Regular readers of my little blog may remember my entry from Easter where I talked about wanting, indeed needing, to find a new faith community that I could call home.
Well, since then I’ve been to two of the churches I found on the Reconciling Ministries Network site.
One I’ve been to three times – twice to a Taize service, which I do really enjoy and once to a Sunday morning service which…well, it had aspects I liked, but it was almost a little too loose liturgically for me. I’m not saying I necessarily want a church that follows a liturgy in lockstep, but I do like some consistency from one service to another, and I’m not sure how much of that I’d get at this one. It also does concern me a little that there’s only one pastor, and while yes the pastor should be the spiritual leader of the congregation, it feels a little like other churches I’ve visited where the church’s identity is so tied to that of the pastor when s/he leaves the church itself goes through something of an identity crisis. It’s hard to say…it was their Earth Day celebration, so things revolved around that. But they did have Holy Communion that day and honestly I’m not sure I ever heard the words of institution (“This is my body… This is my blood…”) that I understood were kind of a big deal in celebrating Holy Communion. People were generally welcoming to me there – but in a general sense and pretty much only after I’d introduced myself at the end of the service and then it was really only one person. Once a month they do have this thing called “Second Date” where they meet specifically with newcomers after the service – it’s on the second Sunday of the month (hence the name), and initially my intention had been to go next week and go to that (of course I also realized that with it being Mother’s Day, I might get yet another “non-traditional” service, making it difficult for me to get a feel for what this congregation is like on any “regular” Sunday…if they even have such a thing there). It’s technically the closest to me…but logistically I also have to recognize that there’s really only one way for me to conveniently get there – and that involves subways that very often are rerouted or shut down on the weekends. There is potentially one alternative, but it’s one that would take a lot longer. It’s something to think about at the very least – races will occasionally cut into Sunday morning worship, if subway repair adds to that… Yeah…
This morning I decided to go to another one I’d found on the RMN site. Initially I’d had it kind of at the bottom of my list until I read more of the staff bios and found that the head pastor wasn’t just someone who calls himself a Bishop (you see that a lot around here with storefront churches) but is in fact a retired Bishop of the United Methodist Church. I’ve walked past the building a lot and it’s one that I’ve often wondered about. I initially went today with the intention of going back to the first one next week (I try to not go two weeks/times in a row when I’m in a visiting stage but go maybe every other week with a different church in between – just my own thing…though I’m not totally tied to it as you’ll see in a moment). I really like a lot of what I see on their website – and I’ve loved what I’ve read on their Pastors’ Blog. This one does have an added advantage in that there are multiple ways I can get there via subway, and the odds of ALL of them being down on a weekend are pretty slim. It may seem like a silly thing, but when you don’t have a car, it’s something to consider. Well, I got into Manhattan a little early, so I went to Starbucks to get some coffee – they specifically mention that they have coffee and you’re welcome to help yourself to a cup and find a seat, so I figured Starbucks would be fine, and it was. Pretty much as soon as I walked in the door, I was warmly greeted by a woman who gave me a bulletin, told me I could sit anywhere, and showed me where the restroom was. I found a seat about midway up the aisle and settled in. At least 10 people spoke to me as they went to their seats. The service has a lay leader who handles most all of the announcements and serves as kind of the MC for the service. It opened with a hymn, a Call to Worship, and a Statement of Faith (in the UMC they use several in addition to the traditional Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed) – in this case it was the Statement of Faith of the Korean Methodist Church. Then there was a time for silent meditation and some words (given today by a student pastor) to ponder. Then there was an anthem that I was familiar with sung by their choir – their choir of like SIX people who sounded amazing and like a full-on choir of 30 or more. Then there was a time when all newcomers are invited to stand and introduce themselves. I did – just my name and where I’m from. After that was the Passing of the Peace, which was definitely exuberant, but I genuinely felt very much welcomed by everyone there. The student pastor, and the other (not the Bishop) pastor as well as one of the Ministers in Residence made it a point to get to me (and I noticed each of the other newcomers whether local or visiting), and the Bishop did his best but didn’t quite make it to everyone before it was time to be seated. There was a scripture reading and then the sermon. The Bishop delivered it and the ironic (or not?) thing is that while it was titled “More Than A Sleep Over,… Home”, it really made me feel at home. It felt comfortable and yet challenging – just what I like…stepping outside of boundaries while still feeling safe and “at home”. He not only used scripture, he used cultural references, but in a natural way, not in a “look how hip I am” kind of way. And honestly, who can’t smile at a retired United Methodist Bishop with an earing?!?!? 🙂 Then came the offertory and some instrumental music. The hymn that brought up the offering was one that is super familiar to me. (Are we seeing a theme here?) Then it was time for communion, and while there wasn’t necessarily a formula that was followed, the words I’ve always been taught are integral to a celebration of Holy Communion were there and it followed the basic outline. When it was time for the Lord’s Prayer, they say (both in bulletin and out loud) “in the language and style of your choice”, and everyone says it quietly in their own space. That was really far more moving than I’d anticipated. Communion was in stations and was pretty typical – by intinction (dipping the bread in the grape juice). And there were hymns sung during that – again, all familiar ones to me. After, there were several announcements (including the fact that NYC does in fact have a CROP walk, and this church will be participating!), then a closing hymn and a sending forth. After that, people who want can go and pray at the altar while the postlude is played. I opted to stay in my pew and pray, and when I looked up, this is what I saw
In spite of it being gorgeous outside, the light had not fallen across the cross like that before that moment.
Uh…yeah. Signs much??
The female pastor talked with me as I was leaving – she already had my newcomer card in her hand and said she’d be in touch. They mention on their website and a couple of times in the service that if you’re local and new to the church, one of the pastors will take you to coffee, which is pretty cool in and of itself (though totally not a part of my decision making process). I spoke with the Bishop on my way out as well, and he remembered that I was from Brooklyn – he got the Clif Notes version (raised a UMC PK, etc.) and was like “OK, Brooklyn? PK? We’ll see you again, right?” but with a big smile on his face.
I’m not 100% there yet, but really, this place feels like it could be home – moreso than probably anywhere else since St. Thomas DuPont Circle.
So, yes, Bishop J, I think you will indeed see me again. Maybe even next week. 🙂