By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (March 3, 2011) – A blogger who has set the goal of visiting the 50 religious institutions in his community during 2011 and writing about his experiences attended an Evangelical Covenant Church on Sunday.
His blog post reflects the importance of doctrine, welcoming visitors, biblical preaching, and humility, as well as possibilities for personal transformation on a Sunday morning.
To keep his identity private during his visits, the blogger doesn’t name the community in which he lives. He goes by the pseudonym Bob McGrath because that was the name of the actor on Sesame Street who used to sing, “Who are the People in your Neighborhood.”
A former minister according to his online biography, he has named his blog Neighborhood Churches. He critiques a given church based on each visit, but the assignment he has given himself also is about sharing his own spiritual growth.
McGrath is honest about his own prejudices. “I know I have some preconceived ideas about many of the religions and denominations around me, though I have no real experience with them. And though I doubt going to their place of worship just one time will overturn all of my biases, I am expecting to walk away from this exercise with more understanding of who is in my community, what they care about, and what they have to offer.”
The Covenant church that McGrath visited meets in a local school, and he discovered it by seeing the sign the church it is allowed to post once a week. He writes that on the day he attended, he felt he needed to go for his own personal benefit, and not just to offer a critique.
In his blog, McGrath lists the foundational principles of the Covenant and then proceeds to share about the authenticity of the people that impacted him.
“The worship leader tells us he didn’t plan the transition between songs very well and he has to retune his guitar,” McGrath writes. “His honesty makes the moment real. The drummer spoke into his mic[rophone] to lighten the moment . . . ‘Ok, so three guys walk into a church…’ We all laugh. The band starts the next song. I begin to relax.”
McGrath writes that the method of preaching as well as the delivery and motivation spoke to him in a meaningful way. “The pastor uses the scripture, but does his best to present it in context,” McGrath writes. “Instead of experiencing a religious leader trying to get me to understand God the way that he does, and using biblical passages to support his views, I felt like this pastor was helping connect me with God and embrace the fullness of life that is available walking in relationship with him and each other.”
The morning’s message that included an emphasis on the sin of bearing grudges led to repentance and the possible beginning of a new friendship with several others in attendance. He recognized a missionary from the church who was back home on one of her twice-yearly visits – they had a past that was not always pleasant.
McGrath held a grudge against her and thought, “I was justified in doing it because I had defined her as being outside my ‘people,’ ” he confesses. “I’m wondering if she’s listening to the same message that I am. I’m wondering if this Sunday is for her, too.”
But then came a transformative moment initiated by the missionary. “When it comes time for communion at the end of the message, instead of moving forward towards the pastor, she made her way back to my pew,” he recounts. “She touched my shoulder and said, ‘I’ll show you how we celebrate communion here,’ and we went forward together. We partook of the brokenness of Christ; we drank in his life.”
It was the beginning of further reconciliation. “We took the time after the service to verbalize the forgiveness that had taken place in each of us. Years of misunderstanding just didn’t weigh anything any longer. It felt great to shrug it off and let it go.”
McGrath had almost decided not to go to church that morning and had stayed in bed after hitting the snooze button on his alarm several times. He believes he would have missed so much more than a church service had he not decided at the last minute to attend.
“I don’t think I could have missed God this morning in my neighborhood,” he writes. “It might have been a different hymn, church service, denomination, or even running into a different religious leader that I had disunity with – the reality is, God dwells in this neighborhood with his kids, and he is teaching us – he is teaching me – what it means to be his family.”
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