on the nature of churches

MexicanRestaurantSome years ago my hair stylist made the comment that all the churches in town are alike. I thought that a rather odd comment, and I knew then and know now it not to be true. To visit Gilroy United Methodist Church vs. Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, vs. South Valley Community Church vs. Gilroy Presbyterian Church is to have very different experiences. I scratch my head than someone would think otherwise.

But I saw a similar comment recently from a clergyperson I respect, Boston-area Unitarian minister Victoria Weinstein, aka PeaceBang. Her thought process was started by a visit to a local family-owned restaurant. She writes:

I went to get dinner at a little neighborhood Mexican restaurant without thinking of it as a “Mexican” restaurant. I was hungry, and this place is like stopping at a family member’s house for dinner. They’re glad to see you but they don’t get all big deal about it. You sit in the kitcheny living roomy space and wait patiently while dad or mom or sister or grandma cooks up your food, and it’s going to take awhile. The decor isn’t really decor so much as Things We Have On The Walls Because We Like Them, like a big Jesus poster with a prayer in Spanish. For some reason I never thought of it being specifically Mexican food until I got home with it.

I love that image, and we all enjoy supporting such places. But this led her to a conclusion with which I don’t agree:

It made me think about churches that obsess about branding and denominational identity. I think that people need to be able to go to their neighborhood church and just be fed.

I really don’t believe it works that way.

Some people love being part of charismatic churches where the congregation sings praise songs with hands raised in the air. For myself, I find that uncomfortable, bordering upon creepy. But this works for many people. For many, the Methodist routine of a set order of service with hymns, scripture readings, a choir anthem, and a sermon works very well.

Episcopal worship includes all of the above, but also includes Communion. You know how important that is to me. But a friend of mine and her husband attend the Methodist church in the town up the road. Most Methodist churches have Communion once a quarter. Way too infrequently for me. But she and her husband are part of the recovery community and the husband simply skips church on those Sundays.

Different things work for different people. A church is not like a neighborhood polling place or even a neighborhood family-owned restaurant. One size does not fit all.

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