Thursday, January 30, 2014

Off to watch those baptized in the Spirit

Last week's experience played quite a bit with my head. I had a few days of really missing the Catholic Church and everything about it. Then I stood back and remembered all the reasons I left the Church and the appeal flew gently out the window. I still miss the cultural aspects of it, but there's no way I could rejoin.

This week, I will be going to Hope Resurrected Church in Ogden, a Pentecostal church, part of the Pentecostal Church of God. I'm excited, this is my first time ever going to a Pentecostal service.

Their website doesn't give much in the way of what I should expect, though I'm hoping they speak in tongues during the service. I've wanted to see that phenomenon up close. According the their website, they're a relatively young church, originally meeting in a small building in West Ogden from 2009 until moving to their current location in Downtown Ogden in 2011. I've driven by their building a number of times. They have a large, very modern looking billboard as their church sign and their building is rather inconspicuous.

From their website, it seems that this community is heavily focused on community service and charity, which I love. I wish that were the emphasis of most Christian communities now instead of waging wars on morality or being giant country clubs where everyone can talk about how righteous or sinful people are.

I'm wondering what it will be like. I have a vision of what it will be like in my brain, but I've learned that my expectations are usually not what I think they will be. So, we'll see what it's truly like.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ite Missa est. Deo Gratia.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I went back to the Catholic Church this Sunday to check out a Mass. Was it the homecoming I was hoping for?


Nobody in the world can deny that out of all the churches out there, Catholics probably do atmosphere the best. St. Peter's Basilica, Notre Dame Cathedral, etc.

St. Joseph's has a very beautiful and traditional exterior:

The design is somewhere between Spanish Neo-Gothic and Spanish Neo-Romanesque. I managed to snap a pic of both a plaque on the building and of course, the church sign out in front:

But, like many Catholic churches, the inside is where the real beauty shines. Take a look at this side altar piece of St. Joseph:

And of course, check out the splendor of the high altar:

Of course, it wouldn't be a true masterpiece of a church without some stained glass windows, and St. Joseph's has plenty.

If you're wanting a church with stunning atmosphere, St. Joseph's is a good one to check out.

The People:

As I've come to expect from my years as a Catholic, Catholics can be a bit stand offish towards people who aren't regular members of the parish. Nobody came and introduced themselves to us really. The ladies at the bookstore were friendly as was the priest.

I think a lot this has to do with how Catholics are when they enter a church. Typically, they don't enter and socialize before hand, they go to the chapel and start praying. This I think lends itself to the culture of not really engaging others who come in when entering a church. This, however, does change when you become part of the parish.

The Service:

The Mass is the same as ever. The priest, deacon, and those helping with the Mass processing down the aisle towards the altar; readings from scriptures; prayers back and forth between the congregation and the priest; lots of formal ceremony; chalices and hosts being raised over the altar. No incense though. I love incense. I wish they were used more often in Mass.

The choir was beautiful. They sang acapella from the balcony in the back of the church and their voices echoed throughout the church. Beautiful acoustics in these old churches. The hymns were traditional and gorgeous. I love traditional melodies, though I have to admit, guitar masses do hold a dear place in my heart.

The Message:

The homily (sermon) was given this week by the deacon. He was from Texas as his accent and opening lines gave away. His message was a simple one, that we often expect greatness or divinity to be in some dazzling show or amazing feat. But that it's often in the filth, the grime, the weakest among us that we see greatness truly manifest itself. I actually really loved this message. At the end, he said we would never see God until we learned to see him in those we despise and the lowliest among us.

Overall, it was a message about non-judgment and of seeing beauty where we don't normally want to. Both messages I can get behind.

Overall Experience:

This service reminded me of exactly what I miss about the Catholic Church and why I even joined it in the first place. It was such a moving service. I honestly haven't been to a church service that lovely in a very long time. It was very moving and stirred up a lot of complicated emotions inside me. I felt myself torn wishing I could still be part of this church which spans 2 millennia and in many ways still makes me feel connected to parts of myself nothing else seems to, and my rational mind saying, "You know you could never swallow this and you would never truly be happy here. It would be just like last time."

