Monday, April 28, 2014

Scientology Redeux: Sermons, Books, and E-meters. Oh my!

Yesterday, I went to the Church of Scientology for their regular Sunday service. As stated in my earlier blog, I went back to actually see the Church in action, since my first time was basically just a Q&A session. I wasn't sure what the Sunday service would be like, and went into it almost blind. What did I experience?


The church is the same one I described in my previous Scientology blog, however, the chapel was new. The chapel was a room off to the side with a coffee pot, some chairs lined up into three or four rows, a wooden pulpit up in the front with a book on it, a television set up in the front, and a display in the back with a list of L. Ron Hubbard's books and various pamphlets.

The chapel was a very simple setup, no frills, the most visually stimulating thing in it was the large window in the front looking out onto the road which was filled with trees in bloom and people walking their dogs.

Overall, this chapel was simple and basically built for function and not for beauty.

The People:

There weren't many people in the congregation. Only about six regulars and then me, Austin, and a couple other visitors. The person running the service was a woman who was very nice and had a pretty interesting background. More on that in "The Message" section. The people, in general, just seemed like nice people and that they sincerely believed in this.

The Service:

The service was very short, over in less than 15 minutes. It started with them reading the Creed of the Church of Scientology, which I would display here, but I know their church copyrights all their materials and often does litigate often, so I'll just say, in general terms what the creed says:

  • All men are equal.
  • All men have inalienable rights to life, religious freedom, sanity, defense, choice, speech, and creativity.
  • Only God can take away these rights.
  • Mankind's nature is good.
  • Man tries to survive by himself and with his brothers.
  • Nobody has the right to harm or destroy others.
  • The spirit and body can be saved.
After they read the creed, the woman leading the service began reading a sermon from L. Ron Hubbard out of the book in the front. The sermon basically talked about how he had discovered the way to freedom, and it would be arrogant for him to say that it's the totality of truth, but it is a new and modern, workable truth. It then ended with them pitching a book written by L. Ron Hubbard that you could purchase to learn more about what he had said.

They then read a prayer for total freedom, which basically was a plea to God to end human suffering.

The service was then over, and the floor was opened up for a Q&A. Here is where we will transition to the message portion.

The Message:

The service didn't give much of a message, but the Q&A certainly did. Someone asked about the Church's image in the media. The lady said, basically, that the media distorts everything and that the Church isn't at all what the media paints it to be, and all it wants to do is destroy anything good and prosperous.

During that time, the lady mentioned that Scientology was an open religion, and that anyone from any faith could join, and this included atheists and agnostics. I then pointed out that the Creed and the prayer they had read from mention God explicitly, and how that can be the case. She said that it was an individual's own reality whether they accepted God or not. She said that she knew a few, but not many, Scientologists who came into the faith as atheists, but as you spend more time in the faith, you'll begin to see that there is a reality beyond us most call God. In other words, come in with what you want, but eventually, you'll assimilate to our beliefs.

She stated also that she had had problems with schizophrenia and other mental conditions and that Scientology had helped her overcome that. She then looked at me and asked, "Do I look crazy to you?" Which, I didn't think was a good question to ask a stranger. I told her that I've known people who are battling mental illness who look fine for long periods of time, but they're not. She didn't like that response and said that she was fine, no more hallucinations, no anxiety, nor depression.

Someone asked a question I can't remember, and the lady responded by talking about the Tone Scale as though it were something we were all familiar with. I asked what the tone scale was. She pulled out a book, and said basically that it was a scale that registers human emotions. She held it up and explained that people's emotions and behaviors fall somewhere on this scale within certain bands. I asked if I could see it, she quickly folded it up and put it back in the book and said, I'll see if we have any in the bookstore for you. A few minutes later, a lady returned with a book and a pamphlet with the tone chart in it. She told me I could buy the book for $25 or I could buy the pamphlet for $5. I was sort of shocked that they were pimping out the pamphlet to me for a price.

That was the thing I noticed most, everything costs money except the promotional materials they sent us away with. I grabbed a bunch of their pamphlets as I left, and all of them are brief blurbs about various books or courses and then have registration forms. The books range anywhere from 25 to 40 dollars for hardbacks. That's not terrible for book prices. But there are dozens of books all at that price and you're encouraged to buy as many of them as possible. And then there are the courses. If you want to know anything outside the basics of their religion, you must take these courses. There are dozens of courses and the price tags I see on some of them. I have about 15 pamphlets and the cost of the courses I took pamphlets on run from $110 to $875 per course.

Back to the Tone Scale, she did let me see the pamphlet and look it over, but I didn't purchase it. Essentially, it's this chart that classifies humans along a scale from 0.1 to 4.0. These are 9 categories of people and explains what each of these types of people acts like, how they react to certain situations, what their sexual behavior is like, and what they contribute to society. She stated that people can be different things on the tone scale at different times. I found the Tone Scale to be extremely limited. It's possible to feel multiple emotions at the same time, but the Tone Scale isn't set up that way. I asked and she said it's based on the long term feelings of a person. Again, I said that you can feel may of these things at the same time, and the more I looked at the scale, the more I realized that it divided the complexity of human emotion into 9 categories and tried to shove people into different boxes based on this.

After a few more questions, we got a demonstration of the e-meter, Scientology's tool used in auditing. Essentially, it's a machine hooked up to a couple of tin cans that are held in the hand. The machine has some dials and a needle that moves up and down. After a thorough demonstration of the e-meter, I determined it's not an effective tool at all. There was no consistency with how the needle moved, I tested it in a couple ways, and nothing happened. When my friend was using the machine, his needle moved entirely differently from mine, and they said, that's what we want to see. And with mine, they said the same thing. There doesn't seem any rhyme or reason to the e-meter, it seems like it's more a tool for cold reading.

