It was the second time I'd been to church this year. Walking in, it looked like 90% of the churches I'd ever been in. Wooden pews, red carpet, choir loft, bulletin, offering baskets, hymnals - it was all so familiar, yet so distant. It was like I was visiting a museum.
I glanced through the bulletin, which not only had the list of the morning's songs and prayer concerns, but also mentioned upcoming choir practice, weeknight Bible studies, and that some meeting was happening in the narthex. The narthex. Leave it up to Christians to invent some weird word for "lobby."
We went to this small church to hear a friend sing and perform an original cantata. The pianist for this local church, he spent many hours rehearsing with the choir who wore silver robes with purple stoles. We were witness to a half hour of advent melodies as songs of anticipation and adoration let everyone in the crowd know that for whatever reason, a very special baby had been born.
As it turned out, I knew three other people in the choir. All were under 30. They were the only people in the choir under 30, but for most churches, this ratio is as commonplace as the narthex.
As I listened to renditions of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and "Angels from the Realms of Glory," I looked over at my wife, who any minute now could give birth to our very special baby. Just for a second I hoped she'd go into labor and deliver there on the sanctuary floor and that the choir wouldn't miss a beat. Then, as the choir would crescendo into "Joy to the World," I'd lift Lindley high in the air and proclaim, "Unto us this day a baby is born!" And then we'd go to the hospital. Certainly that would be more exciting to this church than having 20% of its choir under the age of 30.
Snapping back into reality, I began to wonder how my daughter would discover religion, and how she'd come to understand God. As best as I can tell at this point, she won't grow up going to a Sunday morning church service, complete with Sunday school and potluck lunch. But it doesn't mean she'll miss out on the mysterious beauty that is believing something you can't see.
- She'll read my mom's blog and learn about a God who is present in everyday things.
- She'll go to Texas each summer and get her fill of vacation Bible school with her grandmother.
- For the holidays in Fort Worth, she'll sing carols by candlelight in a sanctuary on Christmas Eve and get to see what a pipe organ is.
- She'll pull books off the shelves at home and wonder why so many people try so hard to describe God.
- She'll ask her mother and I questions that we'll promise to answer honestly and openly. We'll tell her our respective faith journeys and where we are on that voyage at the moment.
- Friends at school will tell her what they believe, what holy books they have at home, and how it means they should behave.
- And perhaps she'll even visit a church a few times a year and sit on a pew while holding a hymnal, following along the order of worship in a bulletin that she picked up in the narthex.
I hope that her discovery of faith - however she chooses to express it - will be one that is deep, wide, rich, and meaningful. I hope that it's personal, motivational, tangible, and confusing. And perhaps the best way for her to discover what it is she believes is to allow her to explore beyond the boundaries of a single institution.
I find it peculiar that so many people who have only experienced one strand of one faith (Baptist, Methodist, Universalist) claim to speak so authoritatively about other expressions of religion. If we were honest - and we all know God wants us to be honest - we'd realize that what we really know a lot about is pews. And narthexes.
I don't care if my daughter is familiar with church terminology. I'll sacrifice that in order for her to experience the varying manifestations of God that only come through real and deep exploration.