Monday, January 25, 2010

"The Best Church I Ever Attended!"

My family and I often watch the Food Network. There are plenty of specialty networks on TV; my daughter Emily loves the Home and Garden channel and its home repair shows. But the Food Network's programs are enjoyable because themes of food, kitchen, and eating are already so comfortable and comforting.

Sunday afternoon I watched “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” which features several Food Network stars--Giada DeLaurentiis, Guy Fieri, Marc Summers, Duff Goldman, and others--discussing their favorite foods. Today’s show concerned pizza, and each star took turns praising the benefits of memorable pizza places. Along with their comments, the stars visited the different locations and made fun of the pizza choices of the other stars.

I thought: what a funny variation would be “The Best Church I Ever Attended.” A group of churchgoers might take turns on camera and extol favorite services.

“My favorite church is St. Swithens’s in Westview Township. Fr. Ojciec preaches short homilies that ALWAYS have you something to think about for the week.”

“The best liturgical dance in Connecticut has to be at Nathaniel Taylor Presbyterian west of Derby. Those dancers got their groove on!!”

"Fr. Ojciec may preach good homilies but you HAVE to hear Pastor Ray Billy's messages down at Second Nondenominational. You can download them onto your iPod."

“I love Pastor Emmet at Fayette First Free Methodist because he always has a big smile on his face when he serves communion. That’s the way it ought to be, isn’t it: joy in the Lord!”

“I’ve never tasted a better breakfast than the men’s group serves once a month at Bethel. You ask for crispy bacon and you get it. Plus they serve coffee in real cups so you don't have to worry about your Styrofoam sitting in a landfill for 10,000 years.”

I'm being lighthearted, but I do have nice memories of visiting churches throughout my childhood and youth years. I was working toward perfect Sunday school attendance (I got my ten-year bar), and so on family vacations and weekend trips, my mother and I found congregations to visit on Sunday mornings. We didn't even stay with our own denomination but explored varieties of churches; we were ecumenical without knowing the word!

At the time, I did have some comparative memories, not necessarily theologically astute. THE PRETTIEST JUNIOR HIGH GIRLS were at the Gibson City, IL Christian Church. THE COOLEST YOUTH CLASS was at Nauvoo, IL United Methodist, where most of the kids came to church barefoot, and the youth pastor worked topics like sex into the discussion. (Wow! We never talked about sex at my church!) THE FUNNIEST CHILDREN’S PROGRAM was the time a group of little kids sang a song in praise of the Church of the Nazarene at a congregation of that denomination in Missouri. THE FRIENDLIEST CHURCH was a Baptist congregation in St. Louis (I don’t remember where) that we visited while in the city for a wedding.

I seldom visit other congregations until I’m church-shopping in a new community. That’s more of a process of critical judgment, though: what about this church seems like a good fit for me, what qualities of this church are “deal breakers,“ and so on. Visiting churches during vacations, with no such personal agenda, would be a fun habit to start, especially now that most congregations have more casual dress than during my childhood days. (It’s amazing to think that my mother packed “Sunday best” clothes for her and me for vacations.) After a few years of such visiting, what interesting and objectionable things would you experience at different congregations? What was the most annoying and the most meaningful aspects of the experience? What ideas from other churches might you take back to your home church?

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