Overall Experience:

This seemed to be nothing more than a money making scheme masquerading as a religion. The intro materials are universal beliefs that they promote, and they really promote it as a self journey. It's all about you. You can believe what you want. You can get in touch with yourself. They also promise the Moon: we can get you off of drugs, you can be a better communicator, we can raise your IQ, we can give you a better marriage, we can cure your mental illnesses, etc. But it all comes at a huge price tag.

If they truly believed they had the truth and were genuinely interested in saving the world with their techniques, why wouldn't they offer it to people for free or only the cost of materials? Other churches will give you materials for free, they will tell you all you need to know free of charge, they may have a study group with a marginal fee, usually they'll waive it if you can't pay it, but generally, churches never charge money to teach their parishioners. But everything in this church costs money.

A friendly warning for anyone who reads this who is seeking a spiritual home, avoid any group that makes promises that seem too good to be true, avoid easy answers to complicated question. If a group has you sign papers of non-disclosure, asks you to invest huge amounts of money, or asks for money up front, run! All of these are red flags for a group seeking to exploit you.

Additional Comments:

I will be making a video soon about the past few weeks. Until next time, peace be with you.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Scientology: Part Deux

Because we didn't go for an actual service, we have decided to hit up the Scientologists for this week's Sunday service. I'm wondering what the service is going to be like, as I haven't found much online about it. I read something about group auditing. I'm not sure how that works, but I'm not sharing personal things if they expect me to. I am simply there to observe.

This is the closest I have done to going into a service blind. I really don't have much else to say.

Until next time, peace be with you.


That's right, surprise to all of you! I went to the Church of Scientology in Salt Lake City. I did it for a couple reasons, I felt that I owed you guys after not going to Good Friday services, and that I really needed to do something many know about, but not fully.

This blog will be a little different as I'm combining both the pre-service and regular blog in one. Also, structure is going to be pretty free form with this one.

Quick facts about the Church of Scientology:

  • The Church was started in twentieth century by science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard.
  • The Church was first started from a self-help book Hubbard wrote called Dianetics which was his response to modern psychology.
  • The exact number of members is unknown, as the Church does not disclose that information. Estimates range from 50,000 to 10,000,000
  • The name is derived from a mixture of Latin and Greek words, "science" meaning "knowlege" and "logos" which as a suffix means "study of." Therefore the study of knowledge, but not in the same sense as epistemology, which is a philosophical study of knowledge.
  • Scientology has an official clergy named Sea Org, and is modeled after a navy because of L. Ron Hubbard's naval background.
  • The Church is currently run by David Miscavige.
  • The Church uses a service called auditing in which members hold onto a machine called an e-meter, which they believe helps them purge themselves of impurities in their life that are holding them back.
  • You can progress through various levels of the Church through courses and auditing until you become what is called Clear. Once you become Clear, you are free to start taking advanced courses called Operating Thetan courses or OT. Several of these courses contain sensitive and controversial materials that most Scientologists do not know about, including stories about aliens and alien spirits. Upper level Scientologists are told not to talk about and deny these stories, and lower level members have never heard of it. These stories are reported by virtually all upper level Scientologists who have left.
  • Scientology actively courts celebrities, and has a special center for them in California. Several famous Scientologist celebrities include: Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Jason Lee, Jenna Elfman, Greta Van Susteren, Anne Archer, Elizabeth Moss, Giovanni Ribisi, Beck, etc.
  • The Church teaches mankind is made up of three parts, similar to Christian belief, of mind, body, and spirit. They refer to the spirit as a thetan and it is what you truly are, not something you have.
  • Scientologists oppose psychology and traditional psychotherapy.
The experience was interesting. We started by going down to Salt Lake where there are two Scientology buildings, one downtown, and one in the district of the city called Sugar House, which is sort of a hippie/hipster part of town. We went to the mission which is downtown, but it was closed. I did snap a few pictures of it.

This is outside of the mission. It's in the basement of an office suite.

This is the guest book just outside of the mission. We were sad it was closed. The mission appears to be one room with a table, two chairs, a fridge, treadmills, and a few posters.

So, we drove down to the main church which, fortunately was open. In the parking lot of the building was a van for their volunteer ministry.

There was also a sign that was over the back door that talked about increasing your IQ, which I found to be quite interesting.

We entered the main lobby doors and it was a modern, loft style suite. There was an advertisement near the stairs going upstairs for a class of some kind. On the level just below the entrance was a desk with a man sitting in it. He came and introduced himself, asking what we were doing there. After explaining that we were curious, he asked us if we wanted to do orientation. We agreed and he took us to it.

Orientation was in a small room, no more than 10 foot square and a low ceiling. The room had a big screen television, 3 chairs, a bookshelf, several posters on the wall, and a nightstand with a lamp on it. They turned on the movie and left the room shutting the door behind them. I had the distinct feeling we were being filmed the entire time. I have no proof of it, but I definitely felt like they were monitoring us. Lisa and Austin who were with me agreed with that assessment.

The video featured an introduction to the religion, including a long promotion of L. Ron Hubbard that glorified him considerably, it also talked about the structure of the Church quite extensively. I could see why it appeals to many people, they promote yourself and constantly state that the religion is about you. They tell the members that they are free to bring in their old beliefs, so they can be Catholic, Baptist, Muslim, atheist, etc, and be a Scientologist. I found it interesting that they said you could be an atheist, but much of their literature explicitly refers to God. One thing in the video that sort of bothered me was that they said that the Church has it's own law that's not the law of the land, so if you have an issue in the church, go through the church's law.

After the video ended, a young woman came into the room and set a chair down in front of us for a Q&A. We asked a few questions about the structure of the church, and they told us about books we could buy or rent from their bookstore. More on that in a bit.

