Thursday, September 3, 2020

Dean and Mindy go to church in 2020

Entiat Warehouse Community Church, Entiat, Washington

Like most people in the United States, we haven’t gone in-person to a church for a while. That's quite a change for us. 

From July 2014 through December 2018, Mindy and I went to a different church every week. 2016 was an amazing year when we went traveled to a different state every week (yup, all 50), and we went to at least one church in each state -- usually more. What if we'd tried that this year? It would have been...different. It might have been a lot easier, going online to a church in a different state every week, but I don’t think it would have been as fun.

Earlier this year, we planned a simpler trip to celebrate our anniversary in April. We decided to visit Leavenworth, WA, a tourist town that celebrates German culture, food, and beer. We aren’t beer fans, but we both took German in high school. It sounded like a fun outing. Something happened, and we stayed home instead. 

Over the past month or so, things opened up a bit more in our state, so we decided to take our trip last weekend. While we were researching places to stay (and not finding anything available that we could comfortably afford), one of our daughters sent Mindy a link about a church that turned out to be not too far from Leavenworth. A very little more research revealed that the church was actually gathering weekly in their building. We were excited about the possibility of going to a live worship service. (Our church will continue to be meeting mostly online for the foreseeable future.)

The church's name holds a clue to one reason indoor worship is possible there. The building was originally a warehouse, so it has high ceilings and space to spread out chairs. The physical layout of the church allows people to meet more safely. We decided to try to go.

The drive to the church along the Columbia River was lovely. We stopped at one of the many fruit stands in the area (the apple capital of the world, apparently) before church. The church sign was easy to spot along the road and the large parking lot must have worked well earlier in the year when they held drive-in worship services.

Inside the building, we saw plentiful signage about social distancing. Other signs informed visitors that children’s Sunday School wasn’t happening, and that coffee was no longer available. We appreciated seeing the nice display of missionaries the church supported. There were Bible available (which we were glad to see because we’d forgotten ours).

In the sanctuary, we picked out two chairs off to one side, near an outside door. There were groups of two to five chairs spread throughout the room. We realized that flexibility is certainly is an advantage to chairs over pews in these times. We noticed a few people adding or taking away chairs as needed to suit their group's size.

People were chatting happily from a variety of distances. (I heard one man say to another, “Do you mind a handshake?”) I hesitate to say this, but though a couple of people said “Good morning” to us, nobody tried to engage us in conversation. One reason might have been that we were the only people in the room wearing masks (well, I noticed one other woman with a mask, but it was around her neck.) Etiquette is strange in these times, and I wondered if people thought that since we had masks, we were cautious and might not want to be approached. (Have you wondered whether it might be too close for caution if you open a door or pick up a dropped item for someone who's not in your household?) 

It turned out we'd come on a special day, a baptism Sunday. We knew this by the overhead slide that announced it and a large, metal water trough at the front of the sanctuary. A bearded man came forward and said, “Are we ready to worship? (Tepid applause.) I was hoping for a rock concert response.

“We now have the governor’s permission to meet," the man went on. "I thought we already had it. I wish we had permission to make coffee again. I’m looking forward to a good, old-fashioned potluck." He went on, "John Calvin said, ‘The only defense against the persecution of tyranny, is prayer.’ Donald Trump is not the answer. The next election is not the answer.”

Many of the churches that are meeting have eliminated singing from the program. This is not one of those churches. The worship team led the congregation in “Hallelujah, Thine the glory” and “There is a Fountain” led by a pianist and four singers.

It was time for the sermon and the speaker introduced himself, “Pastor Mike here!” (We knew from internet research he was a retired pastor serving as an interim, which he mentioned.) “I’m a temporary pastor, so I can wear white socks and tell pastor jokes.” (For reference, on the comic scale, “pastor jokes” rank at least one notch below “dad jokes”.)

The title of the sermon was “Adjust Your Frequency” taken using the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch from Acts 8: 26 - 39.

Pastor Mike began the sermon with an anecdote about playing with ham radios as a 13-year-old and how it got him into trouble. His chief analogy through the sermon was the need to be on God’s frequency. He notes that Philip failed to do this in John 6 when Jesus asked about feeding the crowd, but Philip got better at tuning in to the Holy Spirit’s call in the book of Acts.

Mike talked about the need to follow God’s call, even when it doesn’t make sense to us (“Jesus is the God of the Unreasonable.”) “I’m not comfortable going in a tavern. But Jesus went into the taverns, drug dens, and whorehouses of his time. The people in those places need Jesus more than we need to be comfortable.” (As people that visited a bar as well as a church in every state, this spoke to us.)

Pastor Mike discussed the baptism of the Ethiopian (He'd asked Philip, “Here is some water, why shouldn’t I be baptized?”) and moved on to the baptisms we were about to witness. One of the women was introduced with a video with her testimony of a rescue from a life of addiction to find this church that gave her dear family and friends. The video over, she came forward to the water. “It’s so cold!” she exclaimed as she entered the big galvanized metal tub.

The other person baptized was a young teen who, after she came out of the water, asked to tell the room why she wanted to be baptized. Her family looked on proudly as she said she wanted to show her devotion to Jesus.

The service closed with the modern hymn, “In Christ Alone.”

The church was going to have a prayer service a few minutes after the worship service ended, but we decided not to say (we knew weekend traffic would lengthen our three-hour drive home.) Still, once the closing prayer ended, several people greeted us and asked (reasonably enough) if we knew one of the women being baptized. We enjoyed the conversations, and  Mindy was able to ask someone how “Entiat” is pronounced.

It really was wonderful to worship with new friends, brothers and sisters in Christ. Above the entrance to the sanctuary, a sign quotes Hebrews, “Let us not neglect gathering together, as some are in the habit of doing.” We are glad that Entiat Warehouse Community Church takes this scripture seriously.