One of my goals this year is to make up my mind about whether or not to change churches. In pursuit of this goal, I am visiting other churches between now and Ash Wednesday. I began with the church nearest my home — I mean, I can almost see it from my door. I like walking to church, I like staying in my own neighborhood, I vote there. It seemed like a comfortable choice in all those ways, but — it is a different denomination. It is a Methodist church.
Denominations are odd. Why have so many flavors of church, after all? Both Methodists and Presbyterians (that’s me) are part of the group we rather smugly call “mainstream Protestants.” And yet we have historical differences, differences in style of worship, and differences in doctrine. These punchlines to the old joke “How many ___ does it take to change a lightbulb?” seek to encapsulate those differences:
“Presbyterian: None. Lights will go on and off at predestined times.
Methodist: Undetermined. Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved. You can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. Church-wide lighting service is planned for Sunday. Bring bulb of your choice and a covered dish.”
Actually, we Presbyterians usually tell that joke like this:
“How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb?” “Change?!”
This may say somethng about how hard I am taking this question of whether or not to change churches.
But there is more to it than that. Calvinist Augustus Toplady, the guy who wrote “Rock of Ages,” had a serious quarrel with Wesley (the Methodist). He said, if I cannot by free will cure a toothache, how can I possibly by free will cure my soul of sin? Wesley was arguing the Methodist position, that people could freely choose salvation or just as freely refuse it. The argument over predestination between these two descended into personal abuse. Toplady called Wesley a sly assassin and Wesley called Toplady a chimney-sweeper. Those who call for a return to civility in public discourse just haven’t been paying attention in history class, that’s all.
Since I am not at this point contemplating a change of denomination or even necessarily of church membership, but only a search for a place in which I can be happy and useful on Sunday mornings, I am focussing on style of worship rather than theological issues. I had never previously attended a Methodist service, so the first step in my visit was to put on a dress and hose. You will never be less welcome in a local church because of the color of your skin, but blue jeans or bare legs can definitely do it in some denominations.
Half the hymns were Christmas carols, which I found a little disconcerting, and they didn’t sing all the verses, which kept me on my toes. They “trespass” rather than “debt” in the Lord’s Prayer, say “Good morning” rather than “The peace of Christ be with you” in the Passing of the Peace, and sing the Doxology to a different tune, but I navigated these potential mine fields successfully. No one stared at me during the hymns, which was nice.
Then came the Blessing of the Prayer Shawls. This church has a knitting ministry. The knitters meet every week and knit while praying “Father, Son, Holy Spirit.” This sort of meditational knitting was new to me. The completed shawls were blessed and then sent off to people in need of comfort for one reason or another. My fellow knitters will understand my chagrin at the fact that the shawls, while they were carried up to the front of the sanctuary, were not displayed in a way that allowed me to appreciate the yarn or identify the stitch pattern. Oh, well.
Here is an article I found explaining the Methodist Prayer Shawl ministry — not for the church I visited, but the concept seems to be the same: http://www.messenger-inquirer.com/news/kentucky/7976434.htm
The sermon was good. I enjoy a good sermon, myself, and the pastor actually touched on an experience of her own when she was thinking of leaving a church. I am not superstitious or even mystical, but I appreciate a good ironic message, too.
There was a sort of receiving line at the door of the sactuary, and the pastor went to hug me. Then realizing I suppose that she didn’t actually know me, she shook my hand instead and asked my name. On learning that I was a first-time visitor, she sent me to the “Welcome Table,” where a nice man gave me a mug. This was definitely a first for me.
So my first outing in the scientific search for a church was successful. I came home and began a sock, thus making it Sockuary chez Fibermom, too, and also got a good bit more done on Hopkins. I am now to the point where I need to do shaping, and will have to do a bit of calculating to make sure the pattern keeps going properly. I am using the shaping from one sweater and the color patterns from a couple of others. Someday I will just make a sweater or other garment entirely according to the pattern, or at least make all the decisions about it before beginning, instead of having all these midpoint refigurings to do.
4 thoughts on “Monday January 17, 2005”
That’s funny about the light bulb and denominations. LOL. I was raised attending a methodist church that my grandparents took me too. So I got a good 2 years of intensive Methodist sunday services, vacation bible school, and various picnics, etc. I remember that we did say ,trespass, instead of ,debt. Many years went by and then I had a partner that was in the clergy of a unitarian church. So I went to that for awhile and witnessed all kinds of ways of worshipping. Attended several same sex unions, helped with fundraisers, and witnessed the division of the church because of internal diffrances. One thing the unitarian church did that was really neat was that they had a period where they would take turns on different sundays conducting the service the way other denominations did. It was really interesting. I’m glad they did it because it was kind of like having the different denominations delivered too you instead of having to go and check them out at the different church’s. LOL. It was interesting because the people that normally attended from different denominations would kinda come to life when they were having a sevice that was akin to the kind they were raised with. I wasn’t really thrilled with the catholic service with all that standing up and sitting down. Then I stopped going to the unitarian church and explored what I call the free love movement in spirituality. Where you kinda have all these different forms of healing and getting together to express your faith or spirituality. Like drumming, reiki, hands on healing, psychic developent work shops, faith runs, prayer groups, etc. There are a lot of charlatins out there and I saw some people pay some big bucks to get a healer do some kind of magnetic healing hands on thing and then he pulled out what appeared to be some kind of disease. I wasn’t impressed and at the same time amazed at the power of faith that some people were deeply commited to become healed and this was just their way of doing it. I quess its kinda like the faith in the mustard seed thing. I think I’m getting carried away here. I just got to thinking about all this stuff by reading your last entry. Good luck in your search for a church! : )
I’m Catholic and we say trespass. 🙂 I hope you find what you are looking for. It is always very interesting to me to go to churches of other denominations – to see how others worship. Gotta love those welcome tables! 😉
Wishing you luck in finding a church! I laughed at your version of the joke. Being Catholic I myself do not use light bulbs, I use candles 😀
Many thanks from a non-churchgoer (although nominally a presbyterian – I went to Sunday School at a presbyterian church as a child) – I never actually knew what the difference among the protestant churches were, now I have a bit more of an idea. Went to a baptist church for a year when I was about 9 – my introduction to a lightly evangelistic service. As a teenager at school a friend and I were always meaning to visit different denominational Sunday meetings but we never got around to it. Always wanted to go to a Catholic or Anglican Christmas Mass – Christmas seemed one time of the year where the more ceremonial aspects of the Christian church seemed appropriate.
The Catholic and all the traditional Protestant churces are in something of a state of crisis in NZ. Rapidly falling numbers and the youngsters moving to the more extreme (at least they seem extreme to me) of the evangelistic churches. I think our traditional churches have also started up marketing strategies to bring the young people back. It would be a shame I think if we lose the diversity – the diversity can cause some really nasty confrontations but when I think of the alternative – One Church Only – I find that somewhat less than attractive.
And yes, Leonides site is really interesting. Shame we didn’t have the web available to us when I was at school – this is a much better way of studying social studies, history, geography etc than simply reading it in books.
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