Thursday, March 18, 2010

Revenge of the Mega Church (1)

I would have never believed, in the early days of February 2010 that there could be churches observing us, “the way a man with a microscope might scrutinize the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”They waited, eager to give consumers— just what we wanted.

It has long been an interest of mine to experience different Christian denominations, church services and liturgies. I pay close attention to the various teachings, styles of music, sacraments, how people within the church interact and even how outsiders are treated. Recently, I have transferred to a new graduate school and am now in pursuit of a church to attend. I guess you could say I’m a church shopper.

Lately, I haven’t been able to escape the memory of one church in particular. The atmosphere was pleasant, warm, friendly, and upbeat that Sunday morning. Entering through the doors of the church, I was greeted by mortals wearing business casual attire who went out of their way to get me connected with information and welcome bags. As a new person in the area, I felt welcome and sure of getting plugged in if I desired. Life was good.

Church took an odd turn once I entered the main area. Hearing the band play “Sweet Home Alabama” on a Sunday morning does that. It was like stepping into the church version of the Twilight Zone. The place reminded me of a movie theatre; there were electric guitars up front and a concentration of lighting, Persian rugs and great colored lights.

The music was moving and there was a big emphasis on personal reflection that was half spoken and half sung throughout the songs. Looking around, the people seemed very dedicated— closing their eyes and making every verse sung their personal prayer. Each person seemed to be lost in their own little world. The songs seemed very individually centered and after a while I wondered if it was just all about getting lost in the experience.

Finally, a giant screen descended from above and the pastor greeted us from the mother church. Shortly after, a family psychologist was welcomed on screen. This dragged on for a while. Initially confused, I looked at the bulletin handed out in the beginning and found it was just an announcement page. Looking at my watch several times, and not without a smidgen of guilt, I secretly hoped they would get on with the interview and into the sermon.

After a while, I settled down as I realized that this was the sermon. My disbelief turned into despair. What about that God guy we all vaguely know? He didn’t seem all that relevant to the discussion. How about His book that’s supposed to be “living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, [that] penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; [that] judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”? There were maybe one or two loose and fleeting parallels used as supplements to learning how to overcome dysfunctional family patterns when raising kids.

Futility, then boredom set in and curious, I decided to take a look around….

Holy God, We Praise Thy Name

Ho-ly God, we praise Thy Name;
Lord of all, we bow be-fore Thee!
All on earth Thy scep-ter claim,
All in heav-en a-bove a-dore Thee;
In-fin-ite Thy vast do-main,
Ev-er-last-ing is Thy reign.

Hark! the loud ce-les-tial hymn
An-gel choirs a-bove are rais-ing,
Cher-u-bim and ser-a-phim,
In un-ceas-ing chor-us prais-ing;
Fill the heav-ens with sweet ac-cord:
Ho-ly, ho-ly, ho-ly, Lord.

Lo! the a-pos-tol-ic train
Join the sa-cred Name to hal-low;
Pro-phets swell the loud re-frain,
And the white-robed mar-tyrs fol-low;
And from morn to set of sun,
Through the Church the song goes on.

Ho-ly Fa-ther, Ho-ly Son,
Ho-ly Spir-it, Three we name Thee;
While in es-sence on-ly One,
Un-di-vid-ed God we claim Thee;
And a-dor-ing bend the knee,
While we own the mys-ter-y.

--The Covenant Hymnal: A Worship #19