Sunday, October 08, 2006

Church Snobbery...

This morning I went to a local Methodist Church I found while walking around Barking. The congregation was an interesting mix of what seemed to be African immigrants and elderly white British couples, with few falling outside of those two categories. I had remembered a few of the differences of English churches from my last tenure in England and English church going. It is customary not to rise to sing until a short introduction of the song has been played and right before one actually starts to sing. Individual prayer before and after the service can throw off a novice who is used to immediately fleeing the sanctuary. The Barking Methodist Church sang five or so songs from a traditional hymnal and all were sung very loudly and badly. Now I am no great singer, as all my friends remind me but it had to be really bad if I noticed it. But then again its worship not an audition, God loves our worship even when its bad singing. In between the worship songs various Bible passages were read, each reading ending with the phrase "may God help us to understand these verses". The message given by the pastor attempted and at times succeeded in bringing the verses read together into a coherent theme.

My favorite part of the service was right before the end when the 20 or so children were paraded up on stage. The young ones held up coloring book pages of Bible stories they had learned while three older girls talked of what they learned that morning. While this was taking place there was a small girl about four, who had me struggling to keep my laughter under control. While the congregation heard the dull explanation of what these children had learned this four year old was proceeding to kick the four or so boys around her. These were no playful, half-hearted attempts either. There was body weight put behind them, usually with a small running start and arms a flailing. Then she added punching to her act. She was never once stopped or even reprimanded. So as the congregation learned of what the kids thought of God, I watched the violent tantrums of a four year old.

My attendance and spiritual growth experienced at Christ Community Church and Mars Hill Bible Church has made me a Church snob. I have gone to two churches that are well grounded in the word, well funded, welcoming, suburban, internationally focused, largely white, and American. I am used to seeing a production when I attend a service. I have never gone to a church where everyone knew everyone or at least could recognize the regulars. I am used to following the contemporary worship songs on a large projected screen. Heartfelt prayer, a live worship band, historical context, Biblical analysis, and real life application are all standards in my church experience. How high then, do I hold my standards in a search for a new church and what should those standards be?

I connect more and find more meaning in the contemporary worship songs I have grown up singing. But then again its not about me. Do I then cross off contemporary music in my list of must haves? Big churches are not common outside the U.S. so I have already crossed off "mega church" from this mental list. What about denomination? I grew up non-denominational but did attend a Christian Reformed college. Do I search for either one of those or keep my search open to the general Protestant denominations with a few exclusions? Should I try something new like a more conservative church than I would normally go to? How much should I try to experience new things and do things differently and how much do I try to replicate what I know and am used to? Then there is the question of distance. How far do I go to attend church? Plus getting there in general is always an issue as a lot of the older churches don't have actual addresses which makes finding them quite the adventure. Seriously, I was looking up a church in Dagenham and there was no address listed anywhere on the website. Instead there were directions like 'take the District line to Dagenham, turn right outside the station, walk to Vauxhall car garage, turn right and follow foot path around apartments to the church'. With my 'sense of direction' I'd never get there in time for the service, if I ever got there at all.


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