We then had to get going, because Austin had to work. They sent us away with a stack of literature and DVD's. I watched the DVD's with Lisa and Austin. They essentially teach the most basic of concepts of the Church, then tell you after each segment to go buy a book or sign up for a course. There is a course list. I noticed that nothing in the Church is free other than the personality test they send you away with. Everything comes with a price, whether buying or renting. I don't know how much these courses cost, but I imagine they're not cheap, and I know even auditing has a price tag on it.

After watching the videos, I have to say, there isn't much in the way of doctrine or belief that I could see. It seemed like a bunch of self help books tied to a Church and all with a price tag. This is a red flag to me. You shouldn't have to pay all of this money for spiritual counseling and self help courses, and it bothers me they have different levels you have to pay your way to through courses.

I have to say that Scientology was both slightly unnerving when they locked us in a room to watch a movie, seemed appealing and benign from the videos, and also seemed to have a very sweet side, but also quite a sinister side to it as well.

I may be going back to one of their Sunday services sometime, and might blog about it just to have a full assessment of them.

I will be doing a video on this visit which includes some of the literature I was sent home with. 

Until next time, peace be with you.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Easter at the Atheist National Convention

I want to apologize for the absence and delay in getting these up. It's been quite a long week, and I fell behind. I spent Easter Sunday at the American Atheist National Convention. What was my time like at the convention?


The event was held in the Hilton Hotel in Salt Lake City. The Hilton is, as expected, sleek, modern, and well decorated. It was held on the second floor of the hotel which featured several ball rooms/convention rooms that were used. They even included free coffee and drinks at various parts of the day, in your choice of paper or ceramic or glass cups.

Overall, gorgeous atmosphere all easily accessible.

The People:

There was a wide variety of people there. People of many races, sexual orientations, fashion trends, social groups, etc. Really, the only thing that united everyone was the atheist aspect. Even there, people were across a spectrum of how that affected their lives.

I met some really cool people I had enjoyed seeing on YouTube or in podcasts. There were a number of people who's brains I wanted to pick, including a podcaster I have been following for a couple years now. More on him later.

I made a few friends there, and had a wonderful time with the people. I hope to keep in touch with a few.

The Exhibits:

There were some really great exhibits. There were several art booths that featured hand crafted art of portraits from famous scientists to galaxies and plants. A few of the exhibits were devoted to a particular cause, like student associations, political action groups, etc. I really enjoyed a fair trade foods booth that had some really good chocolate and apricots that they were handing out as samples.

But my favorite booth of all of them was one that had very sarcastic merchandise. This booth had bumper stickers, decals, pins, DNA ties, etc. My favorite thing on that booth was something called Nunzilla. It's a windup toy that is a vicious looking nun, and when she's in use, sparks shoot out of her mouth. I need this in my life.

In addition to the room that had the exhibits, there was a separate room which had books. One side was a normal sort of traveling bookstore with books on religion, science, politics, etc. The second half of the room was a grab bag room. You purchased a little bag, and whatever you could fit into the bag, you could have. My friend Austin took full advantage of that and loaded the bag until it looked like it was going to burst.

The exhibits were fun, and I got some cards out of it so I can buy some nice merchandise pretty soon.

The Speakers:

This was sort of the core of the convention. There were constantly speakers talking on various things with only 10 to 15 minute breaks between them. The talks were held in the main convention room, which was really lovely and modern.

The first speakers I saw was a panel on LGBT issues in the atheist community. I have to admit, I was half asleep during this lecture due to it being really early in the morning after not sleeping long after a very long week. That being said, this was probably my least favorite talk during the convention. Sad, because I am a gay man. One man complained that there wasn't more gay representation at the convention, another woman stated that she wanted to see a total end to religion, a sentiment I do not and cannot share.

Two of the talks that really stuck out to me were the ones on how to come out as an atheist and one on the LDS Church.

The talk on coming out as an atheist was given by a woman who had her family unintentionally discover she was an atheist from pictures on Google. She had both positive and negative reactions from some family members, and it has strained her relationship with several of them permanently. She offered a lot of really good advice that was similar to how many come out as gay.

The other talk on the LDS Church was interesting to me, being an ex-Mormon. The man had to rush through his speech because of time constraints (They weren't very well organized with the speakers and a few were cut short). It's sad, because he had a lot of really good material I wanted to see, and felt a lot of people needed to see there.

The last speech I saw was by a podcaster I enjoy following. His speech was on Christian hijacking and rebranding of pop culture over the past 30 to 40 years. Everything from Christians stealing the image of pop and rock musicians and creating their own versions of these pop stars, to blatantly ripping off logos, movies, or other pop culture items and intentionally rebranding them as Christian. It was a very interesting topic and made me realize just how commercial a lot of modern Christianity has become. I will be doing a bit more research on that and maybe do a vlog on it sometime soon.

Overall Experience:

This was a very great day. I couldn't imagine a better way to have spent Easter Sunday than discussing religion with people who normally don't get heard in the religious dialogue except as people to be feared or mocked. You will find in life that atheists are just normal people who happen not to believe in God, and there are good and bad ones just like all other groups of people. I don't understand the why atheists are demonized so much, but it's an unfair thing as many know as much or more about religion than religious people and deserve to be heard.

I am now in the process of writing my very special blog. Monday, I went to the Church of Scientology. Stay tuned, that blog will be up very soon.

Until then, peace be with you!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


It's been an interesting weekend, to say the least. In order to make up for not going to Good Friday services, I will be posting a very special, surprise report tomorrow. I will also be publishing my blog on the Atheist National Convention shortly.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Final stop on the Holy Week journey: Easter Sunday at...

The American Atheist National Convention. That's right, this year's National Convention is being held in Salt Lake City, Utah, and yours truly will be spending their Easter Sunday there. Bet you weren't expecting that, were you?