And so it must be. I will remain a cultural Catholic and a fervent non-believer who could never call themselves Catholic again. It's a complicated duality inside myself. I wish I could explain it better.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Heading home, so to speak.

Well, after last Sunday's adventure to Berean Baptist Church, I decided I wanted to go to something familiar. So, I have decided to go to a Catholic Mass. The parish I have chosen is St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Ogden. St. Joseph's is a traditional, Spanish Neo-Gothic church that is quite beautiful inside and out. (Yes, I have been there before.) You can't miss St. Joseph's Church if you're in Ogden. Next to the LDS Temple in Ogden, it's the most prominent religious building, being both massive and on a hill.

There isn't really a "Who are we?" section of their website, at least that I can find, so I'll talk generally about the Catholic Church. I used to be Roman Catholic. For those of you who don't know me too well, my religious background is a colorful one, but I have officially belonged to two churches in my lifetime: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as the Mormons or LDS) and the Roman Catholic Church. I was raised LDS but left that church mentally at age 17 and publicly at age 18. I have spent some time with a few other religious bodies, including the Greek Orthodox Church and the Episcopal Church, but it was the Catholic Church that proved to be my religious home as a young adult.

What is there to say about the Catholic Church that most people wouldn't know? I suppose I'll just state some basics:

1. It is the largest religious sect in the world, and the largest religious sect in all of human history with currently over a billion members worldwide. For those of you playing the numbers game, that's roughly 1/7th of the world's population that belongs to this one church.

2. The Catholic Church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, commonly called the Pope. Currently, Pope Francis holds this position. Catholics believe the Pope is the successor to the priesthood authority of St. Peter whom they believe was head of the apostles and Christ's representative on earth. The Church also teaches that in matters of doctrine, when the pope is speaking for the entire Church in special circumstances he is infallible.

3. The Catholic Church, along with a few other churches, can claim to be the oldest continuously practiced Christian church on earth with roots of it going back to the earliest days of Christianity, and major developments in it's formation happening in the 4th through 11th centuries.

4. The central act of worship, and what they consider to be the highest, is the ceremony of the Mass. In this ceremony, passages from the Bible are read and a sermon is given. The central act of this ceremony; however, is the consecration of bread and wine, which Catholics believe is transformed into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ to be fed to them for spiritual nourishment.

I have to admit, I'm sort of excited to go back to the Catholic Church. Though it's not the church of my childhood, I feel like it is the church that had the most impact on the person that I became in adulthood. For a time, I considered joining the priesthood and I still in many ways have a strong cultural connection to the Church. I do not believe in any of the Church's dogma nor any of the superstitions that go along with it. However, the cultural elements of the Church still draw me in.

I will let you all know how it goes.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Sunday I won't soon be forgetting

Berean Baptist Church. My friend Austin and I headed there this morning. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I wasn't really looking forward to this one. So, was I right to be apprehensive, or was I wrong?


The outside of Berean Baptist Church is quaint and overall quite charming, as you will see in this picture.

And of course, snapped a pic of myself in front of the sign.

The inside I didn't get a chance to snap a picture of because the people were having a Bible study session right before the service. But the inside was what I expected, it was simple, whitewashed walls, simple geometric patterns, wooden pulpit, not much frills. In fact, the only decoration of the chapel at all was a flower arrangement on the communion table which was set up just before the pulpit. (No communion this Sunday). There were windows with open blinds along either side of the walls illuminating the room in a lovely glow of natural light. It reminded me a lot of the LDS chapels of my childhood. Beautiful chapel in its simplicity.

