WHY I WORSHIP (Part 4) –Sunday Night Camp Meeting

WHEN I WORSHIP (Part 4)—Sunday Night Camp Meeting

I didn’t feel like getting up early on the Sunday morning but got up early enough to have enough time to shower, shave and head off to worship.  There were a couple of leftover chores from Saturday and so while Margo slept a bit longer, I proceeded to tackle those leftover chores and then head off to one of the non-denominational/inter-denominational/multi-denominational mega churches in Houston…one where I could literally be a total stranger, ignore everyone I didn’t know and then leave in the same fashion. 

But, then again, I am saint and sinner all rolled into one and picked the church that had the service I wanted to attend and then found out I wouldn’t have time to get all gussied up for worship and so after 3 – 4 upstairs to downstairs conversations with my wife, I ended the mystery church conversation by saying, “Ok, I’m not going anywhere this morning.  Let’s just stay home, finish these things and then we’ll have the rest of the day to tend to the other big things on the list and I’ll find a church that has a 5 pm or 6 pm service.

Then two things went off in my head…1) do other people have conversations like this on Sunday morning?  Do people pick the church they want to attend (well for those who are looking for a church) on the same Sunday morning?  And if so, wow, what a great opportunity Christian people have to invite their family, friends and/or neighbors the night before or the night before that…

The second thing was even more startling…the reason I wanted to find a church that had a 5 pm or 6 pm service was because the Pearland Little League All-Stars were playing that Sunday night at 7 pm which busted me to the core as I was able to admit… I want to attend worship but I need a flexible schedule as THIS (the LL All-Star game) was the more important appointment for me that day…which led to more of an observation than a question that being many people don’t attend worship because it’s not that worship isn’t important…it’s just that it may not be the most important thing on the list that day… which in the end is a violation of the early commandment of God… “Remember the Sabbath day…” etc…so plan on hearing some more about that in future Sunday messages and via some internet teachings…

But, I did find a church.  The congregation was within a 20 minute drive of my house and I thought that if I attended, I could still get back in time to watch the game…so off to worship I go…

5:57 PM —drove into the parking lot.  Pretty full for this size church.  One car in front of me.  One pulled in behind me.  Ahhh, I won’t be the last one in…

5:58 PM – walked into the foyer…lots of noise coming from the sanctuary but there was no one at the welcome table; just an open guest book.  No ushers at the door and no one said hello when I entered the worship space.  I signed the book and my name was the only name on register for that day.

 6:00 PM – looked for a seat.  Sanctuary had 3 sections and I chose a seat half-way back in the middle section.  I noticed most of the people were older and the children that were there were sitting on the right side and at second look there seemed to be more open seats nearby… as if most didn’t want to sit by the kids…

 6:01 PM –Sat down next to an older woman. She smiled and said hello.  Then I noticed a strange look on her face.  I did sit down and as I found myself seated, I asked, “Is this someone’s seat?  I know about assigned seats in churches…”  ‘Well, my husband sits here.” And before I could say, “let me find a different seat..” she said, “we could move down…” but there really wasn’t any room…so I smiled and thanked her and moved over to the right two pews up.

6:03 PM – The chancel was still empty and the lights were off so I closed my eyes and began to pray for the people of that congregation and for their pastor, who I did not know…

6:04 PM –  Then there was a tap on my shoulder.. “What are you doing here?” was the question I heard from a familiar voice… sheeesh I can’t go anywhere in this county and be anonymous I thought (even though my life goal is NOT to be anonymous).  And as I opened my eyes…a playful thought came to the tip of my tongue and even though I tried to hold it back…it came out… “Well, I just wanted to see if this is really the church that interrupts its visitors trying to pray before the worship service starts and lo and behold…it is!” …Then there was some laughter and I received a good welcome from two friends and they quickly introduced me to their pastor as their friend, Brian, the Looothrun pastor in town…  He said, “It’s nice to have you’re here”…and I replied, ‘It’s nice to be had.’ And he smiled and turned to head toward the chancel as the lights went up and music leader took his place and then all God’s people commenced to singing!  I don’t know if he heard what I said…but I meant it…

And that’s when the camp meeting began…

6:05 PM– 6:17 PM  Back in the 1990’s when I was working on my Doctor of Ministry degree, I took a course from Dr. John Boles, part of the Religion department at Rice University.  John is a former Baptist who married a Lutheran girl and is now a member at Christ the King LC here in Houston. A couple of the things he said in the class titled, “The Early Roots of American Revival Movement” are noteworthy…

1.  After reading all of the minutes from the early revivalist movement located a the University of North Carolina library, he has concluded that the “spark” which lit the fire of what is now the Southern Baptist Convention was lit by two Presbyterian pastors from Connecticut leading a tent meeting in Virginia in the 1790’s.  Imagine, the Southern Baptist Church founded by two Yankee preachers?