The convention will consist primarily of speakers and exhibits. I am quite excited to take part in this. While there are some aspects of modern atheism that do annoy me, I am technically an atheist, one who happens to be quite interested in the subject of religion and does take it seriously, but I'm also somebody who takes a learned and critical approach to the subject of religion.

This is a national convention, so I'm expecting to see some interesting things. I will, as usual, let you know my honest opinion about the event and will not hold back any thoughts on the matter.

Because this will not be a typical religious service, my blog entry for this service will be different than the usual format. I will be following the following format:

  • "Atmosphere" section will be replaced with "Venue Setup and Accessibility."
  • "The People" will remain as I will be meeting a number of people there.
  • "The Service" section will be replaced with "The Exhibits."
  • "The Message" section will be replaced with "The Speakers." This section will be broken down by individual speakers.
  • And, obviously, "Overall Experience" will remain the same.
Can't wait to report on this one. Until next time, peace be with you.

Friday, April 18, 2014


Due to an unforeseen circumstance, I will not be attending Washington Heights Church for Good Friday services. I apologize for this.

The Triduum Begins

Maundy Thursday at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Ogden. This was quite the experience!


Good Shepherd Episcopal Church is a historic and very traditional building done in a simplistic, Gothic style. The exterior is a stone building with a bright red door leading to the sanctuary and a beautiful courtyard with a wrought iron gate, trees, stone seats, and a statue of a young lady pouring water.

The interior is gorgeous and makes you feel as though you have stepped back into an old chapel in England. The whitewashed walls are lined with multicolored stained glass windows of saints and Jesus and offset by wainscoting that matches the old wooden pews. The high altar is a raised platform at the front of the church separated by a wooden altar rail. The altar itself is a wooden table with a golden cross behind it and six candles around the cross. The free standing table has two candles around it all lit giving it a heavenly appearance. The altar cloths were not violet as is normal for Lent, but unbleached linen with a crown of thorns pattern on them. The priest was dressed in vestments of the same material.

I arrived late to the service and after the service, members of the congregation stayed to pray. I felt it wouldn't be appropriate to snap any pictures. However, I did go to a Christmas Eve service there back in December and snapped this picture of the church's interior in all of its glory.

The atmosphere in this church is classic and inspiring. I loved it very much.

The People:

The people at Good Shepherd are genuinely very friendly people. They are a hugging and welcoming sort of people. The priest is a little English woman who radiates kindness. The majority of the congregation is white, and most who attend are elderly, but they are very kind people who are very open minded, yet traditional.

The Service:

The service was quite lovely. It is virtually identical to a Catholic service in most aspects. It began with traditional hymns sung by the choir, all dressed in red robes, readings about the Exodus and St. Paul talking about the Eucharist. Then the gospel reading focused on Jesus washing his apostle's feet and instituting the new commandment to love one another.

Afterward, the deacon gave a sermon, more on that in "The Message" section.

After the sermon, the priest took of her chasuble (a poncho-like outer garment priests wear) and put on an apron. She then read an invitation to the congregation to come forward for foot washing if they wished as a reminder that the servant is not greater than the master. She then washed the feet of several congregants.

Once the foot washing was over, there was another hymn sung by the choir, and then prayers were recited on behalf of the people of the congregation, the country, and the world. They then exchanged the Peace, which is a friendly greeting to your neighbors in the pews wishing them peace. This was proceeded by communion done in the same ceremonial fashion as a Catholic Mass with bells and chants. During communion the choir sang "Ave Verum Corpus" by Mozart, proceeded by a prayer, then a song about Jesus in Gethsemane.

The deacon and several members of the congregation then stripped the sanctuary of all of its ornaments: the candles, the altar cloths, the cushions in the chairs around the altar, the flags, the books, everything, and covered any statues with violet cloths until the entire sanctuary was bare. While they did this, the priest read the 22nd Psalm, which begins with the words, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Once the altar was completely bare, they placed a container containing left over consecrated bread from communion on the bare altar and covered it in a cloth.

The priest then stood before the congregation and invited them to come up and place a flower before the altar as a sign of mourning. One by one we came forward and laid flowers at the foot of the altar while a person in the back somberly rang the church bell.

The priest then said the vigil was to begin. They are holding an all night prayer vigil in the chapel where people can come and pray before the altar remembering Jesus.

I have to say, this is the prettiest Maundy Thursday service I have ever seen and I am amazed at the effect it had on me.

The Message:

The sermon was a little dry and predictable. It was about humility and how Judas was to betray Jesus and Jesus predicting this at the Last Supper. But then the deacon said that while it's easy to paint Judas as the villain of history, all of Jesus's disciples eventually turn on him, they do so by not living up to their ideals and standards. She reminded the congregation, that those standards are summed up in the great commandment Jesus teaches, love one another as he loved us.

I didn't take much from this sermon I haven't heard a million times in many other churches. It was quite an appropriate sermon for the day, but nothing earth shattering.

Overall Experience:

This was a very amazing service, and I'm glad I chose this to be the church for Maundy Thursday. It was traditional, yet felt somehow very connected to the modern world. I recommend checking out Good Shepherd highly.

Additional Comments:

Keep an eye out for the next two installments of this blog. Hope you enjoy them.

Until next time, peace be with you.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Next stop: Good Friday at Washington Heights Church

Good Friday is a coming. Good Friday is the second day of the Triduum in Christianity, again, the most holy days on the Christian calendar.

Good Friday, sometimes called Great Friday or Great and Holy Friday, is celebrated by, the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans/Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, many Baptists, many Evangelicals, many Charismatics, almost all Christian denominations.

Good Friday solemnly commemorates the crucifixion and burial of Jesus of Nazareth. For Christians, this day marks the day that Christ died for their sins, therefore is central to their belief.

