Saturday, 14 March 2009

Sunday night and Wednesday night church services ought to be against the law... or not? .... a bit of humor here....

March 8, 2009 (again…)

So after hubby got home from work, and we had breakfast, he took me out for a long drive out through the back country roads - still quite a lot of snow up there, though most of it’s gone here on the valley bottom. And then we went around some small-town roads we’d never explored before.

Hubby was saying, as we drove back into town, how he’s actually starting to like this community (we’ve been here nearly six years, but he’s really only “been here” since summer 2007 because before that he was mostly working far off in a logging camp)… anyway, he’s really starting to like it, especially since he’s been working at this senior’s residence and been making good friends there (both residents and staff)…. He is totally loving taking care of elders! I can tell you, it is truly his “gifting!” … So yes, I saw this coming… but I’m wondering what that might mean in terms of our “plans” to move on…

Anyway, now it’s “church time” and here I am sitting in the easy chair by the front window, writing and watching the world go by (it’s always quiet on Sundays…).

When I started to journal this morning, what I really meant to write about (does this sound familiar? lol) was that when I woke up at 5:30 (which felt awfully much like 4:30… seeing as it’s “spring forward” weekend…), I was thinking about the whole “Sunday-go-to-meeting-church-thing,” and I remembered #5 from “25 Sort of Random Things I Do and Don’t Believe” (quoted on the Edgenet site), which reads:

“5. Sunday night and Wednesday night church services ought to be against the law.”

Well! My reaction to THAT was that I actually preferred (past tense… they’re pretty much a relic of the past here… along with dinosaurs, etc!) those to Sunday morning services… which of course you had to dress up for, sit up prim and proper, listen to a long (and often boring) sermon by the same Reverend week after week, sing the more formal hymns (chosen of course by the pastor or song leader, theoretically to back up the sermon topic, in most cases)… (Oh, and woe-be-tied-you if you didn’t behave appropriately… I, who was Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes as a general rule, even I had a visit or two to the basement after getting home from church… and my poor wiggly brothers more often than I, I’m afraid!)… (Of course nothing like that happens in this day and age… hmmm? oh dear!) … (Hmmm… I wonder if my golden-haired little sister, ten-years-younger-than-me, ever had such an enlightening experience??? Things were changing by then, I’m thinking! … and my parents were lightening up a bit! Oh the trials of being the older children! But I digress…)

While Sunday evenings (at our more-or-less-middle-of-the-road-evangelical church) were generally way more relaxed and often far more interactive! (Interactive… now there’s a term I don’t recall back in the day…). Anyway, when I was a child and teen, Sunday evening services, unlike their more formal morning counterparts, often featured missionaries with slides and ethnic clothes and interesting “souvenirs” (and if you were lucky, you’d get to have them stay overnight at your house, and hear all kinds of really interesting stories!); or the youth group presenting a skit or musical production of some kind; or an itinerant “evangelist” (who might stick around for a week or two, and then you’d have meetings every night all week!); or even maybe one of the men of the congregation giving a sermon/talk (also often boring, but at least a change, eh!).

And the Sunday evening song leader always took “requests” for “favorite” hymns (and even Sunday School choruses, from the kids), and there were always “testimonies” (most often about how “the Lord saved me 65 years ago on February 23rd at my mother’s knee” … but sometimes by recently-saved-youth-group-members who had just come-out-of-terrible-lifestyles, which tended to be described in some detail, which was interesting… but also discouraging to the “good kids” who didn’t have such wild stories to tell, and therefore weren’t paid nearly as much attention to by the church folks, which led some of them to trying to develop some wild stories of their own… okay I’m digressing again, and no, this wasn’t in the original journaled writing… and yes, if you’re thinking it sounds autobiographical you’re probably right… yeah, time to get on with my point! So anyway… umm… where was I?

