The minister opened with Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
“He picked that verse for me,” my sister whispered to me.
We were at the Bethel Orthodox Presbyterian Church, where she and her family faithfully attend services each week. She was, of course, referring to Lauren, my beloved 12-year-old niece, who had died tragically just two years ago.
I had brought three of my four sons to visit their aunt, uncle and their seven cousins in Illinois earlier this month. We had many activities planned, not the least of which included church on Sunday.
“Finally! How far away is your church?” Christopher asked as we pulled into the parking lot, nearly 45 minutes after leaving their house. “I can’t believe you drive so far to go to church! Our church is less than two minutes down the road from our house.”
Sure, I could have graciously declined their invitation to join them, and could have even insisted we be dropped off at the nearby Catholic church, as is our custom and what the boys are used to. But I thought it was more important to worship with their family at their church together, and a little exposure to a very different way of worship certainly wouldn’t hurt my boys. Still, I tried to prepare them as best I could beforehand.
“Remember, they do things differently, but I still expect good behavior. If you get bored, you can do what I do, and count the bricks on the wall.”
I was referring to the front of the church, which is simply a plain brick wall. No crucifixes adorn any walls; no altar or stained glass windows can be found except for two podiums, a table and a couple of chairs.
Their style of worshipping, if you have ever attended a Presbyterian church, is quite different from Catholic Masses. It is a steady repetitive cycle where the minister reads long verses from the Bible, and then elaborates on them, with breaks between verses where the congregation stands, reads a hymn, then sits to listen to more.
Admittedly, even my mind will wander. To remain focused, I try to distract myself with a quiet task and counting bricks has worked for me.
“Will we get a chip?” asked Joey, my 10-year-old.
He was referring to the Host, and I would have told him they don’t celebrate Holy Communion, except this was the first Sunday of the month, and it just so happened that they would be partaking in the sharing of the meal, as is their tradition once a month. Still, there is no consecration, no blessing, no procession down the aisle to partake in the meal. Crackers are handed out to the congregation by the elders, followed by tiny glasses of grape juice.
My sister explained to me that none of her children take part in the meal, as it is their custom to first make a Profession of Faith before the elders and then to the congregation. This is usually done between the ages of 16 and 20, when they can understand and explain the doctrines.
While we were worshipping in their church, which welcomed us warmly, I refused to disallow my own children to partake in the Lord’s Supper, as they called it. After all, they had all each celebrated three of our seven sacraments, having been baptized, made reconciliations and First Communions. Jeffrey, in fact, had just celebrated his First Reconciliation and First Communion in May.
Even I sometimes struggled with the understandings of the doctrines, but that doesn’t mean God wouldn’t want us, as Catholics, to turn away from the sharing of His meal. I told the boys they were welcome to take a cracker and a little tiny glass of grape juice.
I didn’t actually count bricks during the service this time. I listened to the minister’s long sermon. Christopher didn’t count bricks, either. I found his copy of their Order of Worship, scribbled with notes. Based on two one and a half hour services each week, he calculated 53 days of church a year was equal to 9,540 hours or 572,400 minutes or 34,344,000 seconds.
If he wasn’t listening to the sermon, he was surely impressed with how much time his cousins spent there, and that didn’t include the 45-minute drive to and from the church.