The People:

The people were very warm and welcoming. When we first came in, there was an usher who gave us a goody bag. It had information on the church, a guest card to fill out, and even two pieces of Dove chocolate at the bottom all tied up with a pretty blue bow. All churches should have goody bags for visitors! After the Bible study session, practically every member of the congregation came up and introduced themselves to us, some asking questions. I didn't feel anyone judging us or sizing us up. It all seemed very warm and genuine.

The Service:

The service started out beautifully with the choir coming up either sides of the church and filing up in the pulpit. The hymns were, as expected, extremely traditional. I recognized one as an old Church of England hymn, but for the life of me, I can't remember what it was. Then the pastor led the congregation in a simple prayer. Afterward another hymn, then another. Then the pastor gave a message on holding grudges and how bitterness harms somebody, but it's not the person we intend to harm, it's ourselves. I thought that was a lovely message. Afterward, he asked the congregation to call to mind their sins, then they sang another hymn, and then another, and then another, and then another. I lost count of how many hymns they sang, but it was way too many. They were all pretty, but they got old after a while. The choir all went back down and a man stood up and sang a solo about the crucifixion of Jesus. Finally the hymns stopped and the sermon began.

And that's where it turned.

The Message:

The reading was from the Book of Romans. It was about grace and salvation. A popular topic among Baptists. I was fine with it at first. Then he started going on about sins. He brought up that questioning church authority was a sin. Then he railed against fornication. I knew he'd be less than positive on sex, but the way it was framed made it sound as though all men were were predators waiting to take advantage of women and steal everything from them they could, and that all women were were potential victims, and that marriage somehow protected them from this problem. All of this was sort of expected, but nothing prepared me for the weirdness that followed. The pastor mentioned that the word used in the scripture was 'slave' and mentioned how cruel Romans were to slaves and that slaves don't have any will of their own. He then said that we can either be slaves to God or slaves to the lusts of our hearts, but either way everybody was a slave. He then looked at the black people in the room and said that this might be a hard thing to hear, but the Bible is harsh and doesn't look kindly on man. He said that we can either be slaves with a bad master whom it's impossible to live up to their standards (i.e., sin) or to a good master who will help us. He actually began to frame slavery as a good thing if the master is kind. It's okay for you not to have your own will, as long as the master helps you out in your servitude to him. In fact, it's a joy to serve your master. He then said that the slavery was different under a kind master. That the shackle around your neck as a slave to sin was a burden, but the same shackle around your neck in Christ was an ornament. The first thing that honestly ran through my mind when he said that was "Martha Stewart presents slavery." I honestly had a vision of Martha Stewart decorating a shackle around someone's neck and portraying it as a positive thing. No sooner had I thought this than the pastor actually quoted Martha Stewart's catch phrase, "It's a good thing." I almost couldn't contain my laughter at that moment.

Afterward, there was the traditional altar call, where people come up to the altar if they feel they need to and ask God for forgiveness while someone plays piano. Then a closing prayer, and the service ended.

Overall Experience:

I didn't enjoy this church experience. The level of guilt, shame, and fear that I heard come out of the pulpit was a major turn off for me. Multiple times during the service, the pastor said that there was nothing good about man, that we're incapable of good, that we're nothing without divine help, etc. I heard one woman actually say out loud to her teenage son as the fornication part was being shouted, "Are you paying attention?" when he had clearly been paying attention. The attitude of the church reeked of spiritual abuse at its finest.

I'm glad that I had this experience, because this church is representative of a number of US churches and they are part of the religious landscape and a loud voice of religious dialogue in the US. Seeing them up close, the congregation is certainly a group of people who truly believe these things and feel that they are trying their best to do what they thing is right and what is wanted of them. I couldn't help but feel pity for the children, and indeed many adults who grow up in this environment where they are fed guilt and shame and that they are mere slaves with no will of their own. How do you come back from that especially in a group that promotes separation from anything worldly that it disapproves of?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Going to meet the faithful of Berean Baptist Church

This Sunday, I've chosen to go to Berean Baptist Church in Ogden. Berean Baptist Church is a local, independent church that is proudly fundamentalist and King James only.

