Year of Sundays

The hills are alive with the sound of JESUS!

This Sunday we trekked out to Brush Prairie in search of a very traditional congregation that seems to have found its home in the wild jungle rolling pastures of rural Washington. I thought we were on our way to a service that would get us as close as possible to Amish territory without being in Pennsylvania, but sadly, I picked the wrong kind of Lutheran. I was after OLD Apostolic Lutherans and The Hockinson Apostolic Church is very much NEW.

It was also the whitest congregation we’ve seen yet, which makes sense because Brush Prairie is a small town that was originally settled by Finnish immigrants. It has a population of roughly 3000 people, twelve of whom are not white, so it shouldn’t have come as a shock that there were so many towheads in the pews. Thank god Joel convinced me to become his own personal Hitchcock blonde because I blended right in.

(That was a joke.) (The blending-in part, not the Hitchcock part.)

The architecture of the church was so staunchly devoid of adornment as to appear naked, almost as if it was built to be intentionally uninspired.

Focus on the word, people, not the trappings of material beauty!

Unfortunately, the first speaker was every bit as uninspired as the church itself. He made the announcements in a voice so dull it reminded me of when I used to type bad words into the Speak ‘N Spell just to see if I could get that thing to sound human. When he announced that John and Dolly’s whole family was in attendance that day in recognition of their 50th anniversary, he could have been talking about taking out the trash on Tuesday. And even weirder was that, unless they were behind us, John and Dolly didn’t wave or stand up or make any kind of a move to acknowledge their milestone, so I still have no idea who they were. I didn’t learn until afterward, when one of their 12 children approached us, that when they said John and Dolly’s whole family, they meant OVER FIFTY PEOPLE.

In my world, that deserves not only a head nod, but a goddamn standing ovation.

After the announcements, the organist, a stolid, bespectacled girl in her early twenties, led the congregation in the first hymn, titled “The Wonder of It All!” Boy, did this crowd know their hymns! I bet Jesus could hear those decibels all the way from space! But looking around the room, I got the feeling the parishioners had forgotten their punctuation because everyone sang it like they were being punished. It was like squeezing a smile out of a stone.

Then the assistant pastor got up in his beige suit with his beige hair behind his beige pulpit and led everyone in the first prayer of the day. Which was not only beige and delivered with the three-word-burst-then-pause-for-effect cadence of William Shatner and the slightest bit of a Midwestern Scandinavian accent, but ENDLESS. I tried hard to pay attention, but even knowing I’d have to write about it couldn’t keep me engaged. Instead I started eying the pews and counting the children.

There were babies EVERYWHERE. We’re talking a full-on zombie baby invasion. Thank the sweet baby Jesus himself that I’m no longer a nursing mother because my milk would have let down approximately 73 times that Sunday and destroyed my favorite church dress.

Sitting still is hard to do.

After completely botching the lord’s prayer (at which point I turned to Joel and was like, Dude, even *I* know that one), the organist began the next hymn: “He Was Nailed to the Cross For Me.”

It went a little something like this:

What a wonderful, wonderful Savior,
Who would die on the cross for me!
Freely shedding His precious lifeblood,
That the sinner might be made free.

He was nailed to the cross for me,
He was nailed to the cross for me;
On the cross crucified for me He died;
He was nailed to the cross for me.

I thought it was spectacularly morbid, but Alex turned to me and said, “I think I’ve heard this tune before!”

No, child. No you haven’t.

Then Pastor Ron Holmgren got up to the pulpit in his gray mustache and his gray suit and began to read from John 4:5 about the Samaritan woman at the well. The room filled with the sound of crinkling tissue paper and I immediately got excited thinking Oprah had just said, “Everyone look under your seat!” and we were all about to rip into the gift bags to find keys to our brand new cars inside. But it was just the sound of everyone opening their bibles.

Like always, I had Joel locate the passage for me and then, to further illustrate my biblical ignorance, I had to ask, “Why are some of the words red?”

“Jesus spoke in red.”

Oh did he, now? Is the bible his Red Shoe Diary? Maybe I’ll read it after all.

Again I struggled to pay attention because the pastor spent nearly an hour on a passage that consisted of about four sentences. I killed some time going to bathroom, which was so cold and basic it made me feel like I was camping, and then I went back to my favorite religious pastime: people watching. The crowd was almost eerily homogenous, like they had literally all come from the same set of DNA. I kept thinking how lucky the dark-haired girls must be to have their pick of the boys, who I imagine spend their alone time downloading sexy latina porn just for the novelty.

My ears perked up a few times, like when the pastor was describing what a trial it was for women in biblical times because they had to walk miles for water.

“Women, thank God for faucets!” he said. Then added, as an afterthought, “Uh, and men too.”

“God’s truth is black and white!”

“The well is deep and my dipper handle is short!”

Well that last one explains a lot. (Yes, I’m 12, but so is Joel because he giggled too.)

I started to feel sorry for the poor whore at the well. After five husbands, she sure had a hard time keeping a man around and hell, the dude she’s with now won’t even marry her! I found it interesting (and somewhat damning for me and Joel) that the pastor referred to that not as living in sin, but as adultery, as if all sexual conduct outside of marriage is infidelity. Was that just a slip of the tongue or an actual religious belief?

I know it sounds like I’m being hard on this church, but it’s only because I don’t have anything TRULY bad to say about it. The service itself was prosaic, but the people were kind and welcoming and sincere. They clearly love God and have an obvious respect for the sanctity of the family. I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of having a dozen offspring, whether it’s good for the children or not (not to mention the women doing all that birthing!) (those poor uteri!), but if I lived in the back hills of Clark County, I’d be hard pressed to find something better to do with my free time than procreate.

It actually made me a little sad for Joel and I. Making babies is about the purest expression of human love I can imagine and yet, I would rather give myself a hysterectomy with a ballpoint pen than ever get pregnant again. No matter how much we adore one another, our DNA will never get to do that particular tango. I felt myself mourning the family we’ll never get to have together – no bald, bespectacled, brown-eyed babies for us! The Apostolic Lutherans value the institution of marriage; hell, they ARE an Institution of Marriage and Joel and I have no intention of going there either. So sure, these Lutherans might label our fledgling little merger as adulterous, but all I see when I look at us is the same thing I saw overflowing their pews on Sunday: love.

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