Week 14: Peace Lutheran Church, 6 April 2008

“So much for the gluten-free church,” Michael whispered to me, as we started singing the third hymn that involved the growing of wheat. My mom suffers from Celiac Disease, and we’re ever-vigilant about gluten in our meals at home and out. Actually, as she’s away in Germany visiting my siblings, we bought a pasta maker, and have made quite a bit — after church, it was gnocchi with pesto sauce.

I think the wheat-hymns at Peace Lutheran Church were reflective of the season (presumably spring — but it’s snowing again this week, so we’re in the season my friend Jimmie calls, “Last Winter”) and growing, and weren’t specifically about wheat, per se. But, while I’m on the wheat theme, they had very tasty, hand-baked communion bread which was slightly sweet and very pleasant. Communion was interesting on a number of fronts: first, that they have a small baptismal font in the front center, and the pastor bid us to remember our baptisms when we came up for communion, by dipping our fingers in the water and making the sign of the cross on our foreheads. Catholics have a similar practice upon entering a nave, with a small font of holy water. Second, the communion wine was served two ways: either from the common cup, or from a set of small cups which had a choice of either grape juice or wine, though they didn’t specify which was which, so I chose “red” because the small children next to me choose “white.” Michael and Farmergirl did the common cup, and I tried the little cups (since I had just been sneezing my fool head off in the back row), which were reusable glass cups, not unlike undersized shot glasses.

The Lutheran Hymnal contains many of the service items that, in an Episcopal church, are in the Book of Common Prayer. On the one hand, you don’t have to juggle two or three books and the bulletin, on the other hand, it’s no more intuitive than having to juggle all three.

The bulletin was interesting, because it breaks the service into four parts: Gathering (The Holy Spirit calls us together as the people of God), Word (God speaks to us in scripture reading, preaching, and song), Meal (God feeds us with the presence of Jesus Christ), Sending (God blesses us and sends us in mission to the world). And within each of these categories, the different things we did are also described. For example, the Meal section reads thusly:

God feeds us with the presence of Jesus Christ.
Singing, we bring these gifts and set the table with bread and wine.
Offertory: “As the Grains of Wheat.” #465
We remember and give thanks for all God as done hearing the promise of Jesus’ gift through this meal.
Offertory Prayer
Great Thanksgiving
Words of Institution Page 144
Empowered by the Spirit we are bold to pray as Jesus taught.
Lord’s Prayer Page 145
In this meal we receive Christ’s body and blood; God nourishes faith, forgives sin, and calls us to be witnesses to the gospel.
Communion: “Lamb of God.”
We sing our praise for the gifts of this table.
Post-Communion Song: “For the Fruit of All Creation.” # 679
Post-Communion Prayer

The reason I was so late in post this week is three-fold: first, after church we ran errands, and upon returning home, made the aforementioned gnocchi with pesto, and then Michael and Farmergirl got it in their heads to do some cleaning. Never one to question family cleaning time, I happily joined in the cleaning. Second, the snow/ice/sleet/rain/thunder/snow finally cleared, and Michael and I took off to plant some of the gazillion trees we bought through the Spokane County Conservation District. The tree planting was fairly successful, but he kept asking me what time it was–which is a little weird, for a guy who doesn’t wear a watch and generally doesn’t care what time it is on Saturday or Sunday. We parted ways so I could plant a few more larch along the road, and he went back for the shovel we left, met up at the mule (4WD, not four-legged), and drove back to the house in the sleet.

There was a traffic jam in the driveway. I’m not sure how he would have got me out of the house if the weather hadn’t broken, but there was a surprise birthday party of 25 in my living room, complete with potluck, mangled cakes (there were a series of baking mishaps on Friday night while Farmergirl and I were out), and lots and lots of fibery goodness — yarn. So I spent the night partying, and not writing my weekly report. However, by the magic of technology, I can back date the timestamp, and voilá! I’ve written this post yesterday.

It’s probably a problem when the most striking thing about a church service is the communion bread. I don’t know if that makes it a universal problem, or if it’s simply a problem for me. The real highlight of the experience was talking with Claude, the gregarious and enthusiastic greeter who I suspect is also a deacon or the senior warden, or both. (I’m not wholly certain what form of church governance the Lutherans use, but he mentioned that he led the service [what Episcopalians call “Morning Prayer”] on the occasions the pastor was not available, was the greeter at the front door, and obviously comfortable and knowledgeable about the church). He also had really great glasses–large, thick framed, square ones that made him look a little like Giovanni Ribisi’s character, Ralph Mariano, when he’s hiding out with the old lady, pretending to be her husband in Episode 60 of My Name is Earl.

The bigger problem here is not a service that’s pleasant but unremarkable, but that we’re not exactly church-shopping. I say we’re “not exactly” church-shopping because we’re not “officially” church-shopping, but we’ve kind of turned a corner in the project where we’re not sure where we’re going to go after the 28th of December, and so there is a sense in which any church we visit has the potential to be one we return to in 2009. And all of this begs the question: what are we looking for in a church?

We’re at the point in our lives where we’ve picked churches much like we’ve picked friends. When you’re young, you’re friends with kids from school, and neighborhood friends. You can pretty much continue to gather friends this way right through grad school. Then, you hit this point in your life where your friends fall really into a few categories:
People you met at work (because work has replaced school).
People you’ve met at church/hobby group/sports activities.
And then — this is the biggest category I’ve found of late — People whose kids your kid gets along with, and you can stand. If your kids don’t mix well, the friendship probably isn’t going to work out that well, but if your kids click, and you can get along amicably . . . well, there’s your friends.

And picking a church for the last 10 years has been kind of like that. We were part of a church plant long after Michael and I would have probably left — because the kids’ program was so great, and Farmertot was having a blast. We tend to choose churches based on what the closest Episcopal church is, and then working geographically out until one seems to “click” . . . or at least fine one we can stand, and Farmergirl likes. Upon reflection, this might not be the healthiest, most desirable way to pick a church, but it worked pretty well until just recently.

We’ve concluded that we’re small church people, which I’m going to loosely define as “less than 200” and probably “less than 100.” We’re still somewhat committed to attending a church relatively geographically close to where we live . . . but most are at least 15 miles away. The OO Seventh Day Adventists probably qualify as the closest to meeting these criteria, but I suspect there are doctrinal differences that we can’t surmount, and so we’re not likely to do that. The issues that drove us from the two churches we were attending have not be resolved in our absence, so they’re both still out. We could, of course, head over to St. Luke’s across the border . . . but I’m not inclined to drive into the snow belt all winter (CdA had almost twice the snow Spokane did this winter — I think it’s a lake-effect thing, but it might just be north Idaho distinguishing itself from eastern Washington).

In case you were wondering if we had a plan for 2009 . . . nope . . . we sure don’t. Next week, we’ll probably go Catholic somewhere, and have a triad of liturgical traditions (and, if we add the Greek Orthodox which we didn’t do on Easter, we could make it a quartet). Michael would like to do the “architectural” series of some of the older downtown churches (we’ll have to remember to bring the camera), but I’m not inclined to begin that until we’re actually into spring (it snowed AGAIN last night).

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