But we failed. Or, more accurately, I think the entire church may have failed to worship.
It started out okay enough. We parked in a clearly-marked visitor spot, entered the building, received a welcome, a recognition that we were visiting for the first time, and a bulletin. We walked into the sanctuary, sat down in the center of a pew about 3/4 of the way back, and got greeted by one more person (who I realized I'd talked to this week on the phone as part of my job, but we kept the introductions to first names for the more incognito visitor experience). She said, "I'll be right back," and did indeed return a few minutes later with a recent church newsletter and a visitors' packet containing brochures on all their ministries.
After that, it started to get weird. We opened our worship bulletins and found hymn selections that raised our eyebrows. You'd have thought it was Independence Day weekend from the first two hymns. We wondered about them for a bit, then decided it probably had something to do with Thanksgiving coming up this week, though we aren't accustomed to big displays of patriotism for Thanksgiving, especially in church.
So, we sang "America the Beautiful" for our "Hymn of Praise," -- yes, that was the label in the bulletin and over the PA system. The Alpha leaned over to me and asked, "Praise to whom?" Exactly what I was wondering. The hymn is clearly addressed to America, not to God.
Then the substitute associate pastor, a retired clergyman from another Conference, waxed all emotional about how great America is compared to other countries. We think he got a little verklempt. Meanwhile, I'm glancing over at some of the diversity in the pews near us, wondering if everyone in here is indeed a citizen of the U.S.
The next hymn was "My Country, 'Tis of Thee." Ohhhh, The Alpha noticed... it mentions pilgrims. That's why it's a Thanksgiving hymn, we supposed. Still, another hymn not directed to God. I like to limit those types of moves to one per service, myself. And even then, it's sketchy.
Scriptural basis for the sermon was Romans 12:1-2. The senior pastor explained to the congregation that John Wesley was hearing this very same passage when he had what is now referred to as his "Aldersgate experience." WRONG! I know better! And teh Intarwebs backs me up:
"In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans." --from The Journal of John Wesley, May 24, 1738
HaHAA! Luther's preface! Wesley wasn't listening to the Bible itself being read.
Then, later in the sermon, the pastor states, pretty much out of nowhere, that "Thanksgiving is our only 100 percent religious holiday."
That comment got badger-faced (Liz Lemon-style) by both The Alpha and me. Is any holiday 100 percent religious? If so, I don't think Thanksgiving wins that distinction. Plenty of people give thanks on Thanksgiving without involving God in it. They may thank their parents for not making them cook anything, or they thank their place of employment for not making them work (or for paying them extra if they do have to work). But I'm guessing we have a significant fraction of Americans whose primary celebration of Thanksgiving basically amounts to, "YAY! TURKEY!"
Crap. I just lost several paragraphs of this post. Intarwebs fail. I'll be hitting "save now" after every sentence from here on out.
This congregation also applauded. at. everything. I usually can forgive a congregation for applauding after the children's choir sings, even if I do believe it sends the wrong message (kiddoes, who are you singing for? The congregation? No! You're singing for God, not those people out there). But these folks also applauded after the big-people choral anthem, and they applauded again when the pastor did the "right arm" verse of the Hokey Pokey as part of his sermon. (God wants you to "put your whole self in," of course. But he left out my favorite part of this illustration: You aren't just supposed to put your backside in church. It's no fun without a butt reference.) Yes. They applauded the Hokey Pokey. And not after they had all successfully done it themselves, which I think is perhaps the only appropriate time to applaud the Hokey Pokey. And even then, not always.
At one point in the service, I decided I'd try to learn a little bit more about the place by skimming the newsletter given to us by the friendly lady. That's when I learned that apparently, the place is falling apart as far as staffing is concerned. They had to cut one position, and then two other people have resigned. Doesn't bode well.
We have visited four other churches here in the area, and while no church is perfect, nor do we expect it to be, we've felt at least okay with most of the worship experiences. This is the first time we haven't been able to get our worship groove on even a little.
And now I have to go. I've spent too long on this blog post when I should be busy fighting our house. We must beat it into submission.