According to their website, they hold to very traditional Baptist beliefs: the Trinity, salvation through faith alone, membership only for the saved, communion only for members of that particular church (though they will allow people to come to communion occasionally who are from similar Baptists faiths upon review), adult baptism by total immersion, etc.

What I find most interesting is their doctrine of separation. They must be a separate and independent Baptist body free from any outside influence; believe in separation of church and state (I'm behind this one); and most shocking to me, separation from the world. To quote their webpage: "No financial support is to be given to work or workers whose doctrinal positions are not in keeping with the preamble and statement of faith of this constitution." They also will not associate with any church that is not in line with their beliefs. I'm assuming this doctrine of separation is why they run a K-12 school, though I have no proof of this. It does seem to be a logical conclusion given the evidence.

From their webpage, it seems that I'm in for a starker form of worship than my previous experiences. They are proud of the fact that their worship is plain and doesn't cater to what they feel are worldly gimmicks and trends in worship: modern music, ornate ritual, etc. Instead what it appears I'm in for is a traditional hymn or two, a couple prayers, and a long sermon where they, "dig into God's word."

Not looking forward to this one people. Not sure how I'll be received, but hopefully it all goes over very well.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Epiphany at St. Paul's Lutheran Church

St. Paul's Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is located next door to my apartment complex. This week, I was accompanied by my friend, Austin. As we entered the church, I saw the Christmas decorations were up and remembered that it was Epiphany Sunday. For that reason alone, I'm glad that I didn't end up at Berean Baptist this weekend. It's always nice to show up for a holiday unexpectedly at a church. I'm trying something different with this blog. To give things more structure, I'm breaking things down into categories. Each week, I will talk about the atmosphere of the church, temple, synagogue, etc.; the service or activity; the people I encountered; the message given; and my overall impression.


St. Paul's Lutheran does atmosphere well. It's a lovely little chapel with whitewashed walls, a simple, yet elegantly traditional altar, and gorgeous stained glass windows. Again, since it was Epiphany Sunday, the Christmas decorations were still up. For those of you who aren't familiar with Epiphany, in churches with a strong liturgical background, the year is divided up into seasons. 4 weeks before Christmas is a season called Advent. This is sort of the pre-Christmas season and is a season focused on hope. December 25th is Christmas Day which begins the 12 days of Christmas. These end on January 5th in a celebration called the 12th Night. The day after is the Feast of Epiphany which celebrates either the Wise Men finding the Christ Child or the Baptism of Jesus. In most churches, the Sunday after Epiphany is the day that they celebrate Epiphany. Because of it's heavy ties to Christmas, most churches leave up the Christmas decorations until Epiphany Sunday. St. Paul's is no exception.


The service was much what I thought it was going to be, catholic ceremony with a strong Protestant lean to it. For example, there was no procession with candles and a cross from the back of the church to the front. The pastor and those assisting him at the altar just sort of came out. The pastor gave a little story about harsh winters he had experienced and how they related to the winters here before beginning the service. There was far more emphasis on hymns and the scripture readings than I'm used to in Catholic services. Fitting since Martin Luther heavily emphasized the Bible over the pomp and ceremony of the Catholic Church.

The communion portion of the service was quite beautiful, and quite short. I liked how short it was and that I wasn't on my knees. Anyone who has been Catholic knows that the long winded communion prayers and kneeling uncomfortably in the pews makes for some excruciating endurance at Mass. My only real complaint was the music got a bit monotonous for my tastes.

The People:

The second we walked in, a lovely woman came up and introduced herself, asked if we were visiting for the first time, then proceeded to take us into the sanctuary, tell us about the stained glass windows inside, introduce us to the usher, and made me feel quite welcome. Aside from her and the usher, nobody really came and talked to us. However, I didn't feel like anyone looked at us like we were intruding. In fact, I felt quite the opposite. There was a warm and loving atmosphere to the whole thing. One of the ushers even waved us up to go to communion when it was time. I respectfully declined the offer, but I liked that she did extend it to us. In general, they seemed like very kind people who genuinely believed in their church and message.


