
An associate pastor gave an opening prayer, made announcements and offered another prayer before the offering time, which featured another song from the praise band. Then the pastor came to the front, not on the platform but on the same level as the seated congregation. A lectern held his notes which he referred to occasionally, but mostly he walked back and forth and slightly down the two aisles as he spoke. His folksy, casual speaking style seemed to fit with the informal surroundings. He even wore sneakers.
When the pastor began with a prayer for our government and country, I braced myself for a barrage of political opinions. But he was completely even-handed. He prayed that our leaders would come together to seek solutions; that they would not let their egos or agendas keep them from doing what’s best for the nation; and that they would find a way to dialogue and compromise in order to improve our nation and help those who need it most. It was a refreshingly non-partisan prayer, which I very much appreciated.
Then he began his sermon which became more and more enjoyable as it went on. That’s an unusual quality in many pastors. He was able to keep it funny, serious, thoughtful and moving. His humor, his mannerisms and even his looks reminded me of Tony Campolo. I especially appreciated the way he would say a sentence and let the congregation end it. For instance, he’d say something like, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not…” Then he’d wait for the communal response: “want.” Or “How many times must we forgive?” Then he’d cup his hand to his ear, wait for the congregation and then he’d say it with us, “seventy times seven.” He’s both teaching and keeping the people engaged by making them respond. He also said a few humorous one-liners like, “sit on it, Potsy” (from the old Happy Days show), “clean out your own closet,” and “you must be willing to clean toilets for Jesus.”
For the communion time, he said a few words, issued an invitation to accept Christ and then said, “let’s do this. Men, come forward.” Eight males came forward, four stations of two, one held the wafers, one held the chalice. We all stood and filed down the aisles to receive the “body and blood of Christ.” Again, without confession and pardon, without a Great Thanksgiving, without words of institution, without very much of anything, we received communion. I’m just not sure I can call it a sacrament. If I knew nothing of Christianity, this would be a very confusing ritual without some further explanation. Also, why all men? I always feel disappointed and a little insulted when women are excluded.
Overall, I enjoyed this worship time. I think the pastor’s sermon made up for any other misgivings I might have. However, other than the door greeters, and the perfunctory greeting time, no one spoke to me. No one asked me my name or introduced themselves to me. Sadly, this church FAILS the WELCOME TEST.