I mentioned in my last post that I had a lot of church a couple weekends ago. Three services, to be exact.
One was a liturgical service folded into a wedding in a gorgeous Methodist church in Atlanta. One was a Southern Baptist service at my parents’ church, the church I grew up in, the church that makes me squirm with discomfort because on one hand I disagree with so much, but on the other, that place was where I first learned to love Jesus, and that still matters. And the last was in a living room connected by Google hangouts to two other living rooms, the way my beloved little church operates now, and our pastor spoke on the resurrection stories and also mass incarceration.
And I stand in awe at the breadth of the Body.
It’s what both adds to and subtracts from my doubt, and leaves me sitting in the mystery of how so many people from so many places can come together and believe and worship the same God in so many different ways.
I’ve attended only one church for the majority of my life, from the time I was in utero until after I graduated high school. My parents are still members there, and I still go with them when I go home. That church shaped me, molded me as a child, then young adult. I sat in my then-pastor’s office as a very young girl with a list of questions that he patiently, gently answered. I was baptized by that same pastor. I attended VBS, then helped with it as a teenager. I lived for my youth group and the crazy games we played and the coffee house nights and Centrifuge and World Changers during our summers. And I weathered a major church trauma there, a very, very ugly split that felt at the time more like a civil war. (There was nothing civil about it.) My heart broke into shards, and I learned that not all church people have everyone’s best interests in mind.
When I went to college, I found another Baptist church to attend because that’s where I felt like I was supposed to go. Once a Baptist, always a Baptist, right?
It wasn’t until after I’d stopped going to church at all for four years that I realized that not all churches looked the same. I learned they could, in fact, be vastly different. I soon came to understand that it was that difference that I was craving, the assurance that not all churches have to be little carbon copies of each other.
For the longest time, I assumed there wasn’t an option. I was either Baptist, which I was decidedly not, or I was a rebellious, straying, former-Baptist who couldn’t make up her mind about what she believed, which I obviously had to be. There was so much shame wrapped up in leaving church that I think I seriously had to be out of church for as long as I was to get over it.
It’s taken me a very long time to untangle my mind and heart from the idea that there is one and only one way to believe, and that way is the Southern Baptist way, and if you stray away from that you are just flat-out wrong and will answer to it when you meet Jesus one day.
I’m so glad the Southern Baptist way is not the only way. The Southern Baptist way is good for Southern Baptists, but I am not one of them.
I’m a crazy liberal Methodist. My very best friend, also a Methodist, has been telling me for literally years that I am not a Baptist, that I am a Methodist, and like a good Baptist I told her for years that she must be mistaken.
She was not.
When I was still recovering from the panic and the guilt and the anger that comes with a faith crisis, God threw me the biggest care package I could’ve ever imagined in the form of a Methodist church, and my best friend got herself a great big I told you so moment.
I came to know Saint Junia in the oddest of ways. I follow SAFE Samford on Facebook, a LGBTQ-affirming group of Samford alums, faculty, and students. Dave, our pastor, who’d been an adjunct professor in Samford’s religion department for a while, had posted several things about the church. I figured if he was actively posting on that page, on purpose, it might be something I wanted to check out. I went to the website and saw they were having a pancake-and-waffle event at Dave’s house, which happened to be right down the street from where we’d just moved. I don’t even know what came over me – this was pretty bold even for my extroverted self – but I went to that breakfast-for-dinner event, completely solo, without knowing a single soul.
I cried the entire 2-minute drive home, because I never dreamed a church community could look like that.
It was small, and looked different then than it did a year later, and different still from how we look today, but I have never seen a group of people be the Body of Christ like these people. They are truly the salt of the earth, I am so blessed to call them my friends.
So I came back into the fold, slowly, skeptically, but so, so gratefully. I stumbled through liturgy I’d never heard before in plastic chairs in a Girls, Inc. building. I learned songs I’d never sung before in a jazz style that took a few weeks to get used to, but that I learned to love. I sat in wonder at a place where women can help serve communion, can be ordained into ministry, can preach! From the pulpit! Who has ever heard of such a thing???
And I cried. Oh, I cried, with relief, with joy, with love, with grief over the years that I’d been missing this.
And I learned. I learned new and different contexts to scripture passages that I’d never known before. I learned to read the Bible in ways I’d never thought of. I learned liturgy, and so quickly I learned to love it. There’s power in a message spoken as one voice, there’s truth in words repeated the same way for centuries. There’s no debate in liturgy, no politics to argue over, nobody gets left out. It’s the spoken truth of the Gospel and it’s been life-changing, hearing and speaking and memorizing those words.
Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.
Liturgy gives so much solace to my wandering, weary soul.
Thanks be to God.
I had a full-circle moment at my cousin’s wedding as we were turning through the pages of our orders of worship. I looked down the pew, and my sweet Baptist family was whispering amongst themselves, trying to figure out how the heck you take Communion by intinction. “Just watch April,” my mom finally decided in a murmur to my dad.
Watch April. Watch April do the spiritual thing. Watch April take the body and the blood. Follow her lead, because she knows how to do it here, and we’re not quite sure.
It was this incredible feeling of acceptance, of comfort, of being at home in a place that was a far cry from our house churches in Alabama. I read along with the liturgy that my heart has come to know so well. I recited the Apostles Creed and believed it. And I thought of the words that Brooke wrote on the first page of the order of worship, which I appreciated more that she will ever know.
Whatever your beliefs may be, you are welcome. Whatever your doubts may be, you are welcome.
And I stand in awe at the breadth of the Body.
My Baptist parents took Communion by intinction, dipped the bread in the cup, kneeling on the kneelers at the altar, served probably for the first time by a woman, definitely for the first time by a bride.
And I smiled at my cousin serving the body and the minister serving the blood, and said Amen.