A couple of Sundays ago, I decided to visit a church that is next door to another one I've visited a few times. Westside Baptist Church is tucked back in next to some trees, with a much older parsonage-looking building in front of it. They call themselves "an oasis of light in a darkened world". Sounded good to me, and off I went.
So far, I have been to five (or is it six?) different churches that have specifically called themselves Baptist. One was much like the churches I grew up in, with traditional hymns and accompanying organ music. One was a more modern-feeling service, but still had the older pews and the kind of quiet and formal familiarity. Another one preached a bit of fire and brimstone and abstaining from any and all alcohol, while people were friendly and open with one another. Perhaps a missionary Baptist is a different type of denomination, but that visit was full-on gospel and ushers with white gloves.
Is it any wonder, then, that I no longer know what to expect of any church I enter?
If anyone local wonders about Westside, Baptist Church, I can tell them that it is the full-gospel, white-glove, 1 1/2-hour type of Baptist church.
Yes, there is a bit of a racial divide between the types of Baptist I've described. Both the missionary Baptist and Westside Baptist are places where I really stick out, versus the others where I am more likely to blend in. However, at the missionary Baptist, I really felt like I stuck out. I didn't feel like they were used to folks from different backgrounds visiting their church, and they weren't entirely sure how to deal with it.
Westside Baptist Church made me feel welcomed. Someone close by to my seat asked me if it was my first visit. She thanked me for coming, she showed me where the hymnals were. She was also a teenager, which shows that grace knows no age.
There was a sweet little Children's sermon, where Pastor talked about being thankful for our gifts, especially the gift God gave of His Son.
The choir was amazing, not the least of which because of one of the singers. His voice was deep and filling, like the richest stock.
There were lots of things that I took note of, during the sermon.
**Obedience: Doing what we're told, when we're told to do it, in the manner told, with the right attitude. Without the attitude, it's merely compliance. God wants obedience.
**Hold God's word in your heart, don't let anything crowd it out. God in our heart helps us hold to who we are, and God has a way of reminding us who He is.
**When we leave the house, we need to put on the full armor of God. Armor only does us good if we wear it.
**It's not enough to know Him, we need to be in love with Him. When we love something, we keep it close to our hearts.
And my favorite, Brother Lee: First Sunday of the new year, he always stands and gives his testimony. "Every time I turn around, the Lord is blessing me."
Little by little, I am learning what types of Baptist church I would like to return to, what I feel comfortable with, and how to act in each of them. It is not enough to say what denomination you prefer, but it's important to communicate what types of traditions you find valuable and which styles of worship feel most comfortable.
And may I add, every time I turn around, the Lord is blessing me.