I’m the girl with a tattoo of a cross on her wrist. I have a quiet faith in God that runs deep to my core. I have no doubt of who my Lord and Savior is. But I want to know more of God. I want prayer to be a natural habit that comes to me, not just when life gets hard, but every day to help me live more of a “what would Jesus do” kind of life. This world is only getting busier, more flashy and fast-paced, making it hard to give the time and attention to faith, prayer, and service that can help me live life with intention and grow spiritually. So here is my (longish) journey but I feel like I’m on the right path.
My Catholic Church Experience
I was raised in a large Catholic family. Not to say that we went to church very often; from the time I can remember my parents were too busy working and keeping track of five kids to have the energy to drag us all to church each Sunday. But we did attend catechism classes, completing our first communion and confirmation. I could walk you through the stations of the cross, say my prayers on a rosary with the holiest of them, and learned of a strict, punishing God.
Fast forward and I have married a man who was also raised Catholic. Like my family, we are not church going folks. I do my praying to God in the shower, in the car, whenever I need to. I live by the belief that I don’t need a church to have a relationship with God. But I’ll admit it, I want more. And now we have two children who need to learn about the belief and faith in God. We had them baptized Catholic, so now what?
Last year we made a commitment that we would make going to church more of a habit. I was open to trying new churches even, like the non-denominational ones that are popping up in school gymnasiums and shopping centers everywhere, but my husband was very set on attending a Catholic one. Willing to give it a go, we tried four different Catholic churches in the area before we decided on one. We attended every Sunday for about four months. I tried to enjoy it. I really did. But often the priests were 80 and had terrible public speaking skills; I was getting nothing from their homily. “Sunday school” for the kids was sporadic and they often had to stay with us during the mass; finding a mini pencil and collection envelope to draw on in the pew was like hitting a jackpot in the entertainment department. He didn’t want to admit it, but my husband knew this wasn’t working. The sit, stand, kneel, pray a prayer of memorization (until they changed the words a few years ago and screwed us all up) was not helping any of us build a stronger relationship with God. On to plan B.
My Christian Church Experience
Last weekend we went to Bayside, a large, well-known Christian church nearby (props to the husband for trying something new). We’ve attended a few Christmas services here and the kids have attended summer camps here as well, but this was our first Sunday service experience. We began by dropping the kids off in the rooms designated for their ages. Here they aren’t plain-walled, repurposed conference rooms to hold kids for an hour. No, it’s an impeccably designed building devoted just to kids, with tons of volunteers to watch after them. Both kids took off towards the fun without a backwards glance. We made our way into the main building where there was complimentary coffee and water. Um, ok, free coffee- this is already going well! As I poured the cream into my cup I heard a voice behind me that made me smile and light up with warmth. See, I’ve been watching the inspirational Bayside daily devotionals by Pastor Curt that are posted on Facebook each day and it was his comforting voice saying hello to a church member behind me. I was so excited to know I would hear him speak later. We made our way into the church and wow- it was huge. There were “greeters” everywhere that were so friendly and it took me outside of my usual introverted self and made me want to say hello back! The service began with live music which was comparable to a professional concert with lights, talented musicians, and catchy songs praising God. To be a fair critic, in the first 30 minutes there had only been the live music and two collections for money. With their breadth of programs and the enormity of the church, it was no secret that there was a need for money to support all of it. I was open minded but questioning where the prayer part came in.
That tiny doubting didn’t last for long because Pastor Curt came on stage to talk. Yes, stage. No alter boys, no ceremony. He just walked on in his jeans and sweater. They were finishing up a series on the book of James. We had been handed papers when we walked in and that’s when I noticed there was actually a pamphlet on today’s “readings” and places to take notes. Which was a good thing since the pastor was saying so many inspiring things and I wanted to write it all down!! He was explaining bible verses and relating them to real life. I could look at my husband and smile when the pastor talked of being forgetful (one of his few faults). I felt connected to the pastor when he shared his own personal story of his daughter; that meant he could relate to me too. He is just a regular guy who loves the lord. And he was helping me devise a plan to live a more godly life. This is exactly what I was looking for!
Towards the end of the sermon the music came on cue and started building up to the finale of the pastor’s message. Ok, that was a little cheesy. But as we bowed our heads to pray a prayer that Pastor Curt was reciting, a tear fell down my cheek. I sat with my eyes closed wondering what was going on. Did this really invoke so much emotion in me that I was crying?? Yes, yes it did. I didn’t leave feeling “saved” or that I was super holy now. The opposite in fact. I left knowing that I have areas in my life that I could really improve upon if I would pray more, love more, and serve more. I left inspired to do better and be better. THAT is what I was looking for in a church.
We picked the kids up from their rooms and both excitedly asked if they could come back next week. They both shared stories about what they had learned about in class. It warmed my heart. To think of my kids raised in an environment where discussing God, prayer, and faith in everyday conversation is normal and accepted makes my heart sing! What a strong foundation in faith this will help build for them. Yes my loves, we can go back next week!
My Take On Growing Faith and Loving God Out Loud
There are plenty of arguments from either side of the pulpit regarding which kind of church is right. I say the place for you is wherever you feel closest to God and whatever helps you commit to and follow Christ each day. However, with the direction that our society is headed in, I don’t believe that traditional services are doing the trick. Yes, Bayside is an auditorium, lacking the stained glass windows and formality of a traditional church. But this form of “church” makes loving and following God practical and tangible. It weaves God into the music I listen to, into the lessons I teach my children, and into how I look at everyday situations in my life. It creates a passionate environment that makes me want to smile and say hello to everyone around me, invokes a comfort that makes me want to hang out on “campus” long after the service is over, just to chat with others and feel the good vibes (for lack of a more technical term). Traditional church is a very private hour of solitude where I go through rote steps. The time to greet the church with a “peace be with you” extends about a 3 foot radius of where I stand and perhaps if I don’t turn around I can just pretend those people behind me don’t exist. There is no relating to each other or to modern-day life. After the one hour service, I leave and have fulfilled my attendance of church for the week. But rarely have I ever come away with an epiphany or practical teaching moment that stuck with me long after I received communion and walked away.
The attitude that faith should be solitary and private, like traditional church feels to me, strikes me as a coward’s way of serving the Lord. I was quiet about my beliefs because I was worried of what others may think. At times my faith has been shaken by tragic events and I was afraid to admit that to others. I thought that since I haven’t read the whole bible, that I wasn’t worthy to discuss my faith. But now I see that if you aren’t living your faith out loud and spreading the word of the Lord (through good deeds, serving, etc), how does anyone know who you are serving? Showing up to church doesn’t make you a good Christian. Living the word does.
Bayside (and churches like it, I’d imagine) makes your faith known out loud. It is no secret that everyone in the room is there to love, know, and follow Jesus. It is also no secret that we are imperfect, but there is a strong community for all ages to strengthen their faith and live a more Christlike life. In this Christian church they love God out loud. They make following Jesus the “cool” thing to do. And in this selfie, social media, saturated world, loving God out loud is the best way to get the message heard.