So I was sitting here, thinking, and I got the idea of doing a few entries on some of the more memorable church services I have witnessed. Mind you, nowadays I do not often darken a church door. I was raised religious in West Texas and, in fact, in my teenage years I was quite a zealot. Today, in my mid-50s, it is safe to say that in matters of religion I feel a spiritual kinship to the great heretic H. L. Mencken…. and I will just leave it at that. 🙂 In any case, I still have an abiding interest in the culture of religion.
Growing up in Texas, it is nearly impossible to escape the influence of religion on language, manners and attitudes. No doubt the same can be said of other places, too, but right now I am talking just Texas, “Buckle of the Bible Belt”. In small towns, businesses will sometimes advertise, “We’ll be Open Sunday Right After Church.” On Sundays at noon, in many Texas towns, you can set your clock by the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and sundry smaller groups who line up for lunch at Luby’s Cafeteria. Wednesday night prayer service is still a strong tradition in this state. Religion and football are almost inseparable, sermons are commonly infused with references to sports, and preachers often do double-duty as coaches. In high school, I was active in a church youth group whose distinctive feature was that we would, without warning and without embarrassment, inflict religious songs on peaceful patrons whilst waiting on line at, say, Taco Bell. Folks who wanted only to enjoy their 19 cent bean burritos (this was 1970), got a side serving of salvation whether they wanted it or not. I suppose that one could say that in this spontaneous public performance, we kids learned about public confidence, and thus there was something redeeming for us, if not for them, in the experience. Still, I cringe at the memory. You get the idea.
In my adults years as I explore various neighborhoods in Texas, I occasionally visit churches, out of curiosity. Sometimes I want to see how different groups do things. I do enjoy the “incense and bells” of Episcopalian and Roman Catholic liturgy. Sometimes friends invite me to church. Sometimes I go to hear music– few things are as stirring as a choral anthem or organ prelude. Sometimes I am drawn to the building itself and its various adornments. I used to enjoy the showmanship of a few good preachers– I always appreciate a well-done performance– but in recent years their rhetorical tricks all sound about the same.
Over the years, I have kept private notes of sermons and services, and for a few days I would like to share a few of the more memorable ones with you. Those of you outside of the more church-ified areas of the U.S. might be amused (or perplexed or bored). I will be the first to acknowledge that, in some cases perhaps, you probably had to be there to get it….