I finally found a church that works for me. It’s a Loosely Structured Lutheran called Journey of Life – ever after to be referred to as JOL. Some people wouldn’t consider it a church at all, because there’s not a pew, stained glass window or hymnal in sight. We gather in a grade school cafeteria, sit on molded plastic chairs and read the service from a large screen with computerized text.
Our organ is a violin, two guitars and a set of drums. Pastor John plays one of the guitars. Sometimes other people join in with flutes. The words to the hymns are on the screen, which is great until I sit behind a tall person. If we sang traditional hymns, that wouldn’t matter at all because I have 98 percent of them memorized. (Inevitable after going to church since I was an infant.) Instead, we sing contemporary Christian music. That means there are one or two verses and you repeat the last line at least a dozen times. I like some of the songs, but it’s nice when occasionally we regress to “Rock of Age” and “Amazing Grace.” Then it doesn’t matter whom I’m sitting behind.
I suppose I could sing the old hymns if I attended a traditional Lutheran church. The kind where you look out over a sea of gray hair, but one of the things I like about JOL is the mix of ages from newborn to me. And I’m getting used to the casualness. There are as many jeans as there are slacks, and dresses and suits are close to nonexistent. I used to think that dressing up for church showed respect, but now I’m pretty sure that God just wants us to show up on Sunday. Pantyhose optional.
Some people probably show up to find out what kind of snacks there’ll be on the table with the Keurig coffee maker. The one-cup kind that always makes me smile when I remember a church we used to attend in Michigan. There was an old woman named Lydia who took command of the kitchen and insisted on making the coffee each Sunday. (Lutherans pretty much live on coffee.) Lydia made terrible coffee. So weak it almost wasn’t brown. But Lutherans aren’t confrontational except for that one little incident with the Ninety Five Theses, a door and some nails. So we just drank the coffee and smiled. The coffee at that church probably improved immensely when Lydia went up to the Big Kitchen in the Sky.
One of the things I like about JOL is Pastor John’s announcements that visitors shouldn’t feel obliged to give an offering and that anyone can take communion if they believe that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ. He also explains how communion is offered (he handles the bread end of it and there are cups from which you sip or dip.) That’s one of things that always causes me a little anxiety when we travel and visit other churches. Everyone seems to have a different way of giving communion, so I watch closely before my turn comes around. (One of the side effects of emphysema is stressing out over things that should be nonconsequential.)
Another thing I really like at JOL is that Pastor John isn’t a preacher. He’s a teacher. The kind that you used to wish taught more than one subject when you were in college. His sermons give you something to think about when you leave church. And that something isn’t about burning in hell or having to do good deeds to be saved. Right now we’re on a series of psalms. And I have the feeling that we’ll never look at them in the same way once he gets done with them.
Anyway, despite the plastic chairs and the music that can get a little repetitious at times, I feel as though JOL and I are a good fit. And that’s comforting after going for years feeling as though I was just an outside observer.