Oh yes… So there were always “testimonies” and maybe two or three people would pray instead of “just” the pastor (this could also be interesting to a child, because some of the “old saints” would start or end every phrase with a “holy sigh” … or perhaps always pronounce “Lord” as “Laawwwdddd!) … Sometimes they’d even pray especially for someone right there. And quite often there would be an “altar call” because, after all, the “evening service” was also knowsn as the “evangelistic service.” And then, quite often, there would be lots of good food afterward! All in all, the evening service was quite partipatory compared to the morning - actually a lot more “body life” (though I also do not remember that particular phrase being used back in the day, either…)

Of course at the Native Pentecostal Church we attended where I first really “came to the Lord” (I’ll always be grateful to those people… ) the evening service was the main service. Sunday morning at 11 am was “Sunday School” with classes for all ages. As a young adult, full of energy, and as a new Christian who obviously needed a “church ministry” (okay, I’m being a bit facetious here…), anyway, for whatever reason I was chosen to teach the half dozen little scholars of various ages who caused too much of an uproar in the regular classes, resulting in the other teachers threatening at one point to quit en-masse! (They were VERY uproarious little folks, I must add!). Anyway, they put us in the tiny “nursery” space, in which the crib took up half the space, and a little table took up most of the rest. There were no “materials” and really no room to sit down… and anyway these little folks (yes boys, for the most part) weren’t the “sitting down” types anyway, so I’d tell them a Bible story (quickly!) and then they’ll all eagerly take parts and act it out.

I particularly remember the enactment of the Bible story in which the sick man’s friends let him down through the roof to Jesus. The littlest boy was quickly appointed to be the sick man. The others pulled the sheets off the crib mattress, climbed up on the little table (very squashed together; there were a few very entertaining tumbles off, but finally they all managed to stay put), wrapped the little guy up in the sheets, and then flung him off the “roof” to land rather suddenly on the floor, pretty much in the lap of the “Jesus” lad! (I used to have a snapshot of that wonderful little group… I wonder what happened to it?) (Now come to think of it, that class surely must qualify as “interactive” church, right?)

Anyway, years later when I was teaching at the local high school, and these little guys were all about 6 feet tall, and hadn’t been to Sunday School in many a moon, they came up to me one day and reminded me of those classes… and started telling me details of the Bible stories we’d shared, that I would never have expected any Sunday School scholar, no matter how studious, to remember! (But I’m going down yet another rabbit warren, I suppose… yes, and rather enjoying it… still, to get back to my point…

Anyway, this church was “Indian church” (with a smattering of white folk too)… and Sunday evening service would officially start at 6 pm, which meant the doors were unlocked sometime before that. Anyway, folks would start wandering in, and then someone would pick up a guitar or other instrument, and folks would start to sing “favorites,” and eventually when the pastor judged that there were enough folks to actually start (anywhere from 6:30 onward), he (or sometimes someone else), with his guitar, would start “leading singing,” which generally meant taking more favorite hymns and choruses, or sometimes introducing a rousing new chorus (most of which were scripture-based).

Of course there would also be testimonies, prayer-and-laying-on-of-hands (they were great believers in praying for healing), and such. The people loved their music, and they’d sometimes get into it so thoroughly that the pictures on the walls would literally start swinging on their nails. The “worship team” consisted of anyone who wanted to play an instrument, and they generally sat in the front couple of rows and sometimes scattered throughout the audience as well. There was sometimes “word of wisdom” or “tongues and interpretation” but it truly wasn’t crazy or out-of-control.

I’ll tell you - those believers may not have been very “polished” but they were sincere and enthusiastic and alive! The vast majority had lived through incredible sorrows and difficulties and God had rescued them and was real to them! Far more real to them, in fact, that to me, who had been “brought up in the church” with a “nice, middle class background” … in fact, it was the reality of God in their lives and in their midst that actually really turned me to God… but that’s another story!

