I am not sure whether my childhood experience of the church was normal or not, but I worshipped at a lot of churches when I was a kid. We were always active members at a Lutheran Church, that looked a lot like this one. Since most of my neighborhood was Roman Catholic, after sleepovers I attended quite a few masses. It was weird, it looked similar, but there seemed to be a lot of differences, too. Their priest sang a lot, our pastor never did that. I loved that the priest only preached for about five minutes, but I was not as enthusiastic with all the prayers and singing that surrounded communion every time they worshipped.
We bought a cottage and we went first to a local Lutheran church nearby. At the door they asked us whether we were a part of the Missouri Synod, which is a kind of Lutheran I didn’t even know existed. My parents seemed to understand the question and told him no. The man smiled and said we were welcome to worship with them, but since this was a communion Sunday, we were not welcome to take communion with them. Maybe, it would be better if we just came back another day. We left and didn’t come back.
Weekends in the summer we started going to a little white clapboard Baptist country church. There was about 30 of us there on a good day. Unlike the Catholic service that I never seemed to quite know what was going on, this service was easy to follow. We sang, and prayed, and sang then listened. The church had an ancient preacher, who was probably about 65, but he was funny in a down home kind of way. The thing that stood out was that he could get going in his preaching. No Lutheran pastor I ever heard had that kind of energy. He must never have been long winded, though because my dad had no patience for a worship service that went over an hour. The cool thing was that when he was done, we were done. We just pretty much said Amen, sang the Old Rugged Cross and were free to go.
My best friend went to a Church of Christ congregation. It was a big modern building that looked more like a school to me than a church. We had worship in what I would have called a cafeteria. I went nearly every Wednesday night to church with him. They had education for kids and adults then a full blown worship service, right in the middle of the week. Who does that? I liked the first part. We were Whirlybirds for Jesus. The worship service though was painful. It was like the Baptist one I knew but this pastor preached a lot longer and was never very funny, like the old guy. Amazing to me was that my friend’s dad seemed perfectly okay with it going on for an over an hour, on a Wednesday no less. I told my grandma about it. She was raised Baptist in southern Illinois. She told me I got the whole cow at that church and laughed.
I was raised to think it was okay to worship and take part in any church with Christ in the name. Maybe, this is why I am still curious and interested in how churches work, worship and do ministry in the world. My clergy colleagues here in Reynoldsburg show great patience with me as I ask them how they choose a council, what is an elder, how do they prepare a sermon, what songs do they sing, how long are their worship services, who can fire them, how does their budget process work and on and on…Our differences fascinate me, but even more important to me is what can I learn from them.
I celebrate the meaningful worship that each church in our community does week after week. I thank God regularly in prayer that they are doing it. People are moving closer to Christ because of them. People that wouldn’t likely feel comfortable with our Lutheran way of doing things. Every now and then we will have someone visit who was raised at a church where the pastors preach for 30 to 45 minutes. They will tell me they wish I would go on a little longer. I assure them, they are alone in that wish.
I don’t want to make light of our differences. Most differences don’t amount to much. There are differences that are more important to me, like the role of women in the church and in the family, welcome of all people to our worship space and the life of the church, the importance of relying on grace rather than works for our salvation, the intelligent and consistent use of scripture that focuses on finding Jesus in the Word. These are things that would keep me from joining some of the congregations of my friends, but they aren’t things that would keep me from worshipping, serving and fellowshipping with them.
I like to think that we should be able to eat with any church that puts Christian on their shingle. There is no difference that will keep me from sharing a pizza with another Christian…any other person actually. I have had lunch with nearly every pastor in Reynoldsburg. When we break bread together, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to grow closer together.
If we grow closer together, we can move from eating together to serving together. We all agree that God has sent us to be Christ in the world. This means a lot of things, but one thing we all recognize it means is feeding those in need. As Kay shared today in her temple talk we are serving a lot of bread in the world week in and week out at shelters across the metro area, but other churches around us are serving bread to our neighbors, too. The Church of Christ just a stone’s throw away weekly serves meals to this community. It was local churches, with a lot of different beliefs about things, that got together to create HEART, which gives out a lot of bread. We were able to work together at HEART because we already knew each other well through our own meals together. See how that works?
Hopefully, our fellowship around bread and ministry serving bread, leads us to breaking bread together in worship. My seminary professor said we should commune at any church we believe the Holy Spirit is present. There is not one church I have encountered in Reynoldsburg that I don’t think that is the case. I have communed at some of them, even at some who don’t necessarily believe I should be doing that. Our denominational leaders out of Chicago are trying to make it so we can share communion officially with even more denominations. Who knows, before I die maybe even the Missouri Synod will invite me to Christ’s table in God’s house.
On World Communion Sunday, we should acknowledge our differences unashamed. As people, we believe are all made in God’s image and yet we look a lot different. Why can’t we all be the body of Christ, and still look a lot different too? Let’s pray though that those differences don’t keep us from being Christ together in our community. The world notices when we fight amongst ourselves. Let’s pray for leaders at the national and international level with a heart for figuring out how to eat with each other. And congregations in this town that want to find ways to eat together, in our fellowship halls, at local shelters and the communion rail. Amen