Thursday, June 5, 2014

Sunday at Washington Heights Church

Sorry for the delay in getting this up. I started a new work schedule this week and I'm still adjusting to it. This past Sunday, I went to Washington Heights Church, which is an Evangelical church of the Baptist tradition. It is officially a member of the Conservative Baptist Association.

What was it like?


I went to this church 10 years ago when a friend of mine from school invited me to it. A lot has changed in 10 years. First off, the building(s) are completely different. When I went the first time, it was a huge building with a chapel that had stadium seating and a stage in the center and classrooms off the main chapel. It was big and reminded me of the churches you see on TV with the various televangelists.

Now, there are three buildings, one appears to be a children's chapel/Sunday school, another that is, what appears to be classrooms and a small coffee shop. This building had a really cool design in the bricks of a Jesus fish.

Sandwiched between these two buildings is the main chapel. Unlike the grand chapel that used to stand there, it's now a much smaller chapel, no stadium seating, a stage that now looks like a concert stage, all together, it no longer had the chapel feel of the original, but now looks like a Christian rock arena.

I preferred the old building. It was very beautiful and, while modern, still felt like a chapel and a church. This building just felt like it was trying to be some other church now, like Alpine or the Genesis Project. I feel like the community lost something it had once had and replaced it with something trying to be something else.

In all, the atmosphere was fine, it was modern and cool, but it wasn't what it once was in its glory days.

The People:

The people here were very friendly, and there were a lot of them ranging in age from elderly to youth. There was a coffee bar set up with some decent coffee. Several people came up and introduced themselves before and after the service. One was an usher, one was a nice young lady who told us to take as many cookies as we wanted from the coffee bar and joked around a bit about it. After the service, a group of people came up to us and introduced themselves and asked a number of questions.

In all, they were very friendly and seemed very sincere in wanting to get to know us.

The Service:

Nothing exceptionally remarkable about the service other than on the chairs were business cards that said, "I am Jesus." That's right, this church has business cards for Jesus. It started with a hymn, which was a standard Christian rock hymn.

After the hymn, they had communion. They said a prayer over the bread and grape juice, then the ushers passed trays around that had small cups of grape juice lined on them and small crackers in the center of the tray. Everyone took one of each and waited to take them all together.

After that, there was another hymn and then a sermon.

After the sermon, there was a video featuring a bunch of children. I'm not entirely sure what this video was about, but I could tell they were asking money for some kind of education program for children. The way it was framed, it sounded like the children's salvation depended on this program. I found that quite interesting, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

The Message:

The sermon was on the story of Jesus among the teachers in the Temple. The story basically goes that when Jesus was 12, he and his family went to the Temple in Jerusalem for Passover, and Mary and Joseph left without Jesus and didn't realize it. When they come back, Jesus tells them that they should have expected him to be in his father's house.

The person giving the sermon said that this story shows us that Jesus doesn't fit into our boxes and that he's a confusing figure.

He then talked about how Judaism doesn't have a concept of God as Father like Christianity has and only sees him as a father of their nation. This is entirely untrue. Jews have the same emphasis on God as their father as Christians do. Christians place more emphasis on it in many ways, but the concept nevertheless is present and strong in Judaism.

There's this trend among Evangelical Christians in the US to talk about Judaism extensively. While I'm happy that Christians are exploring their Jewish roots, as there should be a lot more of that, I feel the methodology of this often, but not always, misses the mark. Christians don't tend to approach Judaism as its own complete religion with its own rich heritage completely independent of Christian dogma, but as the prequel to Jesus. As such, they often get things wrong about Judaism by trying to project Jesus onto every aspect of it. Jesus was molded by Judaism, not the other way around. Can you go back and reinterpret the Jewish stories and scriptures to fit the Jesus narrative, yes, Christians have done it for centuries. But in doing so, you miss the entire point of these stories in their original form and what they have taught Jews for thousands of years.

To put it in better perspective, Islam comes from the same tradition as Judaism and Christianity and shares common stories with them. If Muslims started to interpret Christian scripture their own way to prove that Christianity was all along pointing to Muhammad, Christians would probably feel a little outraged. This is the same thing that Christianity does to Judaism when it doesn't respect Judaism as a whole tradition with its own merits.

He then talked about how Jesus confused Mary and Joseph with this story and that they didn't understand what he meant. He then explained that Jesus often acted exactly contrary to how people expected him to. He also explains that Jesus and the concept of God itself can be very disturbing and hard to deal with.

He mentioned that bad things happen to good people and to think that if you believe in God and live well that nothing bad will happen to you is foolish, yet many seem to think that's how it will be. He mentioned several tragedies that befell some Christians who did missionary work in Africa as an example. I was liking where this was going as I often think modern Christianity overlooks the hard questions and he was at least touching on them. Then he dropped the ball at the end by saying, just have faith in God, and don't worry about it. I will say though, that at least he was addressing that there is a darker side of Christianity and exposing people to it and opening up the conversation a bit.

Overall, not a bad sermon, in spite its flaws.

Overall Experience:

Overall, I miss the old Washington Heights Church and felt this current incarnation was basically trying to be like a bunch of newer churches in the area. That being said, it wasn't an unpleasant experience, just deja vu.

Additional Notes:

There won't be a church this upcoming week as I will be attending the Utah Pride Festival and it is also a friend's birthday on Sunday. But don't worry, there will be another blog coming your way very soon. I have a few good groups lined up. Also, expect some kind of video blog this week to fill the void.

Until next time, peace be with you.

1 comment:

  1. It changed drastically after McGee retired. It looks nice on the outside but there isn't much substance, as I feel you have pointed out.