Visiting a church 4

24 Jun

Well, this Sunday’s experience was different again. The variety in God’s people’s ways of worship is fascinating. I went to a large urban church. I got inside and seated in the padded pews just as the service began. There were lots of different ethnicities present, to give two categories they were mainly of Oriental background and there were a lot of very Dark people of African origin as well. Still, it was predominantly white. There were a wide variety of economic layers present, as reflected in the range of dressing styles.

A worship leading pastor welcomed us, and we sang a set of praise and dedication songs. Three of the four were known to me. Right away there was a ‘reaching’ sense in the congregation, a sense of reaching for something of God, with many physically reaching their arms out like antenae, open to receive. Where the music had power last week, here it was much more subdued. There was a male worship leader, and three vocalists, and a range of typical instruments (Drums, Elec guitar, piano, keyboard and I think a console organ) but nothing really stood out audibly where I was. It all had a subdued/muffled  feeling to it. No matter how carefully I listened, for instance, I could not pick out the voices of the vocalists. The positive side of this is that it had the opposite effect of last week. Today the music ‘supported’ the singing, and did not overwhelm it or discourage it. Yet it didn’t quite ‘carry’ it either.

There were three infant dedications.

Then we heard a message on Speaking In Tongues as described mainly in 1 Cor 14. Clearly this church was from a Pentecostal tradtion, and the message, though soundly biblical, showed the Pentecostal understanding and experience of how that works. The message was closer to a teaching time than an inspirational message and I found myself having a hard time staying with it. It was long, and the person speaking was far away…

After the message we went into a singing, receiving mode, where we were as a congregation invited to ask for the gift of tongues to be given to us or released in us. That time started kind of tame, but at one point suddenly I could feel a shift and various people around the congregation started humming or singing or, in one case, shouting phrases. The feeling came first, then the responses. The lady who was shouting was out of my sight, but clearly had an African sounding voice. Sometimes her utternances sounded like English, other times they were clearly some other language. The speaker kept trying – in my impression – to reign in that kind of individual utterance, repeating that we were in a communal mode of seeking and listening, not an indivitual one. The song leader came back, and there was an extended time of singing and praying and “ministry time” as people were invited to come forward for prayer, but were also given permission to leave if they wanted. I stayed a while yet, long enough to experience a second ‘shift’ of the mood in the place. With this one I felt something both physical and spiritual wafting through me and the area. The fellow sitting in front of me suddenly began humming a tune similar to one I was humming to myself and then he launched into singing/shouting a cry for the Spirit to rain/reign. He went from that to weeping, to kneeling in the pew over the next 15 minutes.

It was an interesting experience, not completely uncomfortable for me, I’ve been to others like it, yet not completely comfortable either. The sense of ‘something happening spiritually’ was twice unmistakable and I appreciated it. I came home refreshed in some ways, but not feeling like I had a bond or common culture with the community.


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