Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Sunday of Gospel music and kind people

This past Sunday, I went to Embry Chapel here in Ogden, part of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), a historically black church.

A little background on the AME. Like virtually all historically black churches, it was founded because of the uncomfortable subject of race. The white Methodists of the time were discriminatory against black people within the Church, segregating congregations, limiting the involvement of black members of the clergy, either by separating black members in a different part of the church building, or forcing them into separate congregations completely.

Several black clergymen founded the AME as a place where black Methodists could worship without discrimination and fully participate in the life of the Church.

The doctrine of the AME is Methodist. Methodists come out of further reformation of the Angilcans, started by John Wesley, bringing Christianity to more of a practical everyday experience, with more focus on preaching and being workable for the poor and everyday person.

The AME is a Protestant church and has some of the core beliefs:

  • Belief in the Trinity, one God in three persons.
  • Belief Jesus is the Messiah and second person of the Trinity, fully God and fully man.
  • Mankind is inclined by Original Sin to a sinful nature.
  • Jesus died for the sins of mankind to deliver them back to the Father.
  • Mankind is forgiven by God's grace through faith alone, not by works.
  • The Bible contains all that is necessary for the salvation of mankind and is the final authority on matters of faith and practice.
  • Two sacraments are practiced: Baptism, which may be administered by pouring or immersion, and administered to both adults and children. Baptism is seen as an outward sign of an inward grace and regenerates the spirit. The other sacrament is Communion, in which Jesus's body and blood is present spiritually through faith.
  • Ministers may marry.
  • Both men and women may serve in the ministry.
  • No bar based on race to membership or ministry.
  • Focus on the poor and community well being.
  • Traditional views on human sexuality, including discouragement of homosexuality.
  • Episcopal structure of the Church (ruled by bishops).
So, what was the experience like?


The building itself is really simple. A very small, red bricked building in a less than desirable area of Ogden just up from the dog food factory. There are no frills to the exterior of the building. Just a simple sign and a cross.

The interior was a simple chapel with a pulpit in the center of it. Behind it were some music stands for the choir, to the left of them was an area for the band. Directly in front of the pulpit was the communion table and small baptismal font. On the wall behind the sanctuary was a cross with studded with light bulbs illuminating it for the whole congregation.

Overall, elegant, but simple decor inside gave this place a very homey feeling that I very much enjoyed.

The People:

I have to say, these, so far were the friendliest people I've encountered. We walked in and were instantly treated like family. People came over and introduced themselves to us, some hugged us, all said nice words. Every person in the congregation met and talked to us at some point. One man was nice enough to tell us that there were doughnuts in the other room and to help ourselves to them and some water before the service. Another woman talked to me about her work at the university I used to attend. Apparently she works with the Diversity Center there. It was nice to hear.

The congregation isn't diverse at all. In fact, my friend and I were the only people in the whole congregation who weren't black. But that didn't seem to matter to them at all. We were completely welcomed there.

While getting the doughnut and water from the other room, I noticed the church had several of their outreach programs up on the board. The programs included tutoring for K - 12 students, a food pantry, and HIV awareness and prevention courses.

Overall, nicest group of people I've ever met. I'd go back just to get to know more of them better.

The Service:

The service was much like I expected it to be. It began with a Gospel rendition of Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow, then a responsive call to worship. Afterward, they sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and a lady gave a very heartfelt prayer.

Afterward, there was another Gospel hymn sung, while the whole chapel clapped together to keep rhythm. Afterward there was a scripture reading about Joseph discovering Mary was with child and choosing to put her away in private rather than publicly disgrace her.

They then recited in unison the two great commandments given by Jesus: love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. This was followed by a Gospel rendition of the Gloria Patri, a short Catholic hymn praising the Trinity: "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen." This was followed by yet another Gospel song.

Afterward, there were a number of announcements, mostly doing with church activities and the activities of several other churches that members were invited to. They seem to have a strong interfaith focus, which I find nice. We were also asked to stand and introduce ourselves as guests. They found out we were former students of Weber State, and that we both had degrees in language. We were asked to speak a bit for them in our foreign tongues. They welcomed us as a group and made us feel awkward, just like a real family gathering.

They then had an altar call. Unlike other churches with an altar call, every single person in the congregation was asked to come up and kneel around the altar, which we did. That felt kind of awkward for me, but it was over quickly. Then they took up a collection while the choir sang another song.

After this, the pastor gave a sermon, more on that below. The congregation then recited the Apostles' Creed, and ended with a prayer.

Overall, the music was very upbeat and inspiring, and the structure was pretty seamless. It was quite a lovely service.

The Message:

The sermon was kind of all over the place. Part of it was similar to the Southern Baptist sermon I heard, in that the pastor said, "If you're wrong about Jesus, it doesn't matter what you're right about."

He then asked the famous question, "What would Jesus do?" followed by talking about how Jesus is a great portrait of God because God himself is love as we read in scripture.

He then stated we need to withhold nothing from God, and that we serve two masters, or think we can handle things on our own, we're wrong. We need Jesus.

Then he said that Jesus promised the Kingdom of Heaven, but just as surely as those promises are true, so are his promises of that place called Hell. He reiterated that we have free will, but God knew what we would choose before we were born.

This has always struck me as a disturbing paradox about God. God, knowing that much of his creation will end up in the Hell he has created as a never ending punishment for them, still creates them and allows this, even though he supposedly is love itself. The idea of eternal damnation is one of my biggest problems with Christianity. The concept of Hell is outrageous and contradictory to a being that is supposedly all loving. I understand they teach that God is all just, but there is nothing just about eternal damnation for finite crimes. There is nothing I can think of that a human being could do that would warrant punishment that never ends.

The sermon was unstructured, and all over the place, but I noticed that didn't matter. With churches like this one, it doesn't matter what you say, it matters how you say it. The pastor delivered the sermon in the iconic style of black preachers, dragging out words, shouting with conviction, sing-talking at points. The congregation played their parts well. The people would shout, "Amen!" or "Alright! Alright!" at most anything. One woman kept saying, "Say it," when the pastor would pause, then shout out "Amen!" when he would make his point. Many seemed distracted with children or some other task as they shouted. It was like it was what was expected for the atmosphere, so they did it because they were supposed to. A very interesting phenomenon to say the least.

Overall Experience:

The church was both an interesting cultural experience and a fun time. The people were absolutely lovely and I would love to talk to a number of them outside of church to know them better. I would definitely go back and spend another Sunday at Embry Chapel.

Until next time, peace be with you.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chad, I found your blog today and have spent the afternoon and evening reading it all. I am impressed! I think it's very interesting and give you major props because doing something like this would be way out of my comfort zone.

    I liked reading about your religious experience and background. I'm 19 and have been raised Catholic all my life. I'm very liberal, so I disagree with many of their teachings and beliefs... but attending Mass is very comforting to me because it's what I know. Needless to say, it's conflicting.

    Yet I enjoy learning about other religions and so this blog is great! I'm looking forward to the rest of it, but am disappointed that it will be ending soon as you're going to China. Anyway, thanks!