The Community of Christ church of Ogden is not a big meeting house like you would see in LDS churches on every corner in Utah, nor is it an ornate church filled with stained glass and modern architecture. Instead, it's a quaint little church looking like it's transplanted straight from New England into the Ogden Valley.
The exterior is a gorgeous whitewashed wood with Gothic arched windows. It was quite unexpected to see anything like this in Ogden. I actually shouted out when we pulled up, "Oh, it's so adorable."
When you walk into the building, the first thing you see is the chapel. The chapel is nothing like any LDS chapel I have ever seen. Again, it looks like a simple, quaint church from New England. There is a cross crowned with a crown of thorns, a handsome picture of Jesus next to that, the pulpit in the center, and a communion table off to the right side. There are decorations all along the wall, mostly of the hands of Jesus, or paintings from the life of Jesus.
Growing up, LDS churches all felt very manufactured to me. They all had similar floor plans, the same mass printed paintings, the same sort of furniture, there was never any variation of anything. Nothing in this chapel felt like it was pre-selected by some committee from a catalog, but felt very organic and alive.
The communion table was quite interesting. It was covered in a purple cloth and on it was an earthenware chalice and an animal horn. I was curious whether it was a shofar, a traditional Jewish instrument used in biblical and modern times in certain Jewish worship services. Indeed it was one.
Also on the communion table were a bunch of nails. More on that later.
Directly in front of the pulpit is a table with a cross on it and an oil lamp that is lit during the service. A lovely touch that I enjoyed very much.
Overall, the atmosphere felt homey and welcoming.
This is so far the smallest congregation I've visited. The congregation was mostly made up of elderly people save me, my friend Austin, and the granddaughter of one of the pastors who was in her teens. There weren't even a dozen of them, but from what the speaker today said, they were missing some people today who were off on a service project and a few who couldn't make it due to personal issues.
This congregation is very close-knit and very friendly. Everyone came up and introduced themselves to us. A few asked why we were there and seemed really receptive to the idea. The pastor I had emailed previously had came to introduce herself to us and was very glad welcomed us to the church.
I am not sure of the official function of the man who led the service today, but he was quite an amazing man. He is extremely well educated in religion and openly gay. He is married to the associate priest at Glory to God Catholic Church in Ogden (an Old Catholic church which is on my list, so stick around for a review on them).
The congregation was quite relaxed. There was no dress code, people had tattoos, the younger girl had gauged ears, nobody seemed to mind us being there, it was lovely.
The people overall were wonderful.
I was more surprised by this service today than I have been by any service thus far. I was expecting something akin to my LDS childhood services, but slightly more cosmopolitan. This service had no real resemblance at all to it.
The service was an invitation to Lent. This was the first thing that really surprised me. The LDS do not have liturgical seasons. Lent is something completely foreign to the LDS Church. In fact, most LDS Mormons you'll meet will not have any idea what Lent is. The speaker gave a great talk on Lent, more on that in "The Message" section.
Apparently there is a wide spectrum of church practices in the Community of Christ, from very high churches that even go so far as distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday, to churches that have no liturgical calendar of any kind, much like the LDS Church. I like that they have a wide range of expressions as it allows the Church to adapt to local tastes and preferences.
The service began with a hymn about Lent called, "Glory of These Forty Days."
After the hymn, the speaker began a traditional call to worship from the Book of Hosea and punctuated it by sounding the shofar. That was quite a cool thing for me to see and really set this service apart from many other.
Afterward there was an opening prayer given by a member of the congregation. The prayer sounded like a standard Mormon prayer I grew up with, with "you" and "your" being substituted for "thee," "thou," and "thine." The prayer was addressed to Heavenly Father and closed "in the Name of Jesus Christ" with an "amen" afterward.
Then the speaker gave his message.