Celebrations vary widely in the Christian world. These include: commemorative Masses or liturgies that remember his death, partaking in communion, plays depicting the death of Jesus, reading of Scriptures and hearing sermons on the sacrifice of Jesus, adoration of the cross, walking the Stations of the Cross, etc.

I will be attending Washington Heights Church (formerly known as Washington Heights Baptist Church) for Good Friday services.

Washington Heights Church is the closest I am going to find to a Christian megachurch in my area. It is a very large church building located in South Ogden, and part of a larger Heights Church Community, a group of congregations in Utah that formally belong to the Conservative Baptist Association of America, which is a loose confederation of regional, autonomous churches. This means the local churches are self governing and not controlled by any outside influence.

The Heights Community has three churches it refers to as campuses, one in South Ogden, one in Bountiful, and one in Ogden serving the Latino community. The Heights Church, though officially Baptist, has in recent years, seemed to drift further from that label and embracing a more general Evangelical Christian label.

Their beliefs are fairly general Baptist/Evangelical beliefs:
  • The Bible is the inerrant Word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit and the final authority on matters of faith and doctrine.
  • Belief in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one God in three Persons (the Trinity).
  • Christ died for the sins of all mankind.
  • Those who trust in Jesus Christ and accept him as their Lord and Savior are regenerated and saved.
  • Salvation is through faith alone and not by the works of mankind.
  • Immersion baptism required as a sign of commitment by those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior.
  • Traditional family and conservative values.
  • Separation of church and state.
I'm curious to see how this service is as I have never been to a Good Friday service at a church that didn't have Catholic ceremony. The LDS Church of my childhood doesn't celebrate Good Friday, and I've only really been to Catholic Good Friday services. I'm going into this fairly blind as I have no idea what the service will be like.

I will keep you updated as to what happens. Until next time, peace be with you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Second stop in Holy Week: Maundy Thursday at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

This Thursday marks the beginning of the Triduum, the holiest three days on the Christian calendar: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday that leads into Easter Sunday.

Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, celebrates the Last Supper, a meal Jesus shared with his disciples and the institution of the Lord's Supper, also known as Communion or the Eucharist.

Maundy Thursday is celebrated by many branches of Christianity, including: the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans/Episcopalians, some Methodists, some Baptists, and other Protestant groups. It is not often celebrated by churches of a more Evangelical, Fundamentalist, or Charismatic bend.

Common ceremonies on Maundy Thursday include: foot washing, which bears in mind Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and calls to mind humility; celebration of Communion; blessing of holy oils; and all night vigils.

As stated, I will be visiting Good Shepherd Episcopal Church for this service, part of The Episcopal Church which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. In other words, The Episcopal Church is the American branch of the Anglican Church.

The Anglican Communion is a worldwide union of national churches with a shared history and tradition. All are rooted in the Church of England which was started when Henry VIII proclaimed himself the Head of the Church in England thereby separating himself from Rome. Historically, the Church has been at various times hyper-Protestant and hyper-Catholic. Today, both traditions can be seen in the tradition of the Church, and the Church considers itself to be the "via media" or middle road between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Things the Episcopal Church shares with Catholicism:

  • Belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in Communion, though this isn't defined and members are free to interpret this belief.
  • Practice of baptism, including infant baptism, by flow of water, generally by pouring water on the head.
  • Formalized liturgy with a similar structure.
  • Belief in creeds, particularly the Nicene, Apostles, and Athanasian Creeds. Again members are free to interpret these creeds.
  • Episcopal structure, meaning their church is ruled by bishops assisted by priests and deacons.
  • Belief in Apostolic Succession, meaning the Church claims it traces its priesthood back to the Twelve Apostles in an unbroken line.
  • In addition to the Two Sacraments of baptism performed by the Church, they also recognize five additional rites that are sacramental in form but not sacraments: confession (optional with a priest), confirmation, anointing the sick, marriage, and holy orders. These together with the two sacraments of baptism and communion correspond to the Seven Sacraments in the Catholic Church.
  • Shared use or ritual items, vestments, holidays, etc. (This varies from church to church, some are more Protestant in nature and shy away from these things.)
  • Interpretation of the Scriptures through reason and Tradition. (Though The Episcopal Church allows more freedom of interpretation and diversity of belief.)
Things The Episcopal Church shares with Protestantism:
  • Belief that the Bible contains all that is necessary for salvation.
  • Clergy are free to marry.
  • Belief in Heaven and Hell, but not Purgatory.
  • Rejection of the Apocrypha as scripture, though members can learn from it.
  • Primacy of the Bible as the final word in matters of doctrine and faith.
  • Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit and are the Word of God.
  • Confession of one's sins must only be done to God and no one else, though confession may be done with a priest if one desires.
Additional things about The Episcopal Church:
  • There is a wide theological and ceremonial spectrum in the Church, as you may have gathered. Some churches are much more Protestant, some more Catholic, some traditional, some liberal. Beliefs can vary widely among members even within a certain congregation. Diversity of opinion is welcomed and critical approach to the study of Scripture and Church teachings is encouraged.
  • Historically, the Church has wrestled with many progressive issues, including: slavery, racism, the role of women in the Church, and LGBT rights. Today, most of the Church ordains women, there have been several female bishops (including the previous bishop of Utah) and the bishop who is the head of The Episcopal Church is a woman, Katharine Jefferts Schori.
  • Though The Episcopal Church has a presiding bishop, she does not rule the Church as a pope would, instead she is considered the first among equals, and has the honorary role as well a role in the secular functions of the Church.
  • The Church has, for the past decade or so, openly discussed and debated the place of LGBT people in the Church. In 2003, Gene Robinson was ordained the first openly gay bishop in the Church. Many bishops will ordain people regardless of sexual orientation, though some protest this matter. Members who are LGBT are allowed to participate fully regardless of sexual orientation without restraint, though others may view this as sinful. Many churches also bless same-sex unions.
Some things about Good Shepherd Church in Ogden:
  • This church leans more Catholic than Protestant.
  • This church tends to be more liberal in their attitudes toward the roles of women and LGBT people.
  • The church building is a historical landmark, being the first non-Mormon church to be built in Ogden back in the 1800's
  • This church is the home parish of a close friend of mine, who may accompany me on this adventure.
I will let you know how it goes. Until then, peace be with you.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Not the Catholicism of my youth.

