A little bit about the United Methodist Church before we begin the review. The United Methodist Church is the largest Methodist church with about 80 million members worldwide and is the second largest Protestant church in the US after the Southern Baptist Convention.
Methodism began in the mid-1700's by John and Charles Wesley. Originally it was a movement within the Church of England focused on Bible study, holy living, and a sort of working man's Christianity. The movement reached the American colonies and gained popularity. It was never the intention to separate from the Church of England; however, after the American Revolution, the Methodist movement was unable to secure bishops from England and formally separated creating the Methodist Episcopal Church. The church eventually split into smaller churches as usually happens within movements. In 1968, a couple Methodist churches merged into what is now the United Methodist Church.
Beliefs of the United Methodist Church:
- Belief in the Trinity.
- Belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.
- Humans are made in the image of God, but sin corrupts that image and separates humans from God.
- Salvation comes through Christ's atonement.
- Mankind is saved through grace which draws the sinner closer to God and sanctifies them.
- Baptism is done by pouring, sprinkling, or immersion. Baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace and leaves an eternal mark on the soul.
- Practice Communion. Methodists believe in the Real Presence (that Christ's body and blood are actually present in the bread and wine) but they don't explain how. Transubstantiation is rejected. They use bread and grape juice for communion.
- Mankind has free will.
- Emphasis on social justice, helping the poor, opposing slavery, opposing child labor, etc.
- Churches range from a more Evangelical slant to a more historic Mainline slant.
- Abortion is discouraged, there are pro-life and pro-choice members. Generally abortions in the case of the mother's health are allowed. The church officially doesn't recognize putting legal restrictions on abortions.
- The Church opposes capital punishment, pornography, gambling, and war unless it is a last resort. However, the Church supports women's rights (including ordination) and stem cell research.
- Opinions vary on homosexuality which is debated within the Church. Currently, the church does not allow practicing homosexuals to be ordained, nor do they allow same-sex marriage.
So, what was Community United Methodist Church like?
The building is a pretty standard, modern church building with red brick. Honestly, it bears a strong resemblance to many Mormon churches in the area built in the 70's and 80's.
The interior had the feeling of an elementary school with its plain brick walls and ceramic tile floors. That feeling was enhanced by several cork boards on the wall with announcements and a few children's drawings of people strung together on string along the wall.
The chapel was pretty, and fairly typical of a Protestant chapel with a band playing contemporary music in the sanctuary, a table for communion against the wall, a large cross, a baptismal font, the most prominent piece being the pulpit. Behind the sanctuary was a large window allowing you to see outside to some lovely trees and the road.
Overall, fairly typical Protestant atmosphere. Nothing of great note. It was lovely and I enjoyed it.
The people were extremely friendly and personable. A lot of people went out their way to speak with us. One lady in the pew in front of us talked with us like we were old friends of hers. The pastor came over after the sermon and put his hand on our shoulders and talked to us. The kindness of a lot of these people didn't seem like an act. Most seemed genuine with it. The people of the congregation were white, but there were a few other minorities. The people were of various ages from elderly to small children and all ages between.
Overall, very friendly people. I enjoyed interacting with them very much.
The service was their contemporary service. The traditional service was just too early. The contemporary service was similar to an Evangelical service, the music was contemporary, though I have to say, the guitar playing and music quality overall was far superior to any I've seen in any Evangelical church on this journey. The lyrics on the other hand were just as hammy and full of the same tropes as Christian music tends to be filled with anymore.
It started with a welcome and everyone shaking hands and greeting each other with a sign of peace. Then it moved into a couple of songs, then they took up an offering and the pastor offered a prayer.
After that, there was another song and then the sermon.
After the sermon, they sang yet another song and we were dismissed with a blessing.
Very typical service. Not much to comment on.
The sermon was about the Body of Christ. Not the literal flesh and bone body of Jesus, but the mystical church body that is talked about in the New Testament. The pastor started by talking about his trip to Ephesus, where Paul's letter was directed. He talked a little bit about what the city was like at the time, then mentioned that we should go out and serve the Lord in our daily lives. He said that it's not enough to just sit in the church every week, that we needed to be out there doing the good work.
Now, considering he was talking about how it's a privilege to call yourself a Christian, and the overall tone of the sermon, I'm assuming he was talking mostly about evangelizing.
Then the sermon took an unintentionally creepy turn. He had a mock up of the Body of Christ next to the pulpit. This is what it looked like.
The picture doesn't capture how off putting this thing was. I'm sure it sounded like a lovely object lesson in theory. In execution, not so much. It is a frame with a cloak over it with the various offices that are the limbs of the Body of Christ, mittens and slippers with the initials of the church, a blinking light in the chest that shown through the fabric representing the heart, a face of Jesus put on top of it to represent Christ as the head of the Church. Just when I thought it was sort of creepy enough, the pastor lifted the cloak to show that the frame of it was a human skeleton (a fake one I'm assuming).
The sermon itself was a pretty plain Jane Christian sermon, but thanks to this object lesson, I'll probably never forget it.
Other than the creepy Jesus statue, this was a pretty middle of the road, non-confrontational version of Christianity. Honestly, it probably won't stick out in my memory, other than the Jesus figure, when I look back on this blog. It was a pleasant experience though.