After the message, there was the Church's daily prayer for peace. This is done in the main temple of the Community of Christ every day, and they choose a different country to pray for each day. It is mirrored by each congregation apparently on Sundays. Today's prayer was for Austria, which included a little information about the country, and a prayer that they and all the world may enjoy peace. I absolutely love this practice. I think it should be incorporated into everyone's lives on earth. Not necessarily a prayer, but a daily reminder that we strive towards peace and what we can do for that. If everyone on Earth had a constant reminder of peace, how different could this world be?
After the prayer for peace, there was a community prayer where the speaker asked members to give him their concerns and joys. He wrote all of them down as they were brought up to him, then he said a very heartfelt prayer about all of the joys and concerns of the community. I loved how on the spot it was and how it involved the community and their immediate concerns.
The female pastor then got up and gave an invitation to Lent and a litany for repentance was said, which included the famous words of Jesus that there are only two commandments, love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Besides these, there are no greater commandments. I wish more Christians felt this way and didn't focus on all these tangential things like who's being moral and who's not, or accumulating wealth or power.
We sang another hymn afterward. The hymns were lovely. There was a lot of diversity with them. Several were about Jesus, one was a traditional part of the Catholic Mass, the Kyrie, and the one sang at the very end was a traditional Jewish hymn called "Shalom Charavim." It was explained to me that they are a world church, and being a world church doesn't mean that they simply translate their hymns into other languages, but they take the hymns of other cultures of other peoples in their church and incorporate them into the tapestry of their body.
The service ended with all of us gathering around the communion table. Not for communion, but so that the speaker could lead us in a fascinating ceremony I had never seen before. There were a bunch of nails on the table, each with a purple ribbon (the color of Lent) tied around them. Each member of the congregation passed a nail to one of the others asking them to forgive them and to pray for them. As the Lenten season goes on, members are to keep the nail with them as a reminder of their duty to forgive and their hope of being forgiven. Then on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Good Friday) they are all going to nail their nails into a cross as a symbol that Christ takes away all burdens.
Here is my nail from the service:
Overall, this service was an amazing surprise and I felt very alive and touched by many parts of it.
The speaker's message was lovely. He talked about the tradition of Lent and how it had developed in early Christianity. He spoke with a great deal of clarity and authority on Christian heritage. He also explained that Lent is a newer tradition in The Community of Christ, but one of great importance to him and one that can be quite enriching. The focus in their Church isn't on you being a wretched sinner, but a person created in God's image, so occasionally, it's good to evaluate yourself with a critical eye and see where you can improve.
Later, he talked about where the church donations were going to help the community at large. This church places a huge emphasis on community improvement and world peace. On that note, I snapped this picture of a banner in the basement of the church. There were little things like this everywhere:
Their church has lofty goals for such a small denomination. They have set out a goal to eradicate poverty, hunger, and conflict throughout the world. They are interested in bringing the peace of God's Kingdom to here and now, not on some distant Day of Judgment.
The speaker put it best when he said, "The mission of Jesus isn't to force a bunch of people to sit in a building in straight rows and tell them what to believe, but to go out and make a difference in the community."
I love this message. This denomination isn't as much concerned with your beliefs as how you treat people in the here and now and what you do to make this a better world. To this I say, "Amen, let's have more Christians and people of all creeds or lack of belief like this!"
This church was one amazing find and a gem among denominations. They are obsessed with peace in a way I think more people need to be and strongly committed to making this world a better place. The service was very real, very emotional, and filled with love.
This church felt like nothing from my childhood, and I wish that this had been the Mormonism of my childhood rather than the strict and often lifeless expression I received. The only real resemblances I saw were a couple references to Mormon scripture in the bulletin, one reference to a member of their Church's Presidency, and the opening prayer which sounded similar to the prayers of my Mormon childhood. The rest was unique and I loved every moment of it.
This next week I will be visiting two different faith traditions. Next Sunday, I will be visiting a church, though I have yet to determine the denomination. This Friday will be a brand new experience for me as I go to Kol Ami Synagogue in Salt Lake City.
Until next time, peace be with you.