2.  The second was a comment about form.  He is convinced (as he grew up in East Texas) that the Baptist service hasn’t changed in 200 years.  There is singing, a message…strong and powerful and confrontational which leads to a call for those to give up their wicked ways and “get saved.’  Those of you who have roots in the SBC or know people who do understand this statement.  And I don’t believe that Dr. Boles was speaking lightly of this practice…only that there hasn’t been much room for “reformation’ which he has discovered in the Lutheran faith to be freeing for life.  It’s all debatable…but not for this post… 

And so here’s is what I experienced…in the singing…there was no opening hymn, no confession of sins, no absolution and reminder of God’s grace and forgiveness…no hymn of praise and no prayer of the day…but there was singing…songs about the glory of God’s creation and what a joy it is as a human to take part in that wonderful world…songs of repentance…saying how good our intentions are and yet we go astray…and songs of the power of God’s grace to renew our lives and to be strengthened in the Word of God…

I believe that every church has a ‘liturgy’…a flow of the service that tells a story of God and how we are part of God’s story…but I also believe that those ‘liturgies’ can be very different and even unique within denominations!  And so we sang…we sang our way to the teaching portion of the night…

6:17 PM – 7:00 PM– And that’s pretty much how the service ended…the pastor opened his Bible…sat on a bar stool by the podium (where my hunch is he stood behind for the morning service) and gave a teaching lesson from the New Testament.  It was not short, it was sweet in some places and he challenged the people there (and most of them were at church that morning, too!) to be serious in their discipleship…he wasn’t interested in making members of the congregation…he was interested in helping people become and remain “faithful disciples” of the Lord.  Sound familiar?

And as I sensed he was coming to a conclusion…I began to prepare an exit…and then there was another part of the teaching… and then another and I think one more before he asked everyone to “bow their heads and pray” and that’s when I did something I’ve never done before… as all the heads bowed and as the sanctuary got quiet and still…I slowly stood up and walked gently to the back door…and within a minute I was on my way home to watch the LL World Series game with Pearland boys…

Later that week, I spoke to my friends who attend there…And I asked… ‘Was there an altar call at the very end?”  No.  Just the prayer and dismissal.  Altar calls are given in the morning…

“Did anyone ask for an offering?”  No.  That only happens at the morning service.

 So, what I did experience was much like a camp meeting…where Christians gathered together to build up the body of Christ via song and teaching… and I think it would have been hard for a stranger or newcomer to Christianity to find their way through the songs and the teaching lesson…but for those who were there and for those who paid attention…the pastor led them through a good Word from God.

Thus, if you are looking for a church that meets at night and doesn’t ask you to do anything and doesn’t ask you for money or to get saved…then I know the place for you… but on the other hand… you won’t be there long before you get noticed and then you’ll have to deal with God’s Holy Spirit who is definitely present in that place…

     Brian

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About briangigee

Loves life; lives love! Bud and Doris' eldest son. Descendant of 'refiners' and 'reformers.' Husband to Margo. Father of 5. Grandfather to 2. Brother, uncle, friend and colleague. Working parish pastor. Became a naturalized Texan in February 2013.
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One Response to WHY I WORSHIP (Part 4) –Sunday Night Camp Meeting

  1. Carole Wright says:

    I laughed, I sighed, and I thought what a great day you had. I had to miss the LL World Series game on Sunday because I was obligated to go to a baby shower. I thought of all kinds of excuses, but couldn’t come up with a good enough one, so off to the baby shower I went only to find out when I got home that our Pearland “All Stars” lost. At the end of the day, I was sad for the 4th best LL players in the world, but glad I went to the baby shower. We miss you and we’re keeping you in our prayers. God Bless You.

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