This is one post in a series called “Finding God.” You can read Chris Day’s entire series here.
I’ll be the first to admit that my search for spiritual meaning in life wasn’t really much of a search. I was actually content to let it come find me instead. I guess the Jehovah’s Witnesses would have had a field day with me at that point, but unfortunately for them, they never came knocking. However, someone else did. A girl. And with that knock, I gladly opened the door and let a whole new way of “doing church” enter in.
When you think about it, what sixteen-year-old boy wouldn’t be sucked into whatever a young lady had to say? I was no different. Sure, I was interested in investigating this God fella a little further, but I was much more interested in investigating potential mates. Fortunately, I found myself in a place where I seemed to be able to do both. Simultaneously.
She was two years younger than me and I think that scared her parents more than they chose to admit. After all, I was entering my junior year of high school and she was just leaving junior high. It’s enough to scare any parent with a daughter. They had no idea what my intentions were, what my goals were, or even who I was. To combat the uncertainty they simply established some rules. Rules that would probably send most young suitors running away with their tail between their legs. They had no idea that I was actually up for the challenge though. Between really wanting a (hot) girlfriend and having this need to experience God in my life, the rules seemed much more like stepping stones than roadblocks.
Among the many rules, like her not being able to ride in my car since I was a fairly new driver, there was one very important one. No matter who the boy was, if he was interested in dating their daughter, he must be willing to attend their church. They were a conservative family deeply rooted in their faith. And their faith happened to be firmly planted in a local Independent Fundamental Bible-Believing God-Fearing Baptist Church. Say that three times fast. I capitalize it because you would have thought it was the title of their church. They said that very phrase over and over without any ounce of shame. They owned it. It’s what they stood for, believed in, and would likely give their lives for. And anyone who had a problem with it could kindly show themselves to the door. In some odd way, this dogmatic pride was appealing to me. Maybe I was just tired of wishy-washy people and wishy-washy faith. These Baptist folk were anything but that. They knew exactly where they stood and they stood there without wavering. Ever.
My first visit to her church was overwhelming to say the least. I saw no holy water, no forehead and shoulder tapping, not one person genuflecting, and where the heck did they keep their crucifix? The auditorium seemed much more like a corporate meeting room than a sacred sanctuary. The lack of candles and marble and stained glass felt irreverent and cold. I started to realize that the very Roman Catholic rituals I liked to complain about were also the practices that made church comfortable to me. I immediately missed the reverence.
One glaring difference, however, stood out and quickly put a check mark in the “pro” column for the Baptists. They were more welcoming than any church folk I had ever encountered. I was a guest and they knew it. And because I was a guest, they went out of their way to greet me, include me, and even love on me. I had never been hugged or kissed by strangers like this before. And though I’m generally not a hugger, I embraced these new friends in the faith both literally and figuratively.
See, one thing the Catholic church truly lacked for me was a sense of family. Worshiping as a Catholic was extremely individualistic and full of solitude. There were many times I felt completely alone as a Catholic, even in a sea of people. In the Baptist world, I was simply one of many. A family member. One voice in an overjoyed choir. It was an extremely refreshing take on worship and forever changed how I felt about approaching God.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Giuseppe Milo