Year of Sundays

Year of Sundays

Apostolic Lutheran: The Begotten

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.

Comments read comments(25)
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Tina B

posted April 7, 2011 at 3:09 am

I’m sure there is more shared DNA then anybody likes to admit. My mom didn’t appreciate it when I told her I married a Mexican to introduce some new blood and make sure I didn’t accidentally marry a cousin. (and jv, yeah, sometimes people forget and it’s rather awkward) Still, I have lots of memories of growing up there and there are many good, solid people in the congregation.

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posted April 5, 2011 at 8:04 pm

At first I had mixed feelings when I heard why you visited our church and are visiting other churches, but like my fellow church goers on here I too will be praying that this experience will lead you to Him. And I probably will be following your blog.
I was very amused at reading your accounts and impressions of your visit. I am glad that we came across as kind and loving people. Speaking for myself it’s not always easy to introduce yourself to strangers and strike up a conversation, but I’m glad that there were those that did.
I do have to just comment on one thing about the young teenagers getting married since it cracked me up – I’m actually 27 and just getting married this year. Yes there are some folks in our church that are quite young when they get married, but actually a lot of them are in their early to mid 20’s.
Thanks for visiting. We will be praying for you and we welcome you to come back again!

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted April 4, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Thanks, Shanna! I appreciate your enthusiasm!

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Shanna A

posted April 4, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Joel, at first I wasn’t sure why (not knowing who you might be)…and now, I’d say I’m praying like JV. :)

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posted April 4, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I’m praying because I genuinely hope you get what you want out of this experience, BUT if I’m being honest, I’m also praying that has His way in your hearts. That through this you’ll have an experience that leads you to Him. If not so be it, but it doesn’t hurt to pray :)

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posted April 4, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Well, wouldn’t it be kind of mean if they were praying for everyone BUT you?

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Joel Gunz

posted April 4, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Hi Violette, Sandra and others from the Apostolic Church. Loving your comments. Just one question: Why is everyone praying for us?


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posted April 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm

oops, dont know how some of my last comment disappeared! The people at the church really are great and very sweet. There are a handful of negative experiences I’ve had with them, but like Pastor H. said, they aren’t used to stepping out of their own circles. Understandable since not many people can appreciate or understand their lifestyle choices. Although I’m a non-denomination Christian, I relate a lot to the lifestyle that Aps practice because it’s important to me as well that my own little family grows up with spiritual morals. And believe it or not, hanging out with them long enough, you’d want 12 kids too. I know I went from wanting 2 a long time ago to wanting 8.

If there’s one thing the Apostolic Lutherans have right, it’s family!

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posted April 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm

I love reading these comments and I love what you’re doing. I have only been to this particular church for weddings and funerals, although my husband’s family went there for a long while (some still do). A lot of the things you pointed out are things I’ve personally experience, only I get the strangest looks ever because I am in no way shape or form a pasty blonde gal. I think people are wondering where the black chick came from (I’m not black actually, I’m Mexican which is almost worse. I’ve had to remind people more then once that I’m Mexican and maybe they should tone down the extreme racism.). ANY WHO, if you guys get a chance, I would love for you to come to our church.

The hubs and I go to Summit View where he is often found on stage behind a drumset (sexiest drummer ever, btw). We’ll save you a seat :)

God bless you guys on this journey of yours. I know He’ll meet you where you are because He did the same for me. We have some good friends who go to Compass church in downtown Vancouver. We’ve been a couple of times and if the same guy is still teaching, he’s really good.

I’m excited to follow you guys because I’m pretty sarcastic and cynical too

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posted April 1, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Just want you to know that we, along w/ many others from the Hockinson Apostolic Church, are praying for you…I know God has special plans for you and I think you will be surprised at where He will take you this year and the wonderful things He will show you about Himself! He loves you more than you can imagine and is thrilled that you care enough to search Him out Sunday after Sunday…I know He will bless you! We were the couple sitting in front of you…maybe you didn’t notice us since we didn’t have the ‘apostolic dozen’ children sitting w/ us, but I do come from a family of 12! Sorry I didn’t talk to you and welcome you. I was in a hurry to talk w/ one of John & Dolly’s 50+ family members. :) But, I’m glad to hear you were warmly welcomed and saw that we ‘clearly love God’. This God that you’re searching for…He cares about you deeply! You saw Him…you felt His Presence in the love you were shown, you heard His words (through the message spoken from the Bible) and I know He smiled on you last Sunday, because He loves you even if you don’t yet know Him! Praying you will find what you are looking for!

