After a lifetime of leadership positions in the SDA church, I knew what to look for and what the ‘rules’ were, so I headed straight for the guest book just inside the door and looked around for the “greeter” person to welcome me in.
Sure enough, sweet old Mary rushed over to greet me and watched as I wrote my name, address and phone number in the guest book. That was about the longest minute of my entire life.
After that I was on my own.
“Please turn off all cell phones” was the first message that flashed before me on a big screen over the pulpit as I entered the sanctuary. “Modern-day church” and its big screen advertising took me by surprise! I glanced around for unobtrusive seating. I had already turned off my cell phone!
“Fruit delivery will be here at 5 p.m. Please come help unload the truck” was a message I heard repeated several times before and after the comic-turned-serious-sermon.
I’m sure a small frown crossed my brow because I was certain that sunset – the end of the Holy Sabbath Day – fell somewhere pretty close to 5 p.m. Sure enough, a quick check showed sunset at 5:07 p.m.
If I was concerned about sabbath-keepers breaking the edges of the Sabbath – that was only the beginning of the “New Rules” that I discovered exist for the usually very strict SDA religion I observed for my entire life!
See, I had to take care of a little technicality related to my book, “Dusty Angels and Old Diaries.’ I needed to get my church membership transferred from Berrien Springs, Michigan to somewhere in the Columbia Union SDA Conference (like Worthington, Ohio) so the Visitor Magazine could proceed with publishing an article about the book in the January 2007 issue. I don’t know if this will be a 1x1 inch ad or an entire story, but I did promise the good folks there that I do attend an SDA church in the Columbia Union and, better yet, get my membership transferred once and for all.
I hope the Visitor Magazine nor the church members of the Worthington SDA Church will take offence at my public concern for what I perceived as pretty poor angelic representation at the SDA Church in my city.
Where were all the children? Only two? Oh, they have there own church service now. I counted about 150 people there, but saw no young people except those who played special music, and they filed right out the back door as soon as they were done.
What is that? Can it be? The minister is wearing a flashy gold wedding band? In Michigan, a couple can't get married in the SDA church if they plan to include rings in the service. I couldn’t take my eyes off his hand as he gestured while almost begging for help to unload that fruit truck at 5 p.m.
I was also interested in the organist and the pianist because I’ve played both instruments for church services over the years. I missed the Doxology as the prayerful ministers entered to start the serious church service. In fact, there was no formal entrance of the minister at all. They were seated somewhere on the front row. The program started with some announcements that included (again) help to unload the fruit truck at 5 p.m. and a very long prayer for the offering. There was a missed cue for the special music during the offering collection, and the musician sat back down.
Later, the special music WAS majestic as a woman played the harp and her partner played the violin in a duet. I was mesmerized by the music but intrigued as the woman's fingers sparkled with several rings and diamonds glittered in her ears. Well, I guess no one will complain about my wedding rings. But applause after the duo finished their piece was confusing for me. Were they entertaining us? Then the couple stood and took a bow. This is supposed to be worship to God! Not intertainment for us! I I realize that applause in church is accepted now, but I’ll never get used to it.
I must confess that I got up and moved toward the front of the church so the preacher would not miss me - a visitor. I sat near the isle on a nearly empty pew (3 of us on the pew) about 6 rows back and tried to look him straight in the eye during the entire sermon. I even shook my head in dismay at his funny prelude to the sermon with a comic story of Jesus's birth surrounded by twelve geese alayin, golden rings and dancing women! But, he never noticed me. I know because he didn't recognize me when I shook his hand after the sermon.
One thing that has not changed in the SDA church is the potluck dinner right after church. I noticed the announcement in the program.
(During the announcements, visitors were not welcomed and the potluck was not mentioned. Guess that money-making fruit truck really distracted them.)
But during the sermon, my mouth watered for good old SDA vegetarian food. I figured I could meet some church people and maybe even take a plate of food home to Jim. But I wasn’t invited to the potluck! I hung around the entry area. I looked for the room. I sniffed the air for the aroma of a warm meal, but I got cold feet and left the church before I got the nerve to ask or invite myself.
Going back to the angelic welcome that should be the greatest asset of any church. The only person who welcomed me was sweet old Mary. I got more friendly welcomes at the LeTip meetings in town than at church.
After the sermon that did NOT end in a formal prayer, Mary pulled me toward the pastor for an introduction. He was greeting his parishioners as they left the sanctuary. Well more than greeting. It was a social event that was causing a backup down the sanctuary isle. Three times Mary almost had my hand in his, but three times left his place in line to run after another church member to discuss this or that. (And, where was the pastor's wife? She used to stand next to her husband greeting the members and guests after the sermon, but I guess that went out a loooooong time ago...)
Finally, Mary almost forced her way between the pastor and me.
“I want to introduce… (she couldn’t pronounce my last name)
“Hi. My name is Linda Meikle and I’ve requested a membership transfer to this church.”
“Oh did you fill out the paperwork.”
“Yes, I’ve already spoken to your secretary and I left you a voice message on your answering machine.”
“Well, with almost 800 members, I can’t remember everybody.”
At that Mary pulled me away and said she really hoped I’d come back soon.
I gave her a hug and thanked her for welcoming me to her church.
Getting into my car, I pulled to the edge of the parking lot to observe the standard church attire. Pioneer Memorial Church in Berrien Springs is very strict about dress, makeup and jewerly. My family and I always dressed very nice for church. The boys wore suits even when it almost killed them to do so. We bought nice suits for BC when we couldn’t afford it! They were all pressed and laid out every Friday before sundown. It is respect for God that we did that. Or so I always thought.
Today, I had noticed one of the deacons who took up the offering didn’t wear a tie. Only the older men wore suits. Most of the women had nice outfits albeit some wore pantsuits - and that used to be a no-no. Most every woman wore wedding rings and some bracelets, but no necklaces. Only a few wore light lipstick and I didn’t see any real makeup except a few younger women. Short skirts, high heels, jeans, tennis shoes and back packs…
“Maybe”, I mused to Jim on my cell phone as I drove home…”Maybe I could join several churches and be a member of all the churches in town and no one would ever know the difference.” No matter the church, I would always make sure the visitors got a warm welcome and lots of angel hugs.