I have fallen behind in blogging as I visit churches. Weeks 12 – 18 are getting a “catch-up” treatment here. This summary post touches on lovely moments noticing God’s fingerprints in my local community at churches including:
- a small Nazarene fellowship
- a crowded Episcopal service
- an independent “Bible Church” of about 200
- a large evangelical Presbyterian congregation
- a medium-sized United Methodist gathering
- a small Assemblies of God service
- an American Baptist service of around 150 folks
Finding God’s fingerprints:
(in no particular order)
– an “adopt a student” ministry that takes the names of college students who are living away from family, assembles care packages for them a couple of times each semester, and has people designated to pray for and encourage these young adults while they live far from home while pursuing their education.
– an unapologetic budget report included in the bulletin showing a significant deficit in moneys available to support the ministries of the church. The transparent, black-and-white numbers being shared on paper weekly rather than vague pleas for extra giving showed me humility and a dependence on God to provide. It’s interesting to note that NO mention of this deficit was made during the worship service; it was a matter of fact to be reported (like any other announcement in the bulletin). No one’s arm was twisted. The need was simply acknowledged in print.
– a tone of service that felt comfortable and intimate even for a first-time visitor. I was reminded of small group Bible studies from the church in which I was raised. Folks spoke out from their pews testifying to answered prayer so we could all thank God with them.
– a gathering of believers at the front of the sanctuary, sitting and standing together around the table before the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Intimate and friendly, but not casual or disrespectful, the celebration of the bread and the cup was something of a family dinner.
– a pastor who shared with the congregation a need for prayer as a family from the church faced the imminent death of a loved one. Before the sermon he led us in prayer. He prayed with a simple, beautiful sincerity that made it easy to agree with his spoken trust in the God of all comfort who would allow us to intercede for these brothers and sisters. His prayer did not beg God’s mercy, but instead was thankful for a merciful God to whom we are invited to pray.
– a follow-up conversation with someone I never even met at the service I attended, encouraging me in my Finding Fingerprints adventure and asking me to be on the lookout for other local congregations with a heart to reach the Muslim sector of our community for loving and respectful times of discourse. This is not an “inter-faith” effort; the person who emailed me has a longing to see Muslims encouraged to faith in Christ for salvation. But after years of living in a predominantly Muslim country, a respect for the Muslim’s worldview and a gentle understanding of the need for personal relationship with individuals BEFORE trying to share about spiritual things was expressed.
– a soul-stirring special music offering by a soloist that sounded nothing like a performance and entirely like an act of worship.
– a concrete, articulate explanation of the significance of celebrating the body and blood of Jesus Christ, including a step-by-step invitation to the congregation to first acclaim faith in a holy God who brings together justice and mercy in His own blood shed for the remission of sin, then a time for confession of sin in prayer and celebration of our assurance of pardon in Christ, and then a joyful participation in communion with the bread and the cup.
– a chance to re-affirm our baptism as we remembered the baptism of the Lord Jesus in the Jordan, the outpouring of the Spirit of God at that time, and the chance His word gives us to be a part of that in our own act of obedience in baptism. This experience was really moving, and I’ve continued to chew on all that my baptism means since that service.
– a musically awkward piece that was shared with such sincere enthusiasm of spirit that I was convicted to get over my big, bad musical self and make a joyful noise with all my heart.
– a friendly laid-back welcome-center greeter who seemed to enjoy the chance to make a first-time visitor feel truly welcome but not intruded-upon.
– a church that decided to just have the contemporary and traditional songs “take turns” in the service rather than trying to force musical puzzle pieces to fit together where they do not…or to make any pseudo-holy statement about “the right way” to include music in corporate worship.
That brings the adventure up to date….hooray for Naza-Evangepiscopal-Assembly-of-Baptists-and-Bible-Methodists!
And during this time I’ve begun reading about early church history, the origins of the Roman Catholic Church, and the historical pieces of the Protestant Reformation. Let’s see what I can find in all of the tangled roots in our family tree!