This classic, lovely, white church in the country reminds me one of the churches my grandfather, Hans Olaf Mosby, served near Frost, Minnesota. Though the church I attend looks nothing like this one, I do love going to church on Sunday morning. And, I love that my church is rather small as congregations go.
You see, I have belonged to the church I currently attend for much of my life. My parents helped start the church when I was 11 years old. We met in an older existing church building in the Hartford area of Lake Stevens in those days. Whenever the church doors were open for some function, our family was almost always there, be it Sunday services, special meetings, potlucks, Bible Study, or Youth Group. Eventually, we got a dynamic young pastor and his wife and the congregation outgrew that building and built the existing sanctuary near Lake Stevens High School. Other than my college years and a 5 year stint in Anchorage, AK, I have been a member of this church.
The size of our congregation has gone up and down several times over the years, as many more churches have opened in our area. Why do I love this small body of believers, you might ask? My first thought calls to mind the theme song from Cheers...(yes, I know it was a bar!!!)...
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came,
You want to be where you can see our troubles are all the same,
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
There is something very right and comforting to walk in and know the greeters and ushers by name...to know their families...to know what they do for a living...to know a little of their history...and maybe even know a little about what troubles or sorrows they've had...and the joys they've experienced. The relationships we have formed there have been some of the richest in my life. When my parents died as the result of a car accident, our congregation rallied around us, supplying meals, organizing choral music, and providing a lovely buffet of food for the reception after the packed memorial service. The love and care we received was wonderful....we felt so supported. Our current pastor has come alongside us in times of trials, offering prayer and godly counsel.
During my college years in St.Paul/Mpls, I attended quite a few churches, several of them quite large. I grabbed rides with friends to attend People's church, which met in a large theater. Sometimes we went to the inner city and attended a large, diverse Baptist church with an amazing choir. Other times I caught one of the buses sent out by large churches to give college students rides. I do admit that once in a while, I slept in, only to find one of my friends kneeling at my bedside singing, "Sinner, do you love my Jesus?!!" Attending church services on Sunday mornings was ingrained in me from my parents and I rarely missed. Though I enjoyed the buzz and vibe of worshiping in a large congregation sometimes, I just never really felt at home there.
When my husband and I moved to Anchorage, we began searching for a church our first Sunday. After visiting several different churches of various sizes and denominations, we decided to visit at church that a friend of my sister-in-law had mentioned to us. We walked in that Sunday and were warmly welcomed by the Pastor's wife, Marilyn. She immediately introduced us to another young couple walking in. As we sat in the sanctuary, I recognized a couple who had attended the same college I attended in Minnesota. After the service, we were invited home to dinner by a middle aged couple. Not really knowing anyone in Anchorage, we went and had a great time...tasted and enjoyed moose meat for the first time! We felt so at home and welcomed by this church that we decided to attend choir practice that night and surprised everyone there that we came on our first Sunday! And when we were in a serious car accident just two months later on the Alaska/Canadian highway, guess who rallied to help us, a day's drive away? Yep, the folks from our new church who barely knew us.
Now, I don't have anything against large churches....we simply have chosen to worship in smaller congregations. I have had friends who liked the anonymity of attending a large church, slipping in and out. One friend was going through a difficult divorce and didn't want to go "where everybody knows your name." Larger churches often have amazing music, an abundance of programs and worship options, and a large staff to support all these ministries. Of course, the most important thing is that the God' Word is carefully and truthfully taught, no matter where you attend. Yet, I love the family feeling and sense of connection that a smaller church provides.
One of my favorite authors is Eugene Peterson, yes, the guy who wrote The Message Bible. I read a book he wrote, called The Wisdom of Each Other. This book is a bit like the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, except in this case, Eugene plays the role of the more seasoned Christian writing letters to a man his own age, but new to faith. One letter said,
Dear Gunnar, So, your friends are trying to turn you into a religious consumer, are they, inviting you to their wonderful churches where so much exciting stuff is going on? I would resist it. You're better off sticking with what you started out with at your Christian re-entry--the "smallest and nearest church." It's still my standard counsel in churchgoing. Of course, I admit exceptions, but not for the reasons your friends are setting out. Those several dozen phlegmatic Norwegians, dozing under the liturgical inexpertness of your young pastor, are as good company as any with whom to listen to God's word and worship his holy name. Where did all this frenzy in "looking for a good church" get started, anyway? Certainly not from any passion for holy obedience among the "least of these my brethren." This church-shopping mentality, where we expect to find a flavor to suit every taste, is spiritually destructive. I don't see any good coming out of church worship that caters to our taste in worship. The peace of our Lord, Eugene.
Strong words, from Eugene Peterson...yet sadly, so true, in our culture where believers hop from church to church, looking for the "best" worship experience. I guess all I'm trying to say is, wherever you choose to go to church, commit to it, get to know the people who attend there, support your pastor, and keep your focus on worshiping God. You will be deeply blessed!
Elim Lutheran Church, my home church