21st Century Christianity Hidden Under 19th Century Robes

This has been a week of change for me. I finished my first course at Full Sail and started my first course as an Assistant Course Director (ACD) for someone else’s course. I also decided to update my profile info in e-Harmony and restart the long dormant “find me a match” process. I also decided last night that I should check out a church that was recommended to me by a co-worker, teasing that if this church didn’t work for me than my next stop is Buddhism. Well, after this morning’s visit… I do have the belly specifically for Buddhism.

Way back in Long Beach days when sister-in-law, Connie, heard that I was interested in going back to church she suggested a church that she heard was very open to all kinds of people (she knows me well). I resisted the suggestion, mostly because, for all of my liberal tendencies, I have limited respect for those who twist the Scriptures to their favor or seem to make it up as they go along. I know, talk about contradictions. I have the utmost respect and feel drawn to Biblical studies, but I know that I don’t fit with garden-variety Bible-thumpers. Add to that, I now live in the official Bible-Belt. Damn.

So, First Congregational Church of Winter Park (UCC), walking up to the nice traditional looking brick-building I passed some choir people in robes… okay, robes. Wow. Raised Roman Catholic on the West Coast, I remember robes but since then except for a brief stint with some conservative Presbyterians, not so much. On the inside of the church it was very much the nice conservative 125-year-old community church with a raised platform for the choir and pulpits, all painted white. It also happened to be World Communion Sunday, so I was ready for the tiny bit of bread and grape juice. Did I mention that this fellowship has been together for 125-years? And unlike other “older” congregations that I’ve visited this one was well attended by people of pretty much every age-group and a lot of little kids. It’s been my experience that one sign of a healthy congregation is how well the various age-groups are represented. So healthy but what’s with the robes?

Low church/High church – I’m struck by the “modern” approach to the bible juxtaposed by the extremely traditional social structure of the Sunday service, the robes, the choir, and the hymns. At the same time my bible-believing brethren from the Calvary Chapel/Vineyard Christian Fellowship branch of the family tree seem to be shrinking. I recognized after the demise of the Long Beach Vineyard church that this business of having a church based on a familiar brand name (“Calvary” or “Vineyard”) without full-on commitment to the neighborhood where the church is physically located is untenable. Also, because the business of building community is a very big one, it can’t be done by a part-time pastor who’s main function is the Sunday sermon.

So, I come from a tradition that goes for modern music and informal services but insists on strict/literal interpretations of the Bible. But today’s service at 1st Congregational Church was right out of 125-years ago in form and function, but underneath the exterior forms the leadership understands the Scriptures to be a human book and the church should be able to be more flexible when it comes to accepting more parts of the community. In an odd sort of way they believe that the world has changed since the times of the Apostles and the church should reflect that in terms of who is “permitted” to participate (oh, did I mention that there were several female “reverends” in today’s service?), but the forms of the church structure and certainly the Sunday service are entirely traditional. Also, though the leadership makes no bones about this human approach to scriptures, there seems no lessening in their belief in the message of Jesus and the gospel in changing people’s lives and justice in the world at large. Contrary to the propaganda of the Bible-only folks, these folks are committed to the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, they just see the texts themselves to be more human and more open to interpretation (at the same time wearing the robes and singing the songs from 125-years ago). This is all a very interesting to me. Admittedly, I have a bit of a problem with the outmoded forms, but I think that there is a real connection between maintaining an affinity to “Christianity” by maintaining their traditions while remaining “flexible” with the scriptures. Hmmm, based on this reasoning, I wonder if it’s enough for me to just maintain my Jesus-esque long hair and beard?… Life is funny. jbb

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