"Do you have a church that you go to?" I asked the woman at the bookstore. We had begun a conversation that seemed to lend itself to the question so I went for it. Her reply was awesome, "what do you mean by "go"? All right! We entered into a fun conversation about the dynamics of church. She was part of a church network made of small groups that met in peoples homes. I was excited to hear about her experience and by considering what it meant to be church. What do we mean by "Going to church."?
I went to a worship service on Sunday morning at 9:00. I was in the greater King County area visiting a friend and we had plans to attend the Mariners game after worship. So we picked a United Methodist church near his home. I knew the pastor and wanted to see something of what life was like in that congregation. The website was clear that both the 9:00 and 10:30 worship services were "traditional" so we knew the sort of basics to expect. Soon after walking in the pastor spotted me. Dang, cover blown. He was enthusiastic to have me there and it was good to see him. I found seats toward the middle back and my teenage daughter chastised me for being "Methodist" as a reference to not sitting closer to the front.
We went to church. Well, we attended a worship service at a church. It had all the basics of worship that I learned in seminary. The sermon had some good exegitical work. (Exegesis, one of those cool seminary words I learned. I understand it to mean taking information out of the words of scripture. In this case the pastor did a good job of pulling out the original greek words into our contemporary language and gave meaning to them for us today.) The children's message was engaging. The people greeted me nicely during the "passing the peace" time. Churchy, worshipy stuff happened. Did I "go" to church?
I found myself distracted from worship a few times. My sister called in the middle of worship and that was VERY unusual. (no the ringer was not on, no it did not vibrate in such a way that anyone else knew that the phone had "rung.") I was tempted to get up and see what she was calling about but I didn't want to make that distraction for others in worship. I noticed some things about the worship area or the service that distracted me into United Methodist Worship Critic mode. Yet, now I'm writing wondering what it meant for me to "go" to church that morning.
I arived not wanting to meet anyone really. I left in a hurry to call my sister back and to get to the Mariners game. I wasn't there to be part of a community, I went to spend an hour in a room to "worship" but is that that same as "going to church"? When I'm going to to church I'm going to participate with a community. I want to hang out with a particular group of people to sing songs, share in scripture and pray. For whatever reason, I didn't GO to church, I simply found myself attending a worship service. I'll try to do better next time.