First Church Harker Heights, or Harker Heights Apostolic UPC (as written on the back of the bulletin, has a terrific website. It outlines their ministries, their beliefs, church times, location, and welcomes folks to "get connected" within the church congregation. It isn't an overly large church, and appears to have plenty of space to grow, but the morning Sunday School was full and there were several ushers waiting to greet newcomers.
Three separate people asked me to be sure to fill out the visitor form. The third and last, was a tall older gentleman who welcomed me by clasping my hands in his weathered and warm palms, saying how glad he was that I was there. I couldn't stop myself from hugging him. When the worship team had finished their songs, this same gentleman took my visitor form to the basket at the front, and pointed me out to the associate pastor. This church calls out all visitors by name, but they don't ask us to stand or otherwise call attention to ourselves. They just want to be sure we know they're glad we're there.
I saw a friend from work, and gave her a hug. "I didn't know you came here!" and "This is my first time." amid smiles. Each church I've visited, it's as thought God has sent people there so I don't feel so alone. Whether they are people I know, or a welcoming committee of one, there has been some sign of God's welcome in every single church.
"Be a voice -- we have a story, we have a testimony. If He's done ONE GOOD THING, we have a story. We're wasting our voice, taking it for granted. Don't be an echo, be a voice."
Isaiah 43:9-11 --
9 All the nations gather together
and the peoples assemble.
Which of their gods foretold this
and proclaimed to us the former things?
Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right,
so that others may hear and say, "It is true."
"You are my witnesses," declares the Lord,
"and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.
I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no savior.
I did enjoy my visit to this church, and there is no doubt whatsoever that they welcome new people. However, I said at the beginning of this journey that I would say if I'd return to a church or not, and this is a church I won't be choosing at the end.
So why not?
First Church is an Apostolic Church, and a member of the United Pentecostal Church. I knew nothing of this at the beginning, but there were certain things in the church itself that makes it not quite a good fit for me. Within the Apostolic community, as I've learned, it is traditional for women to dress very chastely. What this means is that their skirts are generally below the knee (mine was knee-length, though no one looked at me twice) and they tend not to cut their hair. There were many women with hair down to their knees or in elaborate twists upon their heads. I have no issue with any of this, but it is not something that feels comfortable or necessary for me. In fact. it feels distinctly uncomfortable to me.
There was a lot of bouncing, and shouting, and raising of hands. Lots of "Amens!" and even quite a few "Yay, God!" exultations. The pastor jumped up and down, hands clasped or raised high, during each of the songs. There was a lot of spirit in the church, but I am not a particularly "rowdy" churchgoer so it felt like I stood out by not shouting or bouncing. Apparently, even though I love a passionate worship time, there is a limit to my comfort zone. This church crossed that limit, just a little. I couldn't tell you why other churches with the same sort of energy did not make me feel equally uncomfortable.
Faith and worship are deeply personal.
In the meantime, as I looked for the song (I think) we sang, I found a song I hope to someday sing at one of these churches, and I thought I'd share it here. The chorus makes me teary.