Today, I got to go to Glory to God Old Catholic Church. What was Palm Sunday like with the Old Catholics? Was it what I was expecting? Did I have a good time?


Glory to God Church is a rather humble building compared to many Catholic churches you'll encounter. Just a simple white building along Harrison Boulevard here in Ogden with a simple garden and bell out in front.

I had to resist the urge to ring the bell as much as I wanted to. And the garden out front has several statues which are quite lovely including two angel statues.

I must admit, I took this photo specifically for Dr. Who fans. I think it's a fun statue on many levels.

When you first walk into the church, you're greeted by a nearly life sized statue of Jesus standing on a table amid stocks of wheat, flowers, and candles. This creates quite an amazing impression on you as you enter the sanctuary as it a confined space making its presence feel both imposing and comforting.

The main sanctuary is similar to most Catholic churches I have been in, pews, an altar adorned with candles, statues of saints and Jesus, the Stations of the Cross along both walls, a tabernacle behind the altar.

The altar with the tabernacle behind it. Today the altar was adorned with palm branches for Palm Sunday.

The lectern where they perform their scripture readings and usually deliver a sermon. Before it is the Gospel Book. The book contains the Four Gospels in the Bible. During a Mass, the priest or deacon will read a selection from the book while everybody stands. This is symbolic of Jesus coming into the world and teaching mankind.

A shrine to the Virgin Mary on the right hand side of the altar. I found this to be a very beautiful shrine. I loved the actual lace veil they adorned her with.

A stained glass window of The Good Shepherd knocking at the door.

A shofar that was played at the service. If you will notice, it is the exact same shofar as was used at the Community of Christ Church that I visited several weeks ago. (Picture below taken at the Community of Christ Church in Ogden.)

More on why this shofar is in two different churches on my blog a little later.

Overall, the atmosphere of this church was pretty much everything I've come to expect from a Catholic church with no real surprises. I liked the atmosphere very much, and it felt like home for the little Catholic boy inside me.

The People:

The people at Glory to God Church were quite friendly and loving. Unlike a typical Catholic church, the Peace is done at the beginning of the Mass and not at the time of Communion. For those unfamiliar with Catholicism or liturgical Protestantism, the Peace is a symbolic gesture where you great your neighbor with a sign of peace, usually a handshake, as a sign of making peace with the community before approaching God. Here, most people hugged. I was hugged by more strangers today than I think I ever have been in my life, which I loved.

There were a few surprises for me. First of all, the pastor there was a bishop, which I wasn't expecting and was assisted by a priest (who wanted to steal my hat) and two deacons. The priest is married to the man who led the Community of Christ service I attended a few weeks back. This is why the shofar is the same shofar, the Community of Christ simply borrowed it for their service. I ran into a few familiar faces while I was there, which was quite interesting. Most of the community seemed to be made up of LGBT people or Catholics who had found a more accepting home in that community.

I felt nothing but warmth and love from the people at Glory to God Church. It wasn't like my previous experiences in Catholic churches where people tend to be standoffish and not engage you prior to the service.

The Service:

I am going to preface this by saying, today was Palm Sunday, so the service is a little different than a typical Sunday service.

That being said, this was not what I was expecting. The first part was. We met in the social hall and the palm leaves were blessed, and there was a procession around the front of the church with the cross, the clergy swinging a censer full of frankincense, a man sounding the shofar, and us following behind singing. This is very normal and very traditional on Palm Sunday. In more traditional Catholic countries, this procession might even take the form of a solemn parade. I felt very at home doing this.

When we arrived back inside the chapel, the service became quite a different service. There was a screen in the main sanctuary that played a video about Palm Sunday, then the congregation sang contemporary Christian rock/pop songs while the lyrics were projected onto the screen. It felt very much like an Evangelical Christian service at that point.

Afterward, the bishop came forward and gave a short prayer asking the members to call to mind their sins, then asking God for absolution. The bishop then pronounced absolution over the congregation. The Peace was then exchanged, and announcements made. After the announcements and a community prayer where they asked members to voice their prayers, more contemporary Christian music was sang, all of it pre-recorded music. I really felt I was in an Evangelical service for the first half. All the while, my mind was racing because, though it wasn't the Masses of my youth, it was still Catholic in a way I couldn't explain. I felt at home.

After the hymns, there was the typical Palm Sunday Gospel reading which usually takes the place of a sermon and the other scripture readings. It's typically a dramatic reading of one of the four Gospels with multiple congregants acting out different parts. This was no exception. The man playing Jesus in the reading the part of Jesus stood at the lectern with a Jewish prayer shall over his head, and other member of the congregation played other roles standing in different parts of the church. This was as I remember Palm Sunday services going, however, there was one additional element: a slide show projected onto the screen behind the altar. The slides included famous artwork and scenes from the Passion of the Christ that went along with the scenes. The scene went over the account of Jesus's passion from the Gospel of Mark from the Last Supper to the burial of Jesus.

After the readings, the service made an abrupt transition to an extremely traditional Catholic Mass. They sang a hymn with live organ music (from an electric organ) and then the communion prayers were done in traditional fashion with pomp and ceremony, bells, incense, Latin chants, etc. The contrast between the first and second half of the service did give me a brief pause, but I enjoyed it very much.

