There are over 45,000 church denominations worldwide.* Here in America, we have 33,000.* Within the denomination of my childhood, there are 44 different branches. I have no idea why we got chopped up into so many pieces.
When I was a kid, I went to a little Methodist church in a small midwestern town. It wasn’t a mega-church, or a seeker-friendly church, or a church with a cool name. The pastor wasn’t exactly dynamic. We sang hymns and prayed The Lord’s Prayer together. Nobody was concerned with cultural trends or the latest technology or staying relevant. We were as common as they come.
All I knew was that I loved going to Sunday school, where I put a sticker on the attendance chart every week. I enjoyed singing while Mrs. B exuberantly pounded out “The B-I-B-L-E” on the old upright piano. I adored Blondie, my teacher, who always gave out Juicy Fruit gum. I liked sitting with my parents on the red padded pews in the sanctuary. I drew pictures on the bulletin, played with the veins in mom’s hands, and elbowed dad when he started to nod off. Somehow, despite the ordinariness of that quotidian congregation, I learned to love Jesus and my Bible.
While PB and I were driving through North Carolina last month, something caught my eye. It made me laugh out loud and I told PB to turn around. Then I felt a little longing rise up inside.
Sometimes I just want an old, regular church that leads me to Canaan’s Shore. Yep, give me an old, regular church with humble worship and good ol’ gospel preaching.
When you’ve been waiting a long time for something, and that something finally arrives, there is a sweet moment when all you can do and all you want to do is exhale, smile and say “thank you”. I get that moment every year when the Christmas Eve service begins. All the craziness of the season falls away and holiness finds a place, at last, in my heart. This is what I’ve been waiting for.
A silent night, a holy night, calmness and brightness, heavenly peace.
The man I love stands before the hundreds gathered and welcomes them into the presence of God. The choir invites us, “Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King.” My 5-year-old friend sits beside me at the piano — her wispy angel-voice floats through the darkened sanctuary. “Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay…” and we are drawn so near by her sweet song. The praise band takes up guitars and drums to announce, “We are no longer lost, for He has come down for us. We have a Savior!” A teenage boy reads Luke 2, reminding us of his dear grandpa who read the passage last year, but is experiencing Christmas in heaven this year. PB sits in the rocking chair and tells us a story — no preaching, no expounding on scriptures this night. Instead, a simple story that touches our hearts and a prayer that says all we wish we could express.
Finally, the moment arrives. We take our candles and pass the flame down the pew. One by one, row upon row, the lights flicker in the darkness, wrapping warmth around each person. I look at the glowing faces next to me, and remember when they were babies, children, teens — now adults. “With the angels let us sing Alleluia to our King…” And I’m singing with angels.