Saturday, September 8, 2012

Spirit of Service

I'll begin this post by saying I'd never been to a Methodist church before. I had been attending Financial Peace University classes at First United Methodist Church, Killeen, after many months of watching the construction of these amazing buildings on the hill.  Visiting a church to attend a class is far different from attending services, because you usually meet the members who are deeply involved when you go to the class, versus the congregation as a whole.  You also don't have a sense of the overall mission of the church when you are attending a class.

When I looked up the available service times, I noticed that there were three Sunday morning services-- Heritage, Praise, and Traditions.   I was interested in the Heritage sermon, figuring that it was probably the most old-fashioned of the three, but the early-morning time was beyond my sleep-desperate self.  I ended up choosing the Traditions service time, and the full church bulletin that I received did a wonderful job of laying out the order of service for all three choices.

I don't know if what I experienced is the usual for Methodist services.  I will say that it was the most amazing blend of formality and warmth, tradition and accessibility that I have seen so far.  My closest comparison was a formal Catholic Mass that was held on Christmas Eve, which included incense and a choral group.  FUMC Killeen has a full chancel choir, which although technically just means that the choir performs in a certain section of the church, is a formal blending of voices in traditional hymns and harmonies.  They wore full, formal choir gowns, and began the service by lifting their voices at the back of the sanctuary.  The young man who had, with his wife, helped lead the Financial Peace classes, was at the front of the church in a formal robes.  The Senior Pastor of the church was also there, but I was glad to recognize a familiar face in the Associate Pastor.

Candles were lit, an organ played, and Communion was laid on the altar and then covered by white cloth.  I felt like a feast was being arranged for welcomed guests.  I told a lady in my pew that I had not been to a Methodist service before and could I follow her lead? I have done this in the past when invited to Catholic services, and it works well.   People are generally very eager to help someone feel at ease.

Pastor McMinn took on one of the hotbutton sermons-- The verses begin, generally, with "wives, submit to your husbands," and then the arguments begin.

1 Peter 3:1-12 reads:  Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

Pastor McMinn spoke of the slight subversion that this instruction intends-- It was unheard-of in a world where a woman was considered a slave or a servant, where a wife was less than an equal, and where the husband decided what god the household would worship, for her to believe in God and to continue believing in Him and by her actions to convince her husband to also believe.  He spoke of the gentleness that men were intended to show their wives, that God is intended to be a strong part of marriages, and that the submission needs to be on both sides.  The give and take of marriage, the negotiation and reconciliation of marriage, is something that can be a teaching tool for our children and help them as they grow.  He spoke not of a woman underneath her husband's thumb, nor of the husband's ultimate authority, but of submission as a give and take balancing act between a husband and wife.  This is a tough sermon because in modern times, women do not like to hear that they are the weaker sex and we sure don't like being told that our partner is supposed to have any kind of control.   

Perhaps the most important note he gave us was reminding us of a later verse, Ephesians 5:21-- 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Communion was a little different from what I grew up with in Baptist churches, but all were welcome to partake.  There was a prayer of confession by the entire congregation and a welcoming to the Lord's Supper.   Each step of the service was detailed by the church bulletin, for which I was deeply grateful.  Certain parts of the service were designed to be read by the Pastor, with an answering by the congregation, but those were clearly outlined on the screens.  While it was a very new experience, I did not feel totally lost.  

Overall there was a sense that the congregation was called to serve others.  Small kindnesses, lots of hugs and smiles, and a congregational prayer of service (which I wish I had written down)-- this is a church that seeks to go out and make a difference.  Every time I see something like this, it makes a difference in me.

This is not the choir at FUMC Killeen, but you get the idea.  

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