The Message:

As I stated, earlier, the reading took the place of a sermon today. As such, there wasn't a real message, only the reenactment of the Passion of Jesus.

Overall Experience:

I had quite a good time at Glory to God Old Catholic Church. I think I will definitely be returning sometime soon to check it out. Like St. Joseph's Catholic Church did for me a few months ago, this really made me feel connected to something I feel is missing in my life that I can't explain. There is a part of me that will always remain Catholic no matter where I go in life.

Additional Notes:

This week is Holy Week. I was going to try to do 4 services this week, but my schedule doesn't look like it will permit me to do so. At the least, I will be attending Good Friday, and I have a special surprise for Easter Sunday that may be unexpected. I will also attempt Maundy Thursday services, though that might not happen now.

Stay tuned to the blog for future updates about this week.

Until next time, peace be with you.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Give me that Old Catholic Church

This week I will be going to Glory to God Old Catholic Church. This church used to be part of the North American Old Catholic Church; however, this group is now defunct and it appears that the church is an independent Old Catholic church.

So, what is an Old Catholic church?

An Old Catholic church is one of a number of Christian denominations that split with the Catholic Church (centered in Rome and ruled over by the Pope) over various doctrinal issues, generally, but not always, dealing with papal authority.

Generally, these churches retain much of their Catholic traditions and heritage, often to a greater extent than the Roman Catholic Church. Most have what the Catholic Church would consider valid priesthood succession, meaning that the deacons, priests, and bishops of their churches were validly ordained by someone who stands in a priesthood line dating back to the Twelve Apostles. This means that though the Catholic Church would consider these churches heretical, they would consider their sacraments valid (with the exception of women being ordained). As such, these churches are considered Catholic churches, just not in communion with Rome.

Similarities between Glory to God Old Catholic Church and the Catholic Church:

  • Belief in the Trinity.
  • Belief in the Seven Sacraments: baptism, confirmation, communion, penance (confession to a priest), unction (healing of the sick or Last Rites), marriage, holy orders.
  • Belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
  • Belief in the historical creeds: Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed.
  • Belief in Apostolic Succession.
  • Belief in the Old and New Testaments as scripture to guide mankind approached through reason and Tradition.
  • Celebration of the Mass as the central form of worship.
Differences between Glory to God Old Catholic Church and the Catholic Church:
  • Glory to God Old Catholic Church is not in communion with the Bishop of Rome (the Pope).
  • Glory to God Old Catholic Church does not discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered people (LGBT) in any fashion.
  • Glory to God Old Catholic Church does not bar women nor LGBT people from holding the priesthood.
  • Glory to God Old Catholic Church allows their clergy to marry.
  • Glory to God Old Catholic Church performs same-sex marriages.
  • Though the Catholic Church takes a similar approach to interpreting the Bible, namely through reason and Tradition, it seems that Glory to God Old Catholic Church allows a wider spectrum of belief and a more liberal interpretation of scripture than the Catholic Church does.
I will be attending this church on Palm Sunday, which is the Sunday before Easter and celebrates both Jesus entering Jerusalem, and the Passion of Jesus. I'm curious to see how this compares to Palm Sunday when I was a Roman Catholic and curious to see if there are any differences.

Until I next time. Peace be with you.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Contemporary coffee consuming Christians.

Today I went to Alpine Church's Riverdale Campus. What was it like visiting this nondenominational Evangelical church?


Alpine's Riverdale Campus (church) is a very modern building with an industrial feel.

The outside of the church is decorated simply with the name of the church and a large wooden cross.

The parking lot was filled with cars and tons of people streaming into the building. I was amazed with how many people were there. This church so far, with the exception of the LDS church I attended, had the most people I've seen.

The entryway of the church is quite modern and quite lovely. There are tables by the door with free copies of the Bible that include the NIV (New International Version) and the NLT (New Living Translation). I took the NLT as I don't have a copy of that one yet. There is also a fireplace lounge with plush leather couches to sit on and bookshelves full of books to study. Along the wall is a coffee bar with lots of free coffee of various kinds held in self-serve dispensers. The coffee bar was adorned with a number of crosses and a sign that said "Pursue God" which seems to be the theme of this church.

I grabbed a cup of coffee and headed into the chapel. The chapel was a modern room with chairs lined along in rows and a stage with a live band playing against a modern background of blue lit glass panels.

Overall, the atmosphere was warm, welcoming, and modern. I loved the look of the building. It's quite different from other churches I've been to, yet has very familiar elements to it.

The People:

As I mentioned previously, there were a lot of people there. When we arrived, the service was just barely beginning, but there were people still coming in the building, grabbing coffee, herding their children to Sunday school, heading into the chapel.

Nobody came up and greeted us personally with the exception of my cousin after the service. That being said, the people were very warm and friendly. I didn't feel any judgmental stares, nobody seemed to wonder what we were doing there. The people were a diverse crowd. There were people with multicolored hair, people in conservative dress, people in casual clothing, multiple races, some dressed in designer clothing, some in more skater or clothing I generally refer to as "thug-lite." In general, it was a "come as you are" crowd with diverse backgrounds.

Overall, the people seemed like a tight knit but friendly and open crowd.

The Service:

The service was a typical sort of service you'd see in most Evangelical churches. It opened with a song, again the music was contemporary. The people stood up and sang the words which were projected onto two screens in the front. Some people raised their hands up or closed their eyes while singing as though in prayer. Others simply sang the words and enjoyed the music. Afterward, there were some announcements, then two more songs were played, again by the live band.

After the songs, there was a short video which featured the one of the pastors of the church introducing the theme of this week's sermon, which was part of their continuing series on atonement. After the video introduction, another pastor came up and gave a sermon. More on that in "The Message" section below.

