I have long loved the hymn “Just As I Am.” Although it was often overused at the Christian school that I attended as a child, I loved the simplicity of the melody and the message. As we sang the lyrics this past Sunday during worship, one of the verses jumped out at me, and I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed the refreshing honesty in the words before.
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fighting and fears within, without
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
It’s unusual to find such conflicted feelings about faith tucked inside an age-old hymn, but it immediately connected me with the writer (Charlotte Elliott). Despite all of my shortcomings, it’s comforting to know that Christ accepts me just as I am.
The Pentecostal church I grew up in had drums, guitars, and tambourines. Hymns were old fashioned and easy to sing, and music literally filled the sanctuary and spilled out the windows for the benefit of the neighboring houses. People stood, clapped in time, tapped their feet, raised their hands toward heaven, and sometimes even danced in the aisles and around the wooden altar that stood in front of the stage. Songs like “I’ll Fly Away” and “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” are as ingrained into my personal makeup as my Kentucky accent.
I left the Pentecostal denomination as a young adult because I was sick and tired of the constant onslaught of sermons dealing with homosexuality. Regardless of my disagreements with some of the denomination’s beliefs, I never stopped adoring the sights and sounds of spirit-filled worship.
It will soon be four years since I started attending a local UCC (United Church of Christ), and while I couldn’t ask for a more open and accepting congregation, I have never been satisfied with the style of music or worship. Most song selections are unfamiliar and chosen solely for their relation to the sermon’s topic, which leaves many of us struggling to sing or not singing at all.
I visited a friend’s church on Sunday – one that is the polar opposite of my church. Where we are quiet and reserved, they were loud and charismatic. Seeing a different style of worship was very interesting, but it was still a far cry from the church of my youth. This mega-church-in-the-making had a band and the music had a decidedly rock and roll sound. Songs were once again unfamiliar, so the words were projected onto large screens on each side of the stage.
After all these years, I still haven’t found a church that fulfills my expectations in the musical arena, and I’m beginning to wonder if a church even exists that combines both my preferred style of music and a non-discriminatory stance on homosexuality. It just doesn’t seem right that I have to compromise one or the other in order to attend church.