Sunday, October 24, 2004

Reflections on Trinity UCC

As part of my Gospel Mission I class, we had to visit a church of a different denomination in small groups. My small group got assigned to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th street, on the South Side of Chicago. There were four people in the group, and we split it up. 2 went to the morning service and two of us (including myself) went to the evening 6PM service.

Having only been to one Congregationalist service before, it was quite different. It was quite the charismatic service, although there was no speaking in tongues. It was sort of odd, as it felt evangelical in a sense, and they had an "altar call." I did not know UCC people did that sort of thing.The music was quite loud, but well done. About what you would expect from a truly African church. By African, I don't mean necessarily African-American, I mean real African, most were immigrants or 1st generation descendants of immigrants. So, needless to say, they had beautiful colors and african garb in the women's choir that we got to see. There was more people in that choir than at our entire seminary. Apparently they have 4 other choirs, each with over 100 people actively participating.

This was certainly a "mega-church." Check out the website, and look at their ministries pages. There is like over 60 different groups. I, personally, don't care much for mega-churches because they are too big and people fall through the cracks. Its been my experience that pastoral care is usually squat when its that big because you essentially become a number. But, obviously, the gospel is thriving there because they not only had an overflow room downstairs where people could watch the action on TV, but and overflow-overflow room, when the overflow room was full. And apparently, on high days like Easter, they have to use it.

I enjoyed the music, being a jazz fan, but I was dismayed at the sermon. It was full of political invective and innuedo, comparing the United States to Ancient Rome, and insinuating that Bush was akin to Herod (which was the gospel reading). I knew it was downhill when the first words out of the pastor's mouth, after reading the gospel of Matthew 2, was to reemphasize Herod was "infuriated." The sermon had the tone of a black panther meeting or something. But the infective didn't stop at Republicans or the Establishment...the sermon took on a paranoid tone with the pastor decrying, "Some of your haters look just like you...Some of your haters sit on the same pew." They were actually handing out Vote for Obama Barrack, democrat for congress fliers after the service. Frankly, being someone who tries desperately to keep petty partisan politics out of Church, as I believe Christ transcends politics, I was quite unhappy with the whole politically tone.

But the folks were real nice. Me and my fellow classmate (the only two white boys in the entire building of about 1000 people) could not possibly have looked more like a couple of honkies, as we were wearing dress white shirts and ties. Despite being a good ole boy, luckily, I was not the one with blond hair and blue eyes. One person actually thought we were a pair of Mormons...hahahaha. It was an interesting adventure (do I have any other kind?) but I doubt I would consider going back.


Voyager said...

Sounds like you really did have an adventure down on the south side tonight!

Im not a big fan of 'mega-churches' either; I do believe that they serve their purpose in getting the attention of the masses. However, there is always the danger of attending a 'mega-church' for the wrong reason, or even for the church to turn away from the gospel in favor of a more 'entertaining' venue.

I find that a large congregation is fun, and can be quite exciting at times, but I have always been more comfortable in a smaller church environment. I do feel as if people 'fall through the cracks', as you say; I think that my favorite church size is around 150 - 250 people.

It has always been important to me to have a very close relationship with my pastor, and to have good fellowship with most of the church. To large of a church is a lot like an overcrowded classroom - you just dont get the attention that you need. Not to mention that they tend to be clique-ish at times.

As far as the political nature of the sermon, I have to strongly agree with you that it has no real place in church. I believe the extent of politics in church should be encouraging people to pray for their country and vote according to what they (the individual congregation member) believes would be best.

Kyle said...

I finally left my small parish of around 70 people because they were no more warm, friendly and welcoming than people at a random mega-church. And we have more than enough in Kentucky, I might add. At least in the mega-churches, strangers would talk to me. And these were people who think Jesus was big on this "inclusivity" thing. More on this later...

In regard to your assertion that "politics" has no place in the church, I must disagree. Celebrating Eucharist, like the original Passover meal, is an inherently political act. It declares the risen Christ to be Lord of the universe, over and against all those who would claim authority, be they caesar, king, emperor, governor, prime minister or president.

I suggest that it is dangerous to artificially label some aspects of life as "religion" and others as "politics" and to build a theology of life in the world based not on obedience to Jesus but rather that false dichotomy.

Perhaps advocating particular candidates for office is inappropriate, but in a country where many thousands of believers equate the reign of George II with the Reign of Yahweh because the former has a "testimony" and uses various Catholic-friendly and Evangelical phrases in his speeches (which are written by a Wheaton grad), folks need to be informed from the pulpit that the two are not in any way equivalent. One candidate wouldn't get us any "closer," either.

In regard to the suggestion that folks should be allowed to make their own decisions, the unspoken end to the sentence usually ends up being "...without being bothered by facts or moral demands." I know that's not what's meant, however. A rector once said to me, "I'm the rector for a reason. I intend to replace their value system with my own, because most of the things they believe are bad for them." I have to say myself, isn't that what a teacher of the Church ought to be doing? That doesn't mean spoonfeeding or authoritarian control, but rather proper catechesis.