When we got to the hotel where we all went for refreshments after the church service, Dave wanted to know what I thought of the church.
I had so much to process that I stalled for time! Two months later I'm not sure I'm any more coherent than I was then, but I want to pour out some of my impressions and thoughts here. It just seems important to do so at last.
First of all, I was struck by the intense sense of community that I felt immediately. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise, since I would think that community is most precious of all to those who have experienced such rejection outside of it.
But for all that, it wasn't an accidental community. I read the bulletin and I had already checked out the website. MCC is a huge organization. I just rechecked the website and they have an impressive new one. The website says that there are over 800 congregants. I can't even imagine the work that it takes to care for the spiritual and practical needs of a church that large.
The choir is known for excellence in music and their Christmas concert is held at Roy Thompson Hall. I hear it is always sold out.
Rev. Brent Hawkes, who has shepherded the congregation for 35 years, must work very hard indeed, that was easy to see. And I heard from a friend who would know, that he has at times worn a bullet proof vest for protection. I would have to say that going to a job that means you're risking your life is a brave thing to do; huge understatement.
At the end of the service there was communion. A row of men and women stood at the front of the church, facing the congregation, each holding a goblet of wine in one hand into which they dipped a small circular communion wafer. They gave it to those who came forward, with the words, "The body and blood of Christ. Go in his peace."
I had wondered whether I would take communion, right up to the moment that Shan turned to me and said, "Are you going up?"
I said, "Yes," and she got up too. I resolutely walked behind her, joining the lines of others waiting to be served, in little clusters of families or friends who shared communion together. I loved that.
When I read "What We Believe," on the website though, I found that I fundamentally differ with some of their "bedrock beliefs," some of which are universalist. It feels as though the church wants so much to embrace all without judgement, that it is in danger of having made a creed that is based on man's ideas rather than God's. There were echoes of that in the way Reverend Hawkes interpreted passages of scripture too, which is his perfect right of course, and many people more learned than I would agree with him.
But I think that not everyone in that congregation is there because they wholeheartedly agree with the core beliefs. At least some people may be like a colleague of mine over 10 years ago, who went there, even though she was Roman Catholic, because she found acceptance as a lesbian believer there, while not in her own church. She was spiritually hungry but her choices for plugging into a welcoming Christian community were limited because of her sexual orientation.
I have done a lot of thinking about this since. I don't want to abuse the privilege of being a guest in this church, and it did feel like a privilege; but Dave asked me an honest question and it demands an honest answer and that's what I'm trying to give.
I wonder if we could ever find a different way than shaping the Word to say what we want, but also a different way than judging what we don't have all the answers for.
What if we acknowledged that some things are hard to understand and we are going to seek God and try and figure it out honestly together, without pointing fingers or being scared and threatened by what is different, but still one of "ours."
What if we all held precious, God's word, and especially those profound passages on not daring to cast the first stone at another's perceived sin and cared first about simply loving people for who they are.
How about trusting God to speak to individuals' hearts and souls if they are in relationship with him, and not assuming that we know what he would say.
And what if we let one option be not having all the answers this side of heaven?
RICH MULLINS: "And this is what I have come to think: That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, whom I claim to be my Savior and Lord the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in your beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved.