Those of you who have participated in the Bloggernacle for any length of time have no doubt electronically met my friend Bridget Jack Meyers (who goes by “Jack”). She’s an evangelical who attended and graduated from BYU in classics (the same thing I studied at BYU many years ago), which makes her a delightsome oddity and led to our immediate bonding. Now she’s pursuing graduate work in Illinois.
When she moved here, she underwent a process of selecting a new church, which I found fascinating, since for Mormons it’s just a matter of figuring out which ward covers the geographic area where you are moving to. She chronicled her search at her blog. The eventual winner of the sweepstakes was Deer Grove Covenant Church. Their website is here, and the picture you see there is exactly what it looked like today. When I learned it is located in Palatine, which is the village just to the north of where I live, I expressed an interest in visiting for a service, and several weeks ago we agreed on today as the appointed date. (I would have to blow off my own church to go; oh, darn!)
So I printed off my mapquest directions and drove up there. They temporarily meet in a high school while they work on rehabbing a building of their own. I walked through the front doors of the high school and saw a pleasant bunch of people milling around, and eventually I saw Jack waiving at me (she’s quite tall and so hard to miss). Her husband Paul, whom I’ve met before in Provo, was there (he attends once a month with Jack and attends his LDS ward the other weeks), as well as their (very cute!) three-year old daugher, Harley. Jack needed to take Harley to the nursery, which as I understand it she absolutely loves. That gave me a chance to meet and chat with the pastor, a woman named Melissa Wall. I told Melissa I had followed Jack’s search on her blog, and that I was confident she was going to select Deer Grove, which she in fact did. (Jack is what is called an egalitarian as opposed to a complementarian; if you’re interested in that topic, search on those terms at her blog.) Melissa was very personable and a delight. (She is also simply gorgeous. When Jack came back, she asked me how I liked her hot pastor. She and Paul joked that Paul decided she could attend this church when he met her. That banter put me at ease, because I didn’t want to say anything about how pretty she was, but their joking about it allowed me to acknowledge that, yes, I had noticed.)
At that point it was time for the service to start (10:30 a.m.). We walked into an auditorium with stadium-style seating, which was a good thing, since our little group was all tall and we could sit without obstructing anyone’s view. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I thoroughly enjoyed the service. They had a “worship team” of about 8 people, younger men and women, who would lead us in the musical numbers. There was one guy on guitar, a bass, drums, and a girl on violin at certain points. I panicked a little bit, because there were no hymnals laying around, and more than half of the reason I even go to church is so that I can sing. But as it turned out they broadcast the words to the songs on a big screen up front, and the songs were very easy to follow. It was obviously very different from a Mormon service, but I enjoyed it for exactly that reason.
There was a table down front with an open Bible and a number of burning candles, which caught my notice since we Mormons don’t allow candles due to our fire insurance policies. They didn’t do communion; Jack told me they do it about once a month. When they do it, you go down front and dip a wafer in a cup of grape juice and partake in that manner.
I honestly felt a little bit nervous about the offering. Mormons don’t do an offering during their services, and so I was worried that I would breach some sort of offering etiquette. I asked my wife about it before I went, and she kind of looked at me in disgust (she grew up Lutheran) and said not to worry about it. When I went to Willow Creek before the offering they gave a little speech about how this was for members of the church and guests were not expected to contribute, which I very much appreciated. Well, at Deer Grove they gave the same speech, so all my worry about doing the right thing turned out to be for naught. As a visitor I very much appreciated that they had thought about this from the visitor’s perspective and communicated the information we needed to have.
Pastor Melissa then preached her homily. If you would like to hear it, look under Sermons at the website I linked above. I thought her sermon was excellent, and as I listened to it I was actually taking mental notes of things I would like to do the next time I am asked to speak in church. We become so accustomed to our lay speakers that we kind of forget how powerful a well prepared and given sermon can be.
There was one point during the service where they did something I’ve never seen before, called “prompted prayer.” The assistant pastor began saying a prayer, during the course of which he would prompt the audience by raising a subject (such as the tragedy at Fort Hood), and then he would go silent and individuals in the congregation would speak out and pray for the group on that subject. It was quite fascinating.
When the service was over, Jack picked up Harley from the nursery. They had pie after, but I wanted to rush home for the Bears game, which was a big mistake, as they were terrible and lost badly.
Anyway, I had a great time. It was fascinating to see such a different style of worship, but one which clearly brought the spirit of God. I tend to be a little bit jaded about Mormon services, so just experiencing something new and different was wonderful. And I was also happy to lend some support to my friend in her new church home. I especially appreciated that I was received so warmly and with such graciousness.
What experiences have you had visiting other churches?