Sunday, November 2, 2008

Stand Up, Sit Down, Clap, Clap, Clap!

We visited a new church this morning, a Southern Baptist Church. It's been a long time since we've attended a Baptist Church, so I don't know if this is normal or not. When we walked in, a youth group dressed in black was before the congregation. There was a song playing and the group was doing sign language to the words of the song, and they were doing aerobics with it. It was either a really long song or they had it on a loop so it would play over again until everyone was seated. When we first got there, the young people were fairly energetic, but they looked ready to drop long before the music ended, some of them were still jumping, but most just bending their knees so it looked like they were jumping. It reminded me of Jr. High calisthenics where we would jump and clap our hands over our hands for the first several jumping-jacks, but barely hopping and raising our hands for the 50th one.

Then the part I remembered about big Baptist churches. They all follow a similar routine. The song leader/choir director asks the congregation to stand to sing a song. Then sit while the choir sings a song by themselves. Then stand for the next song or two. Then sit while someone sings a solo. Then stand for a scripture reading and prayer. Then sit for the next song. And that reminds me of a game we played when we were at camp, something that involved stand up, sit down, clap, clap, clap!

I don't think this is the church for us, and not because of the aerobics or all the standing and sitting. The pastor seemed to be reading the sermon for the most part. We have been hungering for the Word too long to be fed by someone who is just going through the motions. He also seemed to give opposing opinions in his sermon. I remembered reading Debi's blog Life the Journey about a pastor-in-a-box who used internet sermons, so I looked up the key verse online and found that he got the gist of his sermon at sermoncentral.com, which explained why it seemed like he was reading an unfamiliar paper; in essence, he was. He quoted parts of it word for word. The topic was Saul and the Witch of Endor. Theologians have had differing opinions about the text for hundreds of years, and this preacher presented the answer in two simple sentences? I guess it's common to buy or use pre-written sermons these days, and he didn't use ALL of it, just parts of it. Still, I'm disappointed.

And he did the modern parable thing which was also one of the few times he showed any emotion during the sermon. He told a story of a young man who was a diver on the swim team and who just so happened to have a key to the pool. Late one night when he couldn't sleep he went to the pool; it was such a bright moonlit night that he didn't have to turn the lights on. He was going to do a back flip into the pool and when he raised his hands he saw his shadow on the wall, and it was the shadow of the cross. He went down to his knees and prayed for salvation and just then someone came into the pool area, turned the lights on and revealed that the pool was empty and his prayer had saved him from death. Sound familiar? It did to me; I think I got it a few hundred times in emails. Check it out on snopes.com. At least he didn't tell it as if he personally knew the young man.

Another thing, and I'm probably just being picky, is that no one talked to us until the song leader told the congregation to take a moment to "greet your neighbors", and then they just said hello, shook our hands and moved on to the next person. I don't want people to come shake my hand because they've been told to do it, I want people to welcome me because they want to. When we first got into the auditorium, there were only scattered seats and a church member with a name tag asked some people to move down the row and make room for us. Hubby motioned me to go in first and I sat next to a man who never looked at me until he shook my hand, and he never looked at me again. At the end of the service, they did that thing where they played a song and asked everyone to join hands, and I had to hold that man's hand. I guess I didn't have to, but I didn't want to be rude. Anyway, he didn't wait until the song ended to free his hand and turn his back on me, which is a bit hard to do when you are standing next to someone.

I miss our old church where people didn't have to be told to be friendly, and the pastor preached from his heart. I left this church feeling sad, lonely, and with deep, nagging, spiritual questions.

Until next time, may you have blessings and fellowship,
Marti

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