At Your Service: No sense gloating over extinct gods

At First Christian Church, the service was admirable in many respects, but I found myself curiously sympathizing with a long-forgotten deity.

Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

At First Christian Church, the service was admirable in many respects, but I found myself curiously sympathizing with a long-forgotten deity.

First Christian Church, 522 N. 29th St.
Service: 10:30 a.m., Sunday, May 11, 2014
Length of service: 1 hour, 28 minutes. Length of sermon: 27 minutes.

Today I witnessed my first formal induction of a new church member. At the conclusion of his sermon, Pastor Bobby Shaw invited anyone who wanted to speak to him or pray with him to come forward.

Moments later, as the final hymn was being sung, a well-dressed man approached Shaw and they conferred, in rather loud voices, for a few minutes. At the end of the hymn, Shaw introduced the man to the congregation, saying he was new to town, had been looking for a church and wanted to join First Christian.

If the congregation approved, they were asked to say “Amen,” which they did, loudly and heartily.

AtYourService“Amen, brother,” Shaw said to the new member. “We are delighted to have you.”

I thought the gentleman made a pretty good choice. It had been a comfortable, straightforward service with singable songs, unforced enthusiasm and a minimum of technological intrusions.

First Christian is another downtown church, with an interesting congregation. There were families and old couples, people evidently quite well off and others of less means. I would even say it was the most mixed congregation I’d seen yet, in terms of socioeconomic status—if one is allowed to make such judgments based on clothing and demeanor.

What is this series about?

To read the essay that introduced this series click here.

There was even one man in a camo ball cap, and nobody seemed to mind. There are many churches, even some private establishments, where that would not have been tolerated. I was once instructed very firmly to take off my cap in the lounge at the Elks Club, where I’d gone to watch a friend play the accordion.

After the opening couple of hymns, led by an enthusiastic young man on guitar, we were treated to a video tribute to mothers, since it was Mother’s Day. It seemed a little odd at first, taking six minutes of church time to watch a video anyone could find on YouTube, but it was well done and very funny.

And this was a congregation that liked to laugh. Pastor Bobby Shaw—actually a church elder filling in this week, as far I could determine—had a good sense of humor, which was rewarded on numerous occasions by bursts of laughter and shouts of affirmation.

The video was followed by communion. While it was being prepared, Shaw spoke movingly of the sorrows of Mary. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice, he said, “but I think about what it must have cost his mother,” whose sufferings were foretold by the mysterious words of Simeon, “that a sword shall pierce through thy own soul.”

After communion there were two more songs, the collection and then a fine performance by the choir—14 women who left their pews to gather near the altar. They were accompanied by a female pianist who also played, always feelingly, during various interludes of the service.

When the choir finished, Shaw, who had been conducting them, shook his head and said, “Wow! That was pretty darn terrific.”

Shaw then launched into his sermon, warning the congregation that he hadn’t preached in four months (the regular pastor was Jeromy Emerling), “so you guys better watch out. I’ve got a lot saved up.”

I didn’t care much for the introduction, which included a lot of references to the Buffalo Bills and their record four losses at the Super Bowl, followed by references to basketball, pole vaulting and the Boston Marathon. It all tied in nicely to the theme—does having lost something make you a loser?—but I’ve heard enough sports metaphors, especially those involving football, to last me the rest of my life.

I felt more comfortable when Shaw turned to the Old Testament Book of Ruth. I was not acquainted with that text, but Shaw did a good job of summarizing the tribulations of Naomi, who suffered great loss, grew bitter and finally found contentment.

The gist of his sermon was enumerating the ways in which Naomi arrived at that contentment, and how that search translated into what First Christian Church ought to be doing for its members and for the larger world.

At one point, Shaw took a short detour to mock Chemosh, the god worshipped in Moab, to which Naomi’s family had fled to escape famine in Judah. Shaw recounted how Chemosh was known as “the Destroyer” and how he demanded blood sacrifice. His lurid descriptions of the fiendish deity were met with hoots of derisive laughter.

Anyway, aside from football and the idols of infidels, it was a good sermon, centered on the consoling message that Naomi ultimately was saved by turning her life to the service of others.

But I left there thinking of poor old Chemosh. Though he probably deserved the bad things said about him, I was reminded of the saying that history is written by the victors. And history continues. Mock not, lest ye be mocked.

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.

Next week: Victorious Word Church.

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