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Shanna A

posted April 1, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Hey Amanda, saw your red hat as I was riding with my sister to park, and God told me to pray for you both (saw Joel in church later taking pictures and couldn’t figure out why- same thing.) Then one of my friends shared your blog on facebook and here I am! I am one of John and Dolly’s grandchildren and for some crazy reason God brought me there to Washington on the same sunday you both were there…from New Hampshire. Now, normally I would have gone to Church on the Rock, but since it was their anniversary we all decided to go to the same church that sunday. Hmmm… I really enjoyed reading both of your blogs and hopefully you can see what I see, that is, God is very present in this. I hope you DO write a book about this whole year…will be looking forward to it!

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posted April 1, 2011 at 2:58 pm

I just knew Amanda wouldn’t be able to pass up that opportunity . . .

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted April 1, 2011 at 10:50 am

Well I generally prefer to use my knees and tongue for other things, but THANKS!

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted April 1, 2011 at 10:48 am

Oh Rachel! I wish our comments had a LIKE button because I would click it thrice for you. For someone who plays organ so seriously, you have a gift for not taking yourself overly so, which is beautiful. Thanks for checking in!

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted April 1, 2011 at 10:47 am

Thanks, Brian. You gotta love a pastor’s son with a sense of humor!

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posted April 1, 2011 at 7:06 am

Every knee will bow and every tongue cofess to GOD ! yes you will do the same.

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posted March 31, 2011 at 11:32 pm

I’m a an App also …I had a good giggle, it was very interesting reading all about what your views were ,it is pretty much what you described from an outside prospective, I was raised in a charismatic. church, married into the app church, i love it is very calm and not over exaggerated ,They are good God fearing , nice caring people …..oh & one of my best friends is a (bun head) she’s an awesome girl!

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posted March 31, 2011 at 11:29 pm

Beige and white baby, beige and white… haha I’m that fumbling assistant pastor’s son and I gotta say one thing. You have a way with words… The part I liked the best is how you described the singing. “Punishing”. “Smile from stones”. Both come to mind often during songs at church, let me tell you! You should check out a book/web project called Stuff Christians Like. It’s a bit different because the author is a Christian but still a lot of sarcasm and making light, seems like what you two are into.

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Rachel Matson

posted March 31, 2011 at 10:30 pm

I think I chuckled the whole way through the article, and laughed long and loud more than once.
So you’re that pretty blonde with the bald photographer companion (I almost didn’t notice you because you blended right in 😉 ). I’m that stolid, bespectacled organist, and that description is just perfect. I laughed so hard, because I really am somber as a judge every time I play that organ. And it’s pretty much the only time that I’m stolid and somber. Makes up for the rest of the time. :)
Loved the whole description of the music. We organists are working on the congregation’s singing; you should have come five years ago. :)
I kind of want to go back through your article and point out all of my favorite lines, but that would be quite a list. :)
Glad you visited us, even if you were expecting the bunners, and I look forward to following your journey. Almost tempted to join you, in fact. I imagine there are quite a variety of churches and religions out there.

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted March 31, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Ha! What IS glorious Christian sex? And more importantly: how do I avoid catching it?

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted March 31, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Oh Jenny,

Me and my gray suit would like you to know we’re already WAY passed that.



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Amanda P. Westmont

posted March 31, 2011 at 12:41 pm

We have to do the old version too, but we’re booked through April, so it’ll have to wait.

I, too, could find more to do than procreate, but I said “better” and there’s nothing I’d rather do than that no matter where I am. 😉

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posted March 31, 2011 at 10:25 am

I lived in those very back hills of Clark County, darlin’, and I found a lot more to do than *just* practice pro-creating. I guess the descendants of the old Finns never got to me.

So. Gonna go to the Old version now?

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posted March 31, 2011 at 10:25 am

Yes, what you and Joel are (according to a religious belief) are doing is considered adultery. But no worries, so are people who are divorced and get married again too (according to religious belief). No one bad mouth me–I’m just educating. Sheesh. I feel the glares already. Apparently, everyone’s parents are then in adultery. Except for my parents. They never were divorced. Do I get a badge or something? Strange, I don’t feel any less injured for it — in someways, I may be more scarred than some divorcee’s children. Have you ever had to hear your parents have glorious christian sex while you were trying to sleep? No? Me either.

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posted March 31, 2011 at 9:57 am

Sex outside of marriage is considered adultery, which is one of the Big Ten Sins. So yeah, you, me and everyone else whose ever done it is fucked (perhaps wrong choice of words there) unless they accept Jesus, and promise to never even think of doing it again. I think you have to have 12 kids if you get married at 19. That way you won’t have time to be unhappy about it.

Though I grew up in North Dakota and live in Minnesota, understanding Lutheranism in all it’s various shades of beige, is something I haven’t quite ever been able to manage. it was always my nightmare that I might wake up at 21 with a passel of kids living in a double wide.

And congrats on going Hitchcock blonde. It’s only a matter of time before Joel gets totally Vertigo on you and starts picking out your outfits.

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