Thursday, May 21, 2009

Church Visit: Schenectady Church of Christ

On March 15, I visited Schenectady Church of Christ. I've been in a Church of Christ before; my longtime ex-girlfriend was born and raised in one, and we went together several times. For those of you not familiar with their theology: Read the Bible. Take it literally. That's all there is to it. From their own web site:
The original autographs of the sixty six books which make up the Bible are considered to have been divinely inspired, by which it is meant that they are infallible and authoritative. Reference to the scriptures is made in settling every religious question. A pronouncement from the scripture is considered the final word. The basic textbook of the church and the basis for all preaching is the Bible.
Even having been prepped by my previous experience, this was something entirely new for me. At my ex's church, despite the fact that they were insanely conservative and literalist, it still had the feeling of a bunch of old folks who were using the church as a social meeting place. At SCoC, there wasn't anyone there who wasn't there for worship.

Before the service even began, I was approached by two people who talked about how the church stuck strictly to the Bible - one in the parking lot and one in the pews. This was out of a congregation of maybe 25 to 30 people, mostly middle aged and older but no younger than maybe 15 or 16. The church itself looked like it could probably hold around 150, and the congregation mostly clustered up at the front, while I sat in the back. Most people wore dress casual outfits; only a couple of people wore suits.

As opposed to Niskayuna Wesleyan, the music here was entirely unaccompanied, not even going so far as to use a piano or organ. The minister (worship leader? whatever he was) shouted the lyrics out in a forceful baritone, eyes screwed shut, and the congregation droned along. Everything was very mechanical; the beat was either hard and plodding or tumbling and almost panicky, with no inflection.

There was little structure to the service (hence the lack of a bulletin). Mostly, they just sang song after song with brief interruptions. There was no sense of the "holy spirit" here; the service was entirely unemotional, almost cold, and thoroughly uninspiring. It was almost gloomy. (I have this in my notes: "There is an utter lack of the feeling of 'spiritual satisfaction.' most seem to be going through the motions.")

The minister offered up a prayer of thanks and supplication, mentioning that we were in the end times. I've never been in a church that brought that up in the service before. He also prayed for an end to "the slaughter of innocents". Wonder what that was about...

More songs, followed by a reading of the story of the first communion. Communion with unleavened, nasty little crackers and grape juice. (So much for taking the scripture literally...) Collection of the offering, more songs.

(In my notes: "I get the feeling that the minister has no formal training and instead relies on singing constantly to make up for his ignorance of church service tradition..." Now, I'm not so sure. I think he might find the traditional services to be heretical.)

The sermon, given by the church's token black guy, began with a recap of last week's subject, "The Family Under Attack." He talked about how the family was under attack by the devil, who wants to destroy the church and keep them from worshipping; that there was a time people sinned in the closet, but nobody hides their sin anymore; that society is degenerating because of foul language and unmodest dress; that the people are becoming like the world, and forgetting how god designed the family.

He went on a long rant about how we should thank god for women, since they're leading people to the church, but that this isn't how it should be; that women are supposed to be subservient, and the men are supposed to be leading the spiritual life of the family; that Adam was in charge, not Eve; and that if god had meant for women to take the lead in the church, he wouldn't have cursed them.

He said that snakes were literally the descendents of the devil, and actually used the "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" line like he thought he was being witty and clever.

He promoted the idea that women and children should submit to authoritarian thought control on punishment of being kicked out of the house.

He talked about how people had "gotten away from the Biblical things of the Bible," just to be repetitively redundant. He talked about how "sex was never intended for single folk; it was designed for married folk," and quoted Hebrews 13:4 :
Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.
He said that every family problem results from the failure of men to lead the family Biblically; that "the world is tearing our family apart," and that we should worry more about our family than the economy, because "our Lord is bigger than the economy."

At this point, he was literally shouting at us.

He talked about the roles the Bible gives for men and women, in 1 Timothy 5:14 :
I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.
and in 1 Timothy 5:8 (which is irrelevant) :
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
He said that we should consider a working wife a double blessing, but we should chastise her for taking on a man's role and encourage her to return home to clean and teach girls to be ladies. He said that if the men can't work, we should do everything we can to keep our wives from working, up to and including taking social services like welfare. (Thanks a ton.) He said that a man should be more eager to work two jobs than to let his wife even have one.

He made a remark about a mother making sure to hit her children hard enough that they mind, and people laughed.

He said that there was never any excuse not to come to a worship service, no matter where you are, even if you're traveling abroad, and that you have to go to a church that worships based on the New Testament, where the focus was on worship, prayer, singing, communion, and scriptural teaching.

(In my notes: "Job's endless faith is what we should have. So if there's nothing that can shake it, how is that not delusional? ... THIS SERMON IS BORDERING ON INSANELY LONG. 45 minutes so far...")

After that was all wrapped up (about 20 minutes later), one of the church elders came up to discuss the church's attempts to reach out to the community. He mentioned that they were working on a commercial for the church, they were looking for a free advertising outlet, and they were making business cards for the church. He and the others seemed to be desperate for new members. He called on the entire church to give a second offering just for that.

The Lord's Prayer was never read, oddly enough. When we were finally dismissed, the minister's benediction included (in a deep monotone) "and oh, Lord, it's been uplifting." I begged to differ. It had been terribly disconcerting and alienating. I'd never felt more like I was in hostile territory, and I got out of there as quickly as I could before having to talk to anyone.

1 comment:

cl said...

Now here's an area where we can apparently agree: the absurdity and negativity of organized religion.