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.