A few weeks ago a friend recently mentioned in passing this church downtown that he went to a couple of times. I have been interested in checking it out. That interest raised when I saw they had night services. Night services are great because I do not have to skip out and miss the service at the church I have been regularly going to since I moved to town (and plan to continue regularly going to), but I still get to have other experiences.
The church I attended this evening uses the space of a Baptist church about 11 blocks closer in to Downtown. There were large groups of people moving towards the building as I walked closer.
The experience of attending a church one has not previously been to before, or that one is not socially connected to, is daunting. For example, how does one understand the culture of that particular church well enough to “fit in” and not do the wrong thing? What is normal procedure? Why do the greeters never greet new people? Why do the greeters never even smile? I have attended a number of churches over the years, and one thing I always notice is the reception. Maybe it is because I am a dude, maybe today it was because of the beard, maybe I am actually invisible. I have only ever been greeted or talked to during the “greet your neighbors” part of church at one church on a week I have newly attended. This is a thing I held as important for a long time until conversations with a friend talked me down from it. Greeting has numerous variables, and so does “greet your neighbors” as some folks are more hesitant to talk to new/different folks than normal. <sarcasm> Anyways, Christianity is more about living in your bubble and focusing on your community than branching out and bringing new people in anyway, right? </sarcasm> Point being, I no longer deduct “Would I Come Here Again?” points for a lack of greeting.
That aside, I moved around the sanctuary and found a seat.
Pre-worship, the church had a decent vibe going. My current regular church is relatively small compared to, well, anything, but let’s say “A General Education Course Classroom” or “Any other church I’ve ever been to, except one.” So to see probably hundreds of people in a building to worship Jesus for the first time since I left Oklahoma was a bit strange. To see it in Portland, a place I do not associate with being very Christian was stranger. To see it downtown, well, you get the drift.
I sat in this awkward two-person pew in the back (always in the back when new, folks) and held this vibe of “if you absolutely have to sit next to me, go ahead, but I would rather you not because I am new and we do not know each other and yeah.” You know the one, right? I feel like we have all done this attending new churches, but maybe it is just me. Maybe in light of this paragraph, I should be especially gracious about people not greeting me. (But seriously, what do you do when the pastor says “say hi to a neighbor” and everyone around you turns to someone else and the greeter stands like a statue in Narnia?)
The praise songs at the beginning were vaguely unfamiliar, but my buddy who recommended the church would probably make fun of me for that because many songs that are apparently common are unfamiliar to me. This is why we have words on a screen, I guess. Still, it was nice to be in a place that had electric guitars and drums. You never know what you miss until you miss it, right? Electric guitars and drums were my main impetus for checking this place out, and they did not let down.
The message was on Mark 10:1-12, which is a complex passage to speak on. The lead pastor, John Mark, was a very engaging speaker. He was open, gracious and entertaining while being very true and practical. He used Old Testament text to shine light on the context of what Jesus was saying and used that to drive his point home. He held stance and purpose where he needed to, and allowed flexibility and freedom where was appropriate. I took about four pages of notes in my awesome Moleskine journal and could easily have taken more. I really loved that his speaking style lent well to taking notes. He even laid a few things out specifically for note takers. He moved quickly but not too quickly.
After he was done speaking, the band came back up and played through a handful of songs, starting with Oceans – one of my current favorites – and including a vaguely song that I cannot identify and wish I had written lyrics from in my iPhone notes so I could Google it.
All-in-all, I really enjoy the service and would go again.