Just for the taste of it

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.

Author: Brian

Blogger. Bookworm. Michael Jackson fanatic. Lives in Kentucky with partner of 12 years and three fabulous felines.

21 thoughts on “Just for the taste of it”

  1. Brian,

    Thanks for sharing your story–I love it!! Thank God for Diet Coke, and a wonderful pastor, and people who are learning to love like Jesus. I wish everyone could part of a church like that. One day…
    For now, just a little taste of heaven.

    I think adding this story to the church website would be a great idea–it will be very appealing to others who visit the site looking for a place to call ‘home’.

    JimT

  2. This was such a lovely story, Brian. UCC sounds warm and welcoming. I’m not a churchgoer, but my boyfriend Tom has been wanting to go back. After reading your post, especially the part where you wrote, “…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…” I looked up the UCC website, and found it very interesting. I’ve given Tom the URL, and who knows? It may just be the place for us.

    Oh, and Alan sounds great!

  3. The UCC has two websites. In addition to http://www.ucc.org, I’d suggest visiting http://www.stillspeaking.com and checking out what’s there. On that site, there’s a way to ask questions or make comments and get a response. (For three months every year, I am one of those responders. I’m always touched by what people share. I’m sure every responder feels the same way.)

    The UCC also has an i-church going. I haven’t checked that out but know that the folks behind that are working hard to really meet people’s need.

    There are so many good churches out there. Don’t give up hope that you’ll find one.

  4. What a great story. I’ve visited several UCC churches throughout the country and at each one I felt like you did, Brian. They made me feel like I was welcome and belonged. I would sit there and think, how did all these lovely free-spirits manage to find each other? And isn’t it amazing how here in this place we can all shine on like the crazy diamonds that we are? I’ve never had that experience in any other church.

  5. Cool story, Brian! I would seriously love to have a church experience like that…I can’t imagine being surrounded by friendly strangers! I have always felt so ostracized at churches that this is a totally foreign image to me! This must be the bar–if something like that were to happen to me, then I know it would be “right.” And I am going to attend that UU chuch in my neighborhood someday…when I do, you better believe I’ll write a novel about it. :)

  6. I just read your post about going to the UCC church… I know a Karen who works for the UCC church but I seriously doubt it’s the same Karen. Hmm… I just have to ask. Are you in (edited), Kentucky? If not just ignore. ;) My in-laws live there and attend the UCC church that Karen ministers at.

  7. @ Byrd –

    Yes! It’s the same one you’re referring to and I know your in-laws. They are great people and it’s a great church. I met you when you and your partner were down here a few months ago. Hope things are going well for you!

    By the way, it’s totally awesome that you stumbled upon my blog like this. You gotta love the internet.

    P.S. – I edited the town and pastor’s name for the sake of a little anonymity. ;)

  8. Oh my gosh! I thought it was you. That’s great. Now I truly feel like I know someone out there in the blogging world who’s real — even if we did only meet for half a second. ;)

    Btw, you can add my site to your blog roll, that’s fine by me.

    Say hi to the in-laws for me would you — and tell God I said “hi.” I haven’t been to church in ages.

    Hope you don’t mind, I’m going to be reading your blog from time to time!

  9. @ Byrd – You can tell God “Hi” anytime, even if you’re not at church!

    I think it’s cool that you found my site and I’ve added you to my blogroll. Feel free to visit and comment anytime you want. ;)

  10. I am a lurker, and will continue to lurk. I don’t mean to be rude, it just seems like others say what I would have said, so I say nothing. Today I finally have something to say.
    I just wanted to thank you for this entry. I had never heard anything about UCC until I read your blog. I followed your link and searched for a local church. I just went today, and am so glad I did. So thank you, from a total stranger, for writing this.

  11. @ Sara: Thanks for “stepping out of the shadows” to leave me such a meaningful comment! I’m so glad you were able to find a local church that you could visit, too.

    P.S. Please don’t hesitate to comment… even if you’re repeating what others have said. I always enjoy the feedback. ;)

  12. I’m so happy you posted this again! That day was important and is one I’ll never forget. Still, some of the details have grown hazy with time…the Diet Coke, for example. What you and Sweetie found, I want for everyone: a whole-hearted welcome, space to be oneself, and access to a God whose grace has no limits.

  13. Hi Brian, thanks for sharing your story and responses to it. This is my first blog experience. What an awesome first.

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