Here's where the church sort of lost me. The message was about baptism. The pastor mostly talked about the destructive powers of water. He related it to how the waters of baptism kill the sinful man within us and regenerate us in Christ's grace. Now, I'm not going to go into a discussion on how I feel about baptism, because I'm sure many of you can figure that out. But what did get me was how he talked about the Noah story and the Exodus story. He talked about God destroying the entire earth because they were wicked and then talked about God sending the plagues on Egypt, particularly the plague that killed all the firstborn in Egypt.

Here is one of my major problems with Christianity, you have a religion which claims to be about peace, hope, forgiveness, and love with a God who is supposedly loving, the scriptures even talk about God being love. Yet you have that same God consistently orders the murder and destruction of entire civilizations and personally participates in the ruin of many of them often for finite crimes. I'm aware of the argument that this God is supposedly perfectly just as well, but is it just to murder thousands of children for crimes their parents committed (or in many cases crimes their civil leaders ONLY committed). But what I find more disturbing is how many churches or people speaking on these topics will completely gloss over this fact. Often even celebrate it as a triumph of God's power. I just don't understand how you can gloss over or celebrate the destruction of thousands of people, many of them innocent of crimes, and not question it. Not have it bother you at your core.

To be fair, I do know Christians who confront this sort of thing head on, but in my experience, I feel that a huge problem with Christianity today is that the majority of American Christians don't want to deal with any of the uncomfortable aspects of their faith, and just want the religious experience on Sunday without having to delve too deeply into the actual meaning and consequences of their beliefs. They want easily digestible pieces of the Gospel to take with them throughout the week to uplift them and nothing more.

Overall Experience:

Overall, I rather enjoyed my time at St. Paul's. It was quite a beautiful service. It was very peaceful and loving with a congregation that obviously loved their tradition and heritage. The Lutheran service was a brilliant mixture of its catholic and evangelical traditions, both of which I felt were equally important to their identity. I would go back again just to experience the peace and joy in the congregation.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Look out Lutherans

Tomorrow morning, I will be heading to St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. I was going to go to the ultra-conservative, Berean Baptist Church, but a friend who's out of town wants to join me there. So, I will be blogging about them some other time.

I am excited about this one mostly because I've never gone to a Lutheran service. I know I should expect basically the same thing I see in a Catholic Mass, but I'm curious to see differences as well.

And now for some things specifically about the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod: The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is a conservative and fairly traditional branch of the Lutheran Church. Obviously, they have their roots in the Protestant Reformation, particularly with Martin Luther. They stress the teachings of Martin Luther quite heavily and oppose modernist trends in other branches of the Lutheran Church (See my upcoming blog on the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, ELCA for more on that one). As such, they do not ordain women, oppose homosexuality (fun for me), teach creationism and deny evolution (America, we need to get over this, seriously!), and teach that Jesus is the only way to salvation. The Church does not allow its members to partake in communion in any church other than theirs or a Lutheran Church that they are in fellowship with and they don't allow non-members or those not in communion with their church to take communion.

Lutherans do have a rich history, and I'm curious to see what it looks like in practice. The Church I am attending looks like it will have many elements of this tradition. They have an eastward facing chapel with stained glass windows. The grounds of the church are kept immaculate year round, a stunning feat considering that they have an elementary school on their premises.

From their website, I get the impression this congregation in particular is proud of their tradition and sees any watering down of it to be an offense to it. In a way, this seems to sum up the clash between tradition and modernity we see in our culture. I'm hoping I see concrete examples of this in the service tomorrow.

Until then, have a happy Saturday. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The United Church of Christ

In all, this was quite a lovely morning. This church is across the street from my apartment complex hidden down a little path that goes right up a hill. The church is a Frank Loyd Wright inspired building, white brick and modern looking set against a grove of trees.

