Ornate, beautiful buildings with stained glass windows, soaring choral music, and communion wine sipped from a cup held by priests.
Expansive theater seating with lights and modern worship songs and talk of authenticity and community.
Small pews filled with white-haired, wrinkled grandparents who sing hymns and have church potlucks and the weekly liturgy seems to be phrases like, "Well ya'll are a good looking bunch this morning." Some with cowboy boots and big hair, some with ties and jean skirts and KJV Bibles in hand.
Hands raised and people speaking in tongues and telling stories of visions and healings and boldness that stuns me.
Immigrants gathered in corner rooms to sing and pray in their own tongue, afterward savoring their shared faith and common culture over homemade food.
Congregations wrestling with legalism and fundamentalism, contrasted with others pushing against a denominational shift that is increasingly liberal. Baptists, Presbyterians, Charismatics, Methodists, Anglicans, and Bible churches.... in this year or so of raising support we've done a lot of traveling and meeting with people from all corners of the Christian world as it's represented here in America.
Really for the first time, I've seen the church world Isaac grew up in in the Independent Baptist world in the South. It turns out we're deeply connected to the Presbyterian church in Kansas I kind of grew up in. Now we've been exposed to other sorts of churches, from country Southern Baptist to young mega-churches, to a sort of neo-reformed hipster congregation in Chicago. Joining hands with a variety of organizations for the many types of training we've attended this year, we've been put squarely in charismatic, Anglican, Methodist, and Bible churches. I now know who Lottie Moon is, and I really love Tim Keller, all my presuppositions about Methodist churches have been blown, and I absolutely love the tenderness of elderly congregations.
Sometimes this variety of church experiences is really beautiful. I'll enter a church that is far from my own experience but still, there is such love, and the body of Christ is bound by Christ Himself, and I worship and am so encouraged. I could walk through what I love about so many of the churches we've visited, and most often it would end up being stories of the people, individuals with all of their quirks and uniqueness, and I love them and they have loved us, and that has broken down whatever other differences exist.
Honestly, though, there have been other moments too, moments when I look around and feel so out of place and wonder if it's just because it's far from my own cultural experience of church, or if my discomfort stems from other things, from beliefs and practices that are harmful and I cannot join. I know there's been some of both, but regardless it is a lonely place to find oneself in a body that is gathered to worship, and to feel isolated and alone, as though we were speaking a different language though we actually aren't. At times it's easier to accept differences when you're in a foreign culture than when you're in a culture that feels foreign but is your own backyard.
I love that the Church is filled with such variety. Most of the time, despite the doctrinal differences and historical rifts, what joins us together is much bigger, and it's easy find myself among family. I know it's rare for someone like me to truly feel "at home", and it is true that I will never find a perfect church cultural fit. Still, this body of Christ that I am a part of is not bound together by being perfectly fit, but by the common worship of a God who has loved and saved us.