Anyway, eventually, about 7:30 or so (or maybe 8:00, depending)… they were not clock-watchers… it would be preaching time. The native pastor was always encouraging the people to bring along “preachimonies” - little talks of 10 minutes or so each, that included both testimony and teaching (which I suspect was pretty close to what might have been happening in those early New Testament churches… you think?). So that could take anywhere from 10 minutes to a half hour or so… and then the preaching began! Sometimes it was the pastor himself, sometimes a guest preacher (usually native as well), and almost always it was… well, exciting! Yes, powerful! And very much teaching of the Word, with preaching of the gospel included! And at least an hour long! Punctuated by lots of enthusiastic “amens!”

Almost inevitably that would be followed by an altar call… yes, for people to “come to the Lord” … but especially for people to pray for each other, hug each other, listen to each other and encourage each other, repent, forgive…. lots of tears… and lots of joy… and then lots more joyful singing afterwards, and finally lots of sandwiches, cookies, coffee, and kool-aid in the back “fellowship room.”

Generally, people could count on being home by 11ish… or 10 if church were short! (When we later attended “native church” in Inuvik, instead of food at the church after the evening service, people would often go off to each other’s homes - not planned ahead, just spur-of-the-moment general invites to anyone who might want to come - and they’d continue there to sing and share and visit till sometimes 3:30 or 4:30 in the morning!)

As for Wednesday night services, in my childhood and youth, Wednesday night service was “prayer meeting” … and the people who turned out regularly were those who were really believers (this was also true of Sunday evening more than Sunday morning… the “Sunday-go-to-meeting-Christians,” dare I say, tended to stick to the Sunday morning service, and even to my childhood eyes, it was quite obvious to me that there was some kind of relationship between stale services and the attendance of folks for whom “church” was apparently some kind of “social obligation” or whatever… but again I digress…). Anyway, the Wednesday night prayer service attendees tended to be the “faithful few” (and their families… for the “faithful few” there was no question that the whole family attended! Yes, it was sometimes a bit boring. Yes, it was probably way too “programmed.” Not to mention “old-fashioned.” Yes, some of those “old saints” probably droned on way too long. Yes, our knees got sore (uh huh, people actually knelt to pray at prayer meeting… for a long time). And yes, we kids didn’t always go along graciously.

But I will tell you this: that is the time and place in my childhood “church” experience (that, and the daily 6 am prayer meeting at Family Bible Camp each year) where as a child I really saw people in relationship with Papa, Abba, Father! People really conversing with Jesus, their Savior! Being in love with God! Tears sometimes streaming down their cheeks, faces glowing. It was from times like that, that already, as a child, I could not doubt that God was real…

The only thing was, I kind of had the idea that to know God like that you had to be: a) the pastor (yes, we had one like that); b) over seventy with white hair and wrinkles (especially my Grandpa); or c) my mom (whom I always longed to be like, but thought it was a hopeless quest that would never happen… but that’s another story, too…). So I didn’t realize till many years later that it was possible for a “normal” person (outside those rarefied categories) to be a “saint” like that….

Anyway, that is my rather long-winded reaction to point #5 of the “Random Things I Do/Don’t Believe” …

I suppose it wasn’t the “service” part of Sunday and Wednesday services that I believed in, after all, come to think of it… Rather it was the opportunity those occasions offered for the body, the brothers and sisters, the church… to actually BE the church in some more meaningful way, as far as “services” go…. more one-another-ing, more relationship happening, people having opportunity to really “love” (as a verb!) God and each other… God definitely in the room and allowed - desired even - by those “old time saints” to be “part of the action”…

So what, I wonder, do these memories have to show me about how You want me - us - to BE YOUR CHURCH here, now? It really wasn’t (back then) about “how” we “did” those services, that so affected me, I see now (because as I’ve said, some aspect weren’t always so “pleasant”)…. but it was when You and Your body met together, loving, sharing, encouraging, learning… one-another-ing!

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