Inside the building, there's a small hallway leading into the chapel. The chapel is cruciform with the pulpit standing at the front which also happens to be a corner with how the building is laid out. The ceilings are white and vaulted in the shape of a cross and walls covered in rock work. Christmas decorations were still left up (12 days of Christmas end tonight).

The atmosphere was very welcoming. I've never seen a more friendly group of people in my life. I think at some point, every single person there came over and introduced themselves to me. The congregation was primarily made up of senior citizens, though there was a younger crowd which all sat together composed of teenagers and young adults. As far as style, people were dressed in everything from suits to punk rock, which I found refreshing.

The service was pretty laid back. It was structured similarly to a Catholic Mass, but with some noted differences and a much stronger sense of informality. The hymns were lovely and traditional. They sang one that I used to love to sing when I was Catholic, "Christ Be Our Light."

The readings were done in a dramatic way, with the pastor and a couple members of the congregation playing different roles from the story, and between parts of the reading, hymns were sung.

The sermon was lovely, given by a pastor who is openly gay and seems like a genuinely kind man. His sermon was on the good and the bad of the world. How though we face real problems with violence, war, famine, climate change, etc; there is still much good in the world including a lowering of crime for the past several decades, lowered HIV infections worldwide the past couple decades, rising literacy rates and standards of living in many countries. It was nice to hear about hope in a world filled with such pessimism.

Communion was simple, essentially French bread that congregants dipped in either wine or grape juice and the blessing over the communion elements was done by both the pastor and the congregation, which I felt added warmth to the ceremony.

At the very end, the congregation gathered around the perimeter of the chapel and sang a hymn of friendship and peace before everyone greeted one another with a handshake and a wish of peace.

Afterward, the coffee hour was nice, chicken salad sandwiches and fruit salad were served and I sat at a table listening to the members wax on poetically about how beautiful it was that Utah now has legalized gay marriage and how repulsed they were at the backlash on the issue.

In all, it was a great experience. I would go back. Lovely people, lovely service, lovely bit of hope in a dark world.

Introduction and the first church

My name is Chad, if you don't already know that. I'm using this blog to track my 2014 New Year's resolution. My resolution is simple: visit a different church, temple, religious meeting, or spiritual meetup every week in the year 2014 and blog about it. 52 religions in 52 weeks.


1. No criticizing the doctrines of the group. As many of you know, I don't hold any belief in any religious dogma or doctrine. Therefore, going and criticizing such things would simply be childish. I will write about general beliefs if I find them fascinating. Churches' social positions and political leanings are fair game.

2. No duplication of denominations. I want this to be as diverse a group of religious gatherings as I can find. This means I want faiths that are fundamentalist, progressive, high church, low church, traditional, contemporary, etc. This rule doesn't apply to denominations that are distinct from one another in the same faith tradition. For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod are both from the Lutheran faith tradition, but in practice are quite different churches.

3. I am to try my best to blend into the congregations and not make a scene. This means keeping my mouth shut, not rolling my eyes, and just observing. I'm there to learn. Respect is key to any true dialogue.

4. Blogs should be up every week 2 times a week. 1 blog should be posted the day I attend just before leaving detailing my research on the religious group I will be attending. Another blog will be posted after attending the service.

Those rules, having been established, let's talk about my first church of 2014: The United Church of Christ (Congregational) in Ogden.

In doing a bit of research on this denomination, I have found that they are a Mainline Protestant church with a very long history. The Church is a union of 2 churches back in 1957: The Evangelical and Reformed Church, and the Congregational Christian Church. These churches themselves were results of previous church mergers among various Congregationalist churches which trace their roots to the Puritans.

Theologically, the group categorizes themselves as Progressive Christians. This means they tend to favor diversity of opinion and religious discussion.

The congregation I'll be attending this morning is literally across the street from my house with an informal (according to their website) worship service at 11. It is the first Sunday of the month, which according to their website, means that it's a communion service today.

I will let you know how this all goes in my next blog.