In our recent long distance move back to the bosom of Oregon’s upper Willamette Valley, we’ve had some very unusual experiences.
I’m going to describe a few in upcoming columns. Let’s start with the search for a new church “home.”
Week one. We chose a local, traditional First Presbyterian Church. Brick exterior. Tall steeple. What seemed like a warm and welcoming sanctuary. Young minister.
When it came time for scripture reading, the Pastor reached under the Communion table and pulled out a small, long, narrow black stool. He placed it in the Chancel area with the end toward the congregation. Then sat astride it - as though it were a saddle - and read from the Good Book.
After his very brief sermon, he moved the “saddle” to one side and was joined by the Youth Minister. The “sermon” time turned into a back-and-forth with the congregation in a colloquy about “orientation, disorientation and new orientation.” We got lost. And left confused,
Next, we tried the First Christian Church. Traditional looking building. We went to the front door about 10 minutes before the service was supposed to start. The door was locked. We saw a few cars in the back so we walked around to an open door to a small classroom. Inside were 16 people. Seems the main sanctuary had been shuttered for some time because the size of the “flock” had dwindled to just these few.
It was Easter Sunday. The sermon? A lengthy - and disorganized - description of the Minister’s visit to a nearby federal prison in the company of a Catholic Bishop. Easter? Not a mention of Christ’s resurrection. Nothing about what it meant. Not a word!
Our third visit was to a First Presbyterian Church in another small community. Traditional looking sanctuary with a sizeable building attached for classrooms, offices and the like.
The service - the Sunday after Easter - was also traditional First Prez. At the conclusion of “joys and concerns” from the congregation,, the Pastor asked if there were any comments or questions. Being someone who always has a question/comment, I spoke up.
I remarked that, sitting in a church for the entire service, surrounded by self-proclaimed Christians, I was surprised there had not been one word about the genocide going on in Ukraine. No words of sympathy or an offered prayer for an end to the Russian attacks. No details of any national or international Presbyterian aid. Not one word.
The Pastor quickly responded with an off-the-cuff 30-second prayer addressing my concern, then a brief benediction and we adjourned.
Barb and I left our seats and were walking up the aisle when a woman climbed up on a pew behind us and grabbed my arm
“Why weren’t you here last Sunday when we talked about Ukraine?” she asked in a rather demanding voice.
Totally off-guard, I said we were visiting another church.
“What do you think about the wars in Africa,”she asked? “What about them?” Still holding my sleeve.
Trying to pull my arm free, I muttered something about which war was she talking about.
Her next words: “That tells me you only care about skin color.” And she was gone. Knowing absolutely nothing about me, she branded me a racist right there in the Lord’s presence.
It’s been a week since that incident. Committed to our search, we’ll be visiting another congregation this Sunday.
The experience of being branded a racist by an absolute stranger - calling herself a “Christian” - will stay in my head for some time to come. As those thoughts linger, I’m trying to learn something positive from the unwarranted intrusion. Something that could make me a better person - a better Christian. I even offered a prayer for the accuser.
Our seeking a new church “home” will continue. We have several small communities to visit. We have no concept of what that “home” will be. We have no description of what it might look like. Feel like.
But, we’ll know.