Rev. Christy Thomas: Combined church service stirs feeling of anonymity

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For Mystery Worship No. 3, I originally planned to attend Trinity Church Sutton, but discovered that the church was combining services with Sutton Baptist Church and the Anglican St. Nicholas Church.

The three churches, located almost next to each other, have combined services monthly in the evenings, and yearly during the main service time (10:30 a.m.) on Christian Aid Sunday. Sunday, May 13 — Mother’s Day in the United States — was Christian Aid Sunday in the United Kingdom. Curious, I headed over.

I arrived at the Baptist church, the host church, four minutes early. Three greeters welcomed me, one at the door, another with a bulletin and a third at the back of the sanctuary. I asked if there was any special place I should sit and she said “no,” so I found a spot near the back in a nearly full pew.

The sanctuary seats 220 at maximum capacity. By 10 minutes into worship, we were at maximum with the three churches together.

About 10 “juniors” (11 years old and younger) were dismissed to Junior Church shortly into the service. With perhaps four older teens and a few parents, the rest of the congregation were a good ethnic mix with the vast majority older than 65.

A complete bulletin contained everything needed for worship, prayers, words to hymns, responses, etc.

Scripture references were in the bulletin, but not the Scriptures themselves. When the readers prepared to read, they did announce the page in the pew Bibles, but there were no Bibles available.

The service began with a greeting from the Baptist pastor (I missed his name and it was not in the bulletin.), and an explanation of the day. He particularly noted how the offering for Christian Aid Day would work, and that church members who put their offering in their own church envelopes would find such funds sent to their own church treasuries.

The hymns were familiar but the tunes were not, with no hymnals for guidance.

However, a nice organ and some great congregational singing (no choir) helped.

We focused on Sierra Leone. We heard a great summary of that mineral-rich but poverty-stricken nation. One of the Scripture readers was herself from Sierra Leone and it was with great pleasure that I listened to the reading of God’s holy word from her accented English.

The pastor brought an excellent 14-minute message on the question: “Does belief in God make it easier or harder to resolve human suffering?”

With the acknowledgment that such belief makes it harder, he explained that we are to serve in partnership with a good God who identifies with the poor and suffering and to take seriously our responsibility as people of comfort to do whatever we can to relieve that suffering in the name of Jesus.

A series of prayers and responses followed and then the Lord’s Prayer, printed in the bulletin in Krio, the language of Sierra Leone. We were all encouraged to pray that prayer in our own native tongues. “Simply splendid” as the British say.

The offering was taken during the final hymn and we were dismissed. Then … well here is the major problem with a combined service. Each person thinks that all unknown persons are from one of the other churches. Not one person spoke with me or even met my eye.

I wandered around a while, trying to look lost and lonely (not hard at that point) and no one offered a hand or help.

I looked for the pastor, but he had quickly abandoned his post at the exit area.

Coffee, tea, juice and cookies (biscuits here!) were being served and I’ve no doubt that I could have partaken, but I honestly wanted to see if an invitation would be forthcoming without me making the initial move. Nope.

I looked for the restroom and noted that it was unisex with a glass front door. Glad I could wait.

I left, unnoticed and unnamed.

THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. Reach her by calling 940-482-3482 or by e-mail at christy@krumumc.org .

 


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