She chose Westside.
(I'd never been to Westside before, but have heard good things. And it's Mennonite, so well, that's awesome, no? Haha. Also, their lead pastor, Norm Funk? Is not a stranger to me. His older brother was my youth leader, at Killarney Park MB, his sister and I went through youth together. And his other brother did the photography at my wedding. Norm was the youngest of the Funk kids, so he was the one I knew the least. Regardless, he comes from good stock. :) )
Me: I'll pick you up? Say at 10:40 am?
Her: Come at 10:30, then we'll have time to get a coffee and talk first.
So I got up at 9:44 am (on a Sunday) and left for Vancouver at 10:07. I was at her corner on Commercial Drive at 10:31 am. We were shoving coins into the parking meter at 10:46 am (Pay to park to go to church...Haha )
There's a coffee by donation counter as we walk in. And free cups of ice water. We help ourselves and make our way into the auditorium.
Her: You been here before?
Me: Not for church. Last time I was here, I saw Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat ...
We choose our seats. Middle of the middle, near the front.
We're in church on the Sunday of the first big camping weekend of the year. I anticipate that it'll be empty. And that we'll get the "B" team re: worship and preaching. Haha.
Her: Do you think you'd have this faith, this belief in God, if you hadn't been raised with it? I mean, this is all familiar to you. You've known about God and gone to church your whole life. It's a part of you. You never doubted or strayed. Do you think, if you'd been raised differently, that you'd have this same faith today?
Her: You don't have to answer. I just wondered.
Me: Uh. Well, no one's ever asked me that before. Let me think a sec.
Her: No hurry.
She gives me space to think.
Me: I believe in a God who wants to have a relationship with me. And I have to believe that if I wasn't introduced to Him by my dad and mom, He would have revealed himself to me at another time, in another way. I'm a Christian because He called me into a relationship with Him, not because I grew up in a home with other believers.
Her: So what about your kids? They grew up in a home with a Christian mom ...
Me: That's the thing. Everyone decides for themselves.
The bands comes on stage ...
Her: I didn't sing last time. But I liked the music. Do you sing?
Her, sounding surprised: You do?
Me, to myself: Well, I allow a noise to come out of my mouth...
The band starts to play. If this is their "B" team, they're pretty awesome.
Her, noticing that I'm not singing: Do you know this song?
Her: How does that work? Aren't there songs that all churches know/play/sing?Like, aren't they all quite repetitive? Or do you think this song was written by someone here?
Me: I think so, yes.
The next song is a new-to-me as well. Written in 2015. By a female who's name I didn't recognize. So, maybe another member of their worship team? Regardless, it was awesome. I loved it. And after the first verse and chorus, I was singing along.
Third song was a ramped up hymn. So good.
I sang/opened my mouth.
Norm came out after that.
So I was wrong.
Lead pastor IS in the building. We are getting the "A" team experience.
He did some announcements then exited and the preaching pastor delivered the sermon.
They're doing a series on James:
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Her: Did you bring a Bible?
Me: I forgot to grab it.
Her: There's an Old Testament and a New Testament, right?
Me: Uh huh.
Her: Which one does this church use?
Her: Really? Wha?
Me: The Old Testament was before Jesus was born. The New Testament starts when Jesus was born. All of it is God's story.
Her: How many years does the Old Testament cover?
Me: I forget. I used to know... Sorry.
Her: Adam and Eve and stuff like that are in the Old Testament, right?
Her: So how long did they live?
Me: OK. this is going to sound crazy, but they lived, for like, 700 years or something.
Me: I know. I know.
Matt starts preaching. I'm listening for myself, wishing I'd remembered to grab my notebook and Bible when I left the house. (In my defence, I haven't been to a Sunday MORNING service in years.) But while I'm listening for myself, I'm also listening for her. Does any of this make sense? Is it applicable? Is it just confusing? I'm praying for us both as this service continues.
He winds up his sermon and outlines how the service will end; a few more songs (Yay), opportunity for prayer (those who want to pray with someone can meet with couples along the side) and communion.
(I was hoping there wouldn't be communion. It just seems like it's a confusing/exclusive thing to explain to someone unfamiliar with church stuff. God was not letting me off the hook. This Sunday morning? Was going to contain it all.)
Her: So, because I'm not a real Christian, I can't do communion, right?
Her: I was baptised as a baby, though. And I remember being confirmed.
Me, praying: God? Why did you choose me? I am so poorly representing You this morning. I think I'm making a mess of things. Just take over.
Me: I guess that's the difference between Catholics and Christians. We get baptised when we're older. It's our decision, not our parents.
The band is playing, we are standing, there are people at the front and sides praying, and at the end of the aisles, there are couples holding the communion elements. People are lined up in the aisles waiting their turn.
I look around to see how this works. I've never done communion like this before.
Her: Are you going?
Me: In a sec.
So, it looks like you take a piece of bread (whole wheat) (Or a rice cracker, if you can't have gluten) from the basket she's holding, and then dunk it into the wine goblet that he's holding. And walk back to your seat and eat (partake) it whenever you're ready. There's none of this "Take this cup, in remembrance of me" business. Interesting.
I squeeze past her and join the line. I take the bread, dip it in the juice, go back to my seat, pray, sing, then pop it in my mouth. Holy cow. That wasn't grape juice. I forgot to take my gum out, so now I'm chewing whole wheat bread, soaked in red wine and it's getting mixed up with some spearmint gum. Not much holy going on in my mouth.
