I think first I should explain one thing. I am not visiting these churches to criticize them in any way. I am not a seminary student, I am not formally schooled in any religion, and in fact I am not tied to any particular denomination of my birth religion, Christianity. I am visiting these churches to see where I fit, where I can be of service, and where it is easiest for me to hear God speaking to me. (That alone sounds cringe-worthy, but I have been in churches where I definitely feel His presence and I feel him working through me-- that is what I'm searching for.)
I am not 'The Church Critic,' but I'll admit that I'm looking from a subjective viewpoint. I'll try to back up my feelings and thoughts with Scripture (or history) but this journey is a personal one. I'm not trying to sway a person towards or away from any one particular church. I'm just documenting my year, because so many people have said "I can't wait to hear how it goes".
So, now that I've said that, here is this week's visit--
Anyone who has lived here for more than 5 minutes has surely seen the bumper stickers. "It's All About Him," they proclaim, "At the Christian House of Prayer". On one roadside near to the Killeen location, there is a prominent billboard. Nicknamed "The Cathedral of Central Texas," this church has two locations plus a camp that holds a lot of activities. Looking on their website, there is a Federal Credit Union (?), a school, and many other ministries.
I knew that this would be a big congregation. Pulling up to the parking lot, I was ushered forward by no less than three parking attendants (wearing matching t-shirts), and greeted by bright smiles everywhere I turned. Somehow, despite the large numbers inside and outside the building, I did not feel overwhelmed or made to feel small as I have at other large churches. This is a primarily African-American church, and the most color I have is "freckle", but I never once felt like I was out of place. I was new, but not unwelcome. Everyone seemed happy to see anyone new.
Church started promptly (perhaps even a little early) with a prayer, and ushers keep late-comers from entering while everyone is praying. I will admit, from a purely personal standpoint, that I liked this a lot.
Once the music started, everyone is invited to find their seats and led to open areas by the rest of the ushers, red-blazered and white-gloved. The ushers also handed tissues to those who became emotional during the music or the message. Again, many warm smiles.
Music was lively, and the choir is the largest I have ever seen. To my amazement, there was an orchestra pit behind the pulpit! There were two ladies (in white, to be seen easily) who took turns doing ASL interpretation of both music and message. I had not heard the songs before, but I remember "He Is My Friend" and one song which left me humming "Forward" and idly wondering if that's where a certain political phrase came from.
Again, there was a professionally produced video explaining upcoming events and services. It mentioned Bishop Holcomb's upcoming birthday celebration; this man is beloved by his church, and the feeling is apparently mutual.
There was also an advertisement for a local business; I have also seen that business prominently displayed on the (video) sign outside the church and I am still not sure how this fits in with a church. Thanks to sponsors and donors, I understand...but this was a glossy advertisement.
Service was 2 hours long, but I didn't feel like that much time could have passed. The message was primarily about forgiveness. As a first-time guest, they gave me a free copy of that day's service which I'd happily loan anyone who was interested.
Mark 11:25, King James Version, was our verse for the day. 25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
What did I take away from the message? Unforgiveness keeps us from being able to fully accept blessing or even move forward. That's not entirely what the Bishop meant but that's what spoke to me personally. He broke down the Lord's prayer (and any prayer) into three parts-- Supplication (passion for what God wants), Prayer (request that God might want what we want, or request for our needs), and Intercession (Forgive us, and help us forgive others).
This is where I remind people that I am not a seminary student! I have heard the Lord's Prayer broken down like this once before (that minister referred to it as a prayer sandwich) but I am not perfectly remembered or understood it, even while taking notes.
Two things that he said really stuck with me. First, before you can get to the enemy, you have to take care of things at home. Forgiveness, and asking forgiveness, starts with the people you live with and love the very most. Second, there is a difference between "Criticism," or saying how someone is doing something wrong, and "Correction," where we show them what could be better. The last bit, I think, will be especially helpful to parents and teachers.
I will say that, despite the annoyance and wry humor at getting cut off in traffic by someone with an "It's All About Him" bumper sticker, some of the very nicest people I've ever had the pleasure of working with have hailed from this church. From what I've seen, they help a great number of people. They have The Refuge Corporation, an emergency homeless shelter for women and children, that I've personally recommended as part of a previous job. (Note: as of 7/19 the site was down but I'm sure that's temporary.) There is an energy and a joy in this congregation, and although I found myself wondering "why do they do this..or that..or this other thing," I'm sure there is a comfort for the group in being in such a large church. They even offer services for people who are leaving the area, which made this military spouse smile. I don't know if I would go back. The year is young.