St. John’s United Church of Christ
This morning I checked out the casual worship service at Boulevard Presbyterian Church...
Scratch that. I tried to check out that worship service but I totally chickened out. I wanted to try a Presbyterian church, I googled, I found Boulevard Presby, and everything about it seemed right up my alley. Their 9 AM service promised a casual worship experience (jeans welcome!) and contemporary music. I showed up around 8:50 and slushed my way to the church, only to realize there are three doors and I don’t know which one to go into. There I am, pacing awkwardly, trying to see if there is a clear indicator of which door I should go into, when I notice other people approaching the church. So I hang back in a totally casual “I’m not stalking this church” kind of way and watch which door they go into and follow them.
I follow them into the church and then continue to follow them to what I assume is the chapel. However, they approach an open room, with chairs set in groups of circles, and upon entering they take their laminated, pre-printed nametags from the wall. I can immediately tell this isn’t a normal service, I can also tell I’m the youngest person there by at least 20 years. Could I have found the proper person, explained I was new, and gotten a temporary nametag? Probably! Is that what I did? Heaven no. I got out of there and slid back to my car and began frantically googling other 9AM services in the area. I didn’t have time to reflect on why Boulevard Presbyterian felt wrong, it just did. I didn’t know where I was supposed to go, I didn’t want to sit in a discussion circle, I didn’t have a nametag, everyone there was so much older than me. It was intimidating, which shouldn’t have stopped me, but it completely did. I still want to experience a Presbyterian church, but I might do more thorough research next time. Or show up early enough to completely scout it out, and ask questions.
So instead I was ten minutes late to the 9 AM service at St. John’s United Church of Christ on Mound St. This church has one entrance, as soon as I entered someone welcomed me, gave me a pamphlet, and indicated where I should sit. I sat down with my notebook and finally began to relax and enjoy my Sunday morning.
St. John’s is an absolutely beautiful church, describing themselves as “a beacon of hope in the heart of the city.” The Anglican church I visited on my first Sunday was pretty and ornate, but it didn’t come close to St. John’s. St. John’s has cathedral ceilings, stained glass, carved wooden crosses, beautiful pews and carpet. Taken directly from their website: “St. John’s is an Open and Affirming Church affiliated with the United Church of Christ, www.ucc.org, where we firmly believe that we are called to ‘welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed [us], for the glory of God’ Romans 15:7).
No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. We believe in extravagant welcome, as a sign of God’s inclusive love for all.”
They do seem very welcoming. There is a rainbow flag hanging above the door, and a sign along the side of the building indicating that all are welcome. When I walked in, the person greeted me by saying “I’m glad you’re here.” Again, the congregation was mostly older than me, but there were also children there, and people from all walks of life.
Today’s sermon was inspired by the African proverb: “If you want to run fast, run alone; if you want to run far, run with others”
The reverend likened following Jesus to running a marathon. She said it is something that takes endurance and lasts your whole life. It’s not something you can complete in a year or even a lifetime. You can’t reach spiritual maturity, but you can continually strive to follow Christ. She explained there were seven steps to following Jesus like you’re running a race:
1. Simplify your life
2. Have patience
3. Spend time in prayer every day
4. When it gets tough, remember the reward
5. Gather a team to run with you
6. Remember God is cheering you and supporting you the whole way
7. Take every step with purpose
The pastor elaborated on each step, but for the sake of word count, I’ll only reflect on the few steps I thought had an interesting message.
I most enjoyed hearing about steps 5 and 7, since I already am a huge believer of living with purpose and living with the support of other people. The church offered a lot of ways to get involved with the church and to find a “team” to support you. It seems like a place where they are interested in being there for their members in every way possible.
The step I most struggled with was step 4. When it gets tough, remember the reward. The reward in this case being eternal life in heaven. I have always taken some issue with this part of Christianity. Do I praise God because of His love, or do I praise because if I don’t, I will be eternally punished? I think it’s technically both, but the threat of damnation always makes me wonder, how much does God actually love me? He provides me, the logically motivated individual He made, with no empirical evidence of His existence, and so I have my doubts. But if I don’t believe, He will send me to hell, regardless of if I am a good person or not. It’s a question I always have had and will have, but listening to the sermon today, surrounded by the gorgeous stained glass and listening to the choir’s voices echo in the chamber, it made me want to believe in God. Whether He might damn me or not, the temple that St. John’s has built to celebrate God’s love is inspirational.