I’ve been attending a UCC church for almost a year and a half, but am still amazed that I was able to find such a loving and accepting church within a reasonable driving distance of my home.
I had been away from church for several years, not interested in worshiping in any of the rather conservative and judgmental congregations in my area. I had been seeing some of controversial television spots from the United Church of Christ for a while and had read news stories about their acceptance and ordination of gays and lesbians, but never really took the time to see what they were all about.
One day at work, for whatever reason, I went to their website and looked around a bit. I noticed their church-finder option and typed in my zip code. To my amazement, there was a UCC church around 25 miles away. They had their own website, which had pictures of smiling faces and explained how welcoming they were. It also detailed some of their beliefs and I found myself becoming more and more intrigued.
Deciding to attend was the easy part… talking my partner into it was another story. I begged and pleaded and he complained and griped until, finally, he relented. We got up one Sunday morning in April and headed for church, which felt strangely surreal, yet exciting.
Upon arriving and getting out of the car, we were greeted by a very friendly member who had also just arrived. She introduced herself as “Crystal” and explained that it was Palm Sunday and that they were beginning the service in the fellowship hall. My idea had been to attend service as an observer, but we were soon coerced into participation.
Upon entering the fellowship hall, we took two of the only remaining seats at the front of the room and I immediately recognized Karen from her website photo as she stood to begin the service. After a few congregational responses from the bulletin, some kids passed out palm fronds to each member and we were instructed to wave them and shout “Hosanna!” as we walked down the hall into the sanctuary. I glanced over to see Honey giving me a look that showed he was not pleased with this turn of events. I laughingly told Crystal that he “was going to kill me.”
The service was a far cry from what I’d been used to. The songs were very traditional and accompanied by a piano, where I’d been used to drums, tambourines, hand-clapping, and guitars in the Pentecostal churches I’d attended as a child and young adult. Karen’s sermon was nice, but I was more enchanted with her voice than anything – soft and soothing like a therapist. Toward the end of her sermon, she asked us to bow our heads as she quietly spoke about being at one with our Maker and how He loves us. A wonderful, calming spirit filled the room and I felt the tears begin to well in my eyes. I knew then that I wanted to come back, but as the service ended, Honey told me that he was ready to get out of there. I could tell from the look on his face that I’d probably be attending future services alone.
We walked out of the sanctuary to find Karen standing just outside the door and greeting each person. As we spoke with her, another outgoing, smiling member invited us back to the fellowship hall for coffee and refreshments. Honey told her we didn’t drink coffee and we’d probably just go, but she asked what he liked to drink. “Diet Coke,” he said, before she exclaimed, “We’ve got Diet Coke!”
As he reluctantly slunk back to the fellowship hall – more out of thirst than anything – I kept hoping that something would happen that might change his mind about this whole church thing. We grabbed some drinks and settled down at a table, where we were almost instantly surrounded by inviting and friendly faces who seemed so happy that we were there. I couldn’t help thinking about how different this was from the reception we’d have received at most of the other churches in the area.
We wound up sitting and chatting for several minutes as Karen explained that we’d never be required to believe anything that made us uncomfortable, that no questions were off-limits, and that we didn’t even have to profess a belief in God in order to attend services. Again, not at all what we’d expected. As she told us that she hoped we’d come again, I was stunned when Honey spoke up and said, “We’ll definitely be back.” We’ve been going ever since.
Looking back on everything that happened to lead me to my church, I can’t help but believe that a higher power was involved. There were so many reasons why we might have never went or why we might have never returned, and if it hadn’t been for Diet Coke, I might never have met some of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered in my entire life.