After the sermon, they had communion. The communion was interesting to me coming from a different that wasn't Evangelical. The band played music and the pastor said a couple words about the communion being a memorial of Christ's sacrifice and all Christ followers were welcome. Then people lined up and went to one of several tables just below the stage which had a glass bowl of wafers and one wine glass full of grape juice per table. The people dipped the wafers in the juice then took them back to their seats and ate them. This was different to me because my background is LDS and Catholic. In both traditions, there are special communion prayers that are said and the elements of communion are blessed. But there was no blessing and no special prayers. No prayers at all unless the individual said one when they went back to their seat. This just struck me as odd as communion was always the central focus of worship in the faiths of my youth and there was always a lot of fuss over this ceremony.

After communion, they said a short prayer and the pastor delivered a message not to feel guilt for your sin anymore if you had trusted in Jesus because he already died for you. They then dismissed the congregation.

The service was fun. I enjoyed the music and the laid back atmosphere.

The Message:

As mentioned above, the message was part of their ongoing series on atonement. In the intro video, the pastor mentioned that they were going to draw comparisons to Old Testament sacrifice and the sacrifice of Jesus. During the intro, he said you'd need your thinking caps on for this one.

The pastor's sermon began with showing the tabernacle and explaining a little bit about the various places in it. He then explained the atonement process Israel went through on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This involved several animal sacrifices, the releasing of the scapegoat into the wilderness as a symbolic purge of the sins of the nation from their presence, and the High Priest offering a prayer in the Holy of Holies for the Nation of Israel. He then said that Jesus is like the ultimate High Priest and living sacrifice because his sacrifice and his priesthood is forever.

This was really the whole of the message. There wasn't much more complexity to it. I liked that it was structured and informed, but I wanted it to go more into depth. I realize that I've read a lot about religion, particularly the history and origin of Christianity and Judaism. But the message was very basic Christian principles. When it was said at the beginning of the service you needed your thinking caps, I was hoping for something with a little more meat on it. As it was, it was a surface level presentation of Christianity.

There was nothing unexpected about the message, nor anything objectionable, but I do think that Christianity as it's presented to congregations today is all too safe and all too friendly without delving deep enough into things that, in ages gone by, Christianity would have addressed.

I would like to see a Christian church delve deeply into stories that are in their scriptures that are uncomfortable, like Lot offering his daughters up to an angry mob so they didn't rape his guests and his daughters later raping him to conceive children; Jephthah offering his daughter as a human sacrifice because God granted him victory in battle; Jesus encouraging his followers castrate themselves, literally give up all material possessions, forsake their families and follow him; etc. Or even focusing on darker parts of their common beliefs such as why bad things happen to seemingly righteous and innocent people with a supposedly all perfect and all loving God, why God demands atonement for sin when in his omnipotence he could eliminate sin entirely, why an all just God would create a infinite Hell for finite crimes, etc.

These things are real stories and real issues that Christianity has faced for centuries and great theologians have hotly debated and come to various conclusions. However, modern Christianity has done itself no favors by only focusing on the positive aspects of its message and not delving deep into its more challenging aspects. The reason it has not is that people often feel a huge sense of betrayal by their faiths when they realize that all of these stories or questions were hidden from them or never addressed. They feel like they were well versed in their religion only to find that there was another side to it. This leads many to doubt their faith strongly.

Now, I realize that many in these congregations have no desire to be biblical scholars or discuss fine details of theology, that they want to come to church to experience some kind of personal relationship with their God. But I feel these people more than anyone else deserve to be presented with the entirety of their faith, not just the happy easily digestible parts of it. People claim they want truth, but what they want is to feel close to something bigger than themselves and often become uncomfortable if that feeling is threatened by things that don't gel with their deeply held beliefs. But it is exactly this kind of person that is scandalized and harmed the most when they discover what's been hidden from them.

As I said, the sermon was a good and positive sermon, I just really want to see Christianity go deeper in the public sphere. I'm sick of seeing easy answers doled out across the pulpit and sermons that sound like sound bites or only focus on positive messages.

Overall Experience:

I really did enjoy my time at Alpine Church and would go back again with my family as it was a fun experience, a great atmosphere, and good service. I'm very glad it's a home that some members of my family have found and it seems to have been nothing but a good thing for them.

Additional Comments:

Next week is going to be interesting. I'm going to try to do 4 services or events since it's Holy Week on the Christian calendar. We'll see if I'm able to do it between work and other things going on in my life.

We will begin our Holy Week marathon with Palm Sunday at Glory to God Old Catholic Church in Ogden.

Until next time, peace be with you!

Friday, April 4, 2014

To Alpine Church I Go

This Sunday I'm going to Alpine Church in Riverdale, which is the next city over from Ogden. Alpine Church is a nondenominational Christian church with a strong Evangelical slant. They are located in Utah with several churches, which they refer to as "campuses" across the state. There is one in Riverdale, Layton, Logan, West Haven, and Brigham City. These churches offer multiple service times over the weekend, including morning and evening services on Saturday and Sunday. The services each weekend are all planned around the same message and theme so no matter what time you attend or which location they are roughly the same service.

Worship services at Alpine Church are contemporary using Christian rock and focused around a sermon.

As a nondenominational Evangelical church, they focus on the following things:

  • Accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and developing a personal relationship with him.
  • The Bible as the Word of God and the spiritual and practical guide of mankind.
  • One God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the Trinity).
  • Baptism as a symbol of your commitment to Jesus after accepting him as your Savior.
I have several family members that attend Alpine Church, all of them converts, as well as a couple friends. Alpine has seemed to really enhanced their lives and made them seem a lot more at peace and much more loving towards all people. I'm really happy and grateful that this has seemed to add so much meaning to their lives.

There's not much else to say since it isn't attached to a particular denomination. I'm looking forward to this one and I'll let you know how everything goes.

Until next time, peace be with you.