The next song is Solid Rock. With a 2015 rock twist.
Me: That was an old hymn.
Her: I saw. Written in the 1700's.
Me: Yeah, they rocked it up abit.
Her: Do you prefer it done traditionally, or ...
Me: I like this version.
The last song is new to me. But very singable after listening to the chorus.
Her: That was my favorite.
Norm comes back out to remind everyone about an upcoming baptismal service and classes. And opportunities to serve. And then he prays for us all.
The service is over.
Her: Can we sit here for awhile longer?
Her: I have some questions.
Her: So. Easter. Jesus died. Right?
Me: Yeah. We call it "Good Friday". That's the day he was killed. Crucified. On a cross.
Her: And ladies went to visit him after? At the grave? And he was in his grave clothes? And why would you celebrate the day he was killed? What's so good about it?
Me: Jesus died for us. He died for our sins. We are thankful for that. He died on the Friday. And in those days the graves or tombs were, in, like caves. So to seal the tomb, they had a huge rock in front of it. Jesus had been in the grave for three days when those women went to the graveside to mourn.
Her: THREE DAYS?
Me: Yes, three days after he died, when the women got to his grave, they found the stone had been rolled out of the way, and his grave cloths were left behind. He was gone.
Her: Where'd he go?
Me: He's alive.
Her, looking astonished: HE WAS ALIVE?
Me: He still is.
Her: WHAT? HE'S STILL ALIVE TODAY? WHERE IS HE?
Me: Well, he stuck around for abit, and met his disciples and family and a bunch of people, but after a time, He went to heaven. He's still alive. And He and God are together.
Her: SO HE LEFT?
Me: Oh man. This is going to sound freaky, ghosty .... but there's three of them. Like, a trinity: God, Jesus and The Holy Spirit. So when Jesus went back to heaven, The Holy Spirit is the one who is with us on earth. Like, if you surrender your life to God, and accept Jesus as your saviour, then the Holy Spirit lives in you. And I just said a bunch of words that I believe to be true, but I don't know if they just sound really dumb to you.
Her: No, no. I get it. I understand.
Her: So. When Jesus was on earth, did he get married? Have kids?
Her: So, Christmas...
Me: Yeah. So. God chose a young woman. A virgin. And made her pregnant. And she gave birth to Jesus. Who was God's son. She married Joseph and they had other children. So Jesus was raised in a family. And when He was 30 he started his ministry. He chose 12 disciples. And for three years he preached and healed before he was killed.
Her: So the New Testament was written by those 12 apostles?
Me: Hmmm. No, they all didn't write books of the New Testament. The first four books? Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Those were written by 4 of his followers. Each from their point of view. Each from a different perspective with different purpose. And other books of the New Testament are letters to early churches. Paul, was a Jew, who hated Christians and was in the business of killing them. Till one day He encountered Jesus and became a Christian himself. He then became a missionary, and wrote letters to believers in the cities he visited. Like, the Book of Ephesians is a letter to the church in Ephesus. Corinthians is a letter to the church in Corinth. Romans to the church in Rome...
Her: Jews. Tell me about them? How do they fit in?
Me, feeling woefully unprepared: Jews were God's chosen people, in the Old Testament. And they were waiting for a promised Messiah. But when Jesus came, they didn't believe He was the one they were waiting for. They thought He was an imposter. So they had Him killed.
Her: IS that why the Christians and the Jews are at war? It goes all the way back to when Jesus was on earth?
Me: Yeah. This is a big part of it.
Her: Do you hate Jews?
Me: Haha. No. I don't hate them as a group. And I don't hate them individually.
Her: So why didn't the Jews believe that Jesus was who He said He was?
Me: Well. Are you familiar with history? Not just Biblical history, but regular history? The Roman Empire was a thing. They were out to civilize/rule the whole world and take it under it's control. It would go into a region and murder/make slaves of all the citizens. The Jews had been slaves for generations and generations. They were waiting for a warrior messiah. One who would arrive and defeat the Roman army. Their messiah would be a KING. And He would rule from a throne. And all the Romans would bow to Him. Instead, they got a baby. Born in a stable. Raised by a carpenter, from Galilee, which is probably like Surrey. And instead of killing Romans, what Jesus did when he began his ministry was forgive sins and heal sicknesses. They were unimpressed. And thought he was a liar. So they arranged to have him killed.
The church is emptying out.
I can see Norm at the front, as well as the worship band, chatting.
I'm thinking I should call someone over. I am certain I am making a mess of this.
She's quiet for a few minutes, then asks how she can apply this to her situation. She's got some shitty stuff going on, so how does this morning's sermon, as well as the info I've just told her, affect her? Where is the connection point? We talk some more.
I am out of my league.
I ask her if I can pray for her. And right there, in the middle seats of the middle row of a mostly empty 1800 seat theatre, I pray and she cries.
We talk all the way back to her place.
And after I drop her off, I pray all the way back to my place.
I'm 53 years old and this was the first time I've been asked to share my faith.
Three things I'm thankful for:
1. Westside Church. Their pastors. Their worship team.
2. Friends who ask questions. And more questions.
3. The home I was raised in.
4. The God I believe in.