“As a church, we believe together that the scriptures are our only authority in matters of faith and practice.”
January 13, 2019, 10 AM
Well, I’m almost tempted to nix this church visit. The website says this used to be a Baptist Church but after significant decline, they decided to transfer to a new model, which seems to be a franchise of sorts. Apparently they were “willing to leave behind their former glory, methods, and structure,” to become the first replant/renewal of the Sovereignty network of churches. It appears there are now eight Sovereignty locations. I read through the “beliefs” section and this church falls solidly in this conservative category. This is what’s scaring me. As a former woman pastor, this would not be my kind of church. Most of their dogma is pretty standard but a few areas make me cringe. They believe in male leadership (that means no women pastors or leaders); that marriage is only between a man and a woman (hence no gays); and most scary of all they believe: “in the existence of a personal devil who is still working in the world to destroy the souls of men and that he and all his angels and all who do not receive Christ as their personal Savior will eternally perish in the lake of fire.” I am somewhat comforted to read that their worship is “winsomely reformed,” so I’m hoping I don’t hear too much about that nasty personal devil.
Although my goal is not to judge their beliefs, feeling welcome/unwelcome will certainly be impacted by what is communicated during the church service. By the website alone, I can tell that I would not be welcomed as a gay person, or God forbid, a woman pastor.
Ah well, I accept the challenge. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised, or taught something new about myself or this church. So, here I come, Sovereignty.
The worship space is casual and relaxed, they even encourage you to grab a coffee and bring it into the “auditorium.” Other than the stained glass windows and the pews, there is nothing else that reveals the sanctuary’s “former glory.” No cross, no altar, no flowers, nothing that would seem too traditional. They do have a projector that shoots images onto a huge screen at the front of the auditorium, where the altar might have once been. Information on home groups, volunteering and bible trivia flashes on the screen before the service begins. It feels a little like watching the previews before a movie. But later, I see the value of the slide show as it eliminates the need for formal announcements during the service.
A woman greets me and asks my name. She welcomes me to the church and introduces her son. She mentions her husband at the front of the church in the sweater, he is the pastor. She has a big smile and a warm manner. I think she is very nice.
The usher, whom I missed on the way in, approaches me and says, “did you get a bulletin?”
“Yes, I did, thank you,” I say.
“Did you get a candy?” he holds up a jar of bite sized goodies.
“Oh, no, thank you,” I grab a peppermint.
“I must’ve missed you when you came in,” he says.
“Yeah, I just kinda snuck in…”
“Well, welcome! Glad you’re here.”
“Thank you,” I say. So far, they are doing quite well.
The service started a little late, about 1008 AM, which normally wouldn’t be a problem, except that it didn’t end until about 1145 AM. A man with a guitar and his wife (I know from the website), sing songs at the front of the congregation. I see a few people quietly singing along, but it feels more like we are watching a performance, rather than participating in the singing. We sing for almost twenty minutes. After that, I am delighted to see a woman get up to lead us in prayer. Oops, it’s a silent prayer. But at least she had a role in the service.
We sing another song and then comes the greeting time. A bunch of folks get up and go back for more coffee in the former “narthex” or foyer. One guy opens his computer and puts on headphones. I greet the people around me while everyone else is using the bathroom, refreshing their beverages and socializing. I’ve run out of greeters, so I sit back down in the pew, wondering how long this will last. Then a young man, (well, younger than me) comes over and introduces himself. He says I look familiar, have I been here before? No, I assure him, this is may first visit. Then, he invites me to stay for lunch, which they do every week. No need to bring anything, just stay and meet some folks. He’s very gracious. I say “I can’t stay today, but thank you for inviting me.” And I mean it.
Somewhere in this greeting time, we were supposed to drop our offering in some box? I didn’t quite catch what he said to do and since it wasn’t plainly obvious, I just didn’t do anything. Needless to say, no Doxology, no Lord’s Prayer, no responsive readings, no formal liturgy of any kind. I kinda wish they had kept some of their “former glory.”
The pastor finally stood up about 1045 AM. He asked us to open the Bible and look at the Scripture together, but we didn’t get to that until about fifteen minutes later. At some point, I realize this is a teaching sermon, which is not going to have a clear beginning, middle and end. It’s not a finely crafted piece of written or spoken art, which I always want in a sermon. This is more like a informative lecture, which probably appeals to others, just not me. The pastor does seem genuine and relatable, which makes it easier for me to sit through his forty-five minute talk. He covered a lot of ground with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, but I wish he would have covered just one point really well. It’s hard to take home more than one nugget a week, in my humble opinion.
We finally stand to sing one last time. I’m afraid it might take another twenty minutes, so I escape out the back, right behind another couple.
So, this is not my kind of church. I would not be nourished by a steady diet of this type of worship. But obviously it appeals to others. There were approximately seventy people, a healthy mix of racial diversity, and a number of worshippers with hands in the air. Regardless of how it appeals to me, they were welcoming and inviting to me on my first visit. The pastor’s wife, the usher, and the young man, all made it clear that I was welcome to their community of faith. This church PASSED the WELCOME TEST!