At Your Service: After a long break, an intimate encounter


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

The Oasis Church in Lockwood occupies an unprepossessing building on Old Hardin Road.

Oasis Church, 2102 Old Hardin Road, Lockwood
Service: 10:30 a.m., Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014
Length of service: 1 hour, 5 minutes. Length of sermon: 33 minutes

I don’t know how people get to church in the summer, or during most of the fall, for that matter. I had not consciously decided to take a summer break, but if you live in Montana you know how painfully short that season is.

AtYourServiceThere is something to do every weekend, sometimes several things to do, and one doesn’t want to miss out. And so the summer quickly passed, followed by one of the most beautiful falls I have ever experienced, likewise demanding to be cherished and celebrated in a dozen different ways.

But I finally got out on this Sunday morning, two days before the thermometer was supposed to drop below zero for the first time since last winter, and went to church. I chose the Oasis because its listing in the Gazette mentioned “spiritual warfare.” Its website spoke of seminars on witchcraft, “curses broken” and “demonic assignments cancelled.”

I figured a serving of brimstone would do me good after such a long break. When I pulled up to the church, domiciled in a simple steel building next to S Bar S Building Supply in Lockwood, there was only one car there. I figured either I’d gotten the time wrong or that I wasn’t the only person behind in his churchgoing.

I walked in to find Pastor John Kyle standing amid about 50 empty chairs, and his wife, Linda, strumming on a guitar next to a music stand at the front of the room. After introducing himself to me, Pastor John said a little sheepishly, “Welcome. I don’t know where everybody is today. I did hear that some were hunting.”

What is this series about?

To read the essay that introduced this series click here.

I took my seat, John fired up a PowerPoint and Linda commenced singing the first song. The guitar was a bit loud and the vocals a bit muted. If the words hadn’t been projected on a screen behind a lectern, I wouldn’t have understood them at all.

At any rate, before the first song was over, another person walked in, which was a big relief for all present, I’m sure. The second song was piped in over the speakers and consisted mostly of the words “Holy Spirit, rain down.” As the song faded out, Linda said, “We need the spirit of God to rain down, to ignite our spirits.”

I was trying to imagine how rain would ignite anything and before I knew it my mind had wandered off impiously to thoughts of James Taylor and his fine song, “Fire and Rain.” I got back on track when the third song was cued up, a song that sounded like easy listening meets 1980s country.

Its chorus ran, “You do miracles so great, there is no one else like you.” I was soon lost again, wondering whether it was only the greatness of God’s miracles that commanded respect, rather than the simple fact that He was performing them. I still don’t know.

At 10:55, as the third song was ending, Linda inexplicably started strumming on her guitar again, then sang another couple of verses of the song we had just been listening to for eight or nine minutes. But at last, just before 11, the music was finally over and Pastor John welcomed the other worshiper, also named Linda, and said of me, “And we do have a visitor, so that’s a blessing.”

Then he launched straight into his sermon. Its theme was that we human beings are nothing without God, that “our sufficiency is not of ourselves.” He said that God, as it says in Psalms, protects us with a shield. If we have an independent spirit, it will open a gap in the shield, leaving us open to attacks by the enemy, Satan.

He veered off briefly into quasi-psychology, saying that most of us suffered rejection from our fathers, or by others when we were young, and consequently we try to “pump ourselves up,” wearing pride like a mantle to hide our feelings of inferiority.

But pride is false, he said, because everything of value we have comes from Jesus. “There is no fulfillment apart from Jesus,” he said, quoting, I think it was, John. Here I found myself disagreeing. I’m sure Pastor John would find me delusional, in the grip of the enemy, but I have felt and do feel fulfilled, on a regular basis and for many different reasons.

And of course, the obvious conclusion one must draw from the pastor’s sermon is that non-Christians are incapable of fulfillment. To me, believing that one’s religion and only one’s religion can give life meaning is a manifestation of a pernicious, very large pride. Not that I would ever expect Pastor John to agree with me.

He went on a bit longer, at one point saying that if we fully trust in Jesus, “we won’t need any anxiety medicine,” and we wouldn’t have so many people “ending up in mental institutions.” About then, he turned to a passage from Isaiah and said, “That’ll be our last Scripture today. I’m gonna make it a little shorter.”

Even so, the sermon lasted 33 minutes. I could thank the missing congregants for its early end, I suppose. That left just one more thing, the collection. Pastor John produced a check from his own pocket and put it in the basket, which I thought was odd, then had his wife take the basket out to the other Linda and me.

I had nothing but 20s in my wallet, and I was unwilling to part with any of them. The other Linda forked over a bill of some denomination and I just shook my head apologetically at the pastor’s wife. Feeling a little guilty, I shook Pastor John’s hand again and made my departure.

Previously: Chapter 1: St. Patrick Co-Cathedral.

Chapter 2: Mount Olive Lutheran Church.

Chapter 3: Full Gospel Revival Tabernacle.

Chapter 4: First Church of Christ, Scientist.

Chapter 5; First Baptist Church.

Chapter 6: Billings Freedom Church.

Chapter 7: Faith Chapel.

Chapter 8: Eagle Ministries Inc.

Chapter 9: First United Methodist Church.

Chapter 10: Pilgrim Congregational Church.

Chapter 11Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Meetinghouse.

Chapter 12: First Christian Church.

Chapter 13: Victorious Word Church.

Next week: Harvest Church.

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