I arrived at Sunset Presbyterian on Sunday thinking about my siblings. It was not only my brother Dan’s 38th birthday (dayem we’re getting old!) (Happy Birthday, Dan!) but we’d picked the church specifically because my sister was slated to perform there in the Rose City Flute Choir and I was very much looking forward to seeing the transformation that happens whenever she walks onto a stage. I mean honestly, is there anything better than watching your staunchly atheist, lesbian sister perform for a crowd of happy clappy Christians?
Of course we got there just in time to completely miss the flute choir, which my sister missed too since she was home with a cold.
The rest of the music was… interesting. It was enthusiastic and well-performed, but it all sounded a bit like Christmas carols to me. And I’m talking remixed Top 40 Christmas carols, not the jazz ditties of yore. My standard for music is simple: does it have a beat I can dance to? And the answer for Sunset Presbyterian was sure, but only if you’re a geriatric.
After the music, the pastor (who, from what I understand, is a relatively new interim pastor) led us in a prayer, which is always fun for me because I love watching people pray. I never bow my head (I’m done faking anything, ever, for the rest of my life) so I often feel like a LOLCAT: Iz in yer churchez! Watchinz yer prayerz!
You guys are so cute when you’re prayin’! But seriously? Why do you have to close your eyes? Yet another thing I just. don’t. get. Is praying like the Vulcan Mind Meld?
When the subject of Japan’s tsunami came up during said prayer, the pastor told God, “You’re in the midst of it, doing what you do!” Presumably, he was talking about God helping those in need, but the asshole in me couldn’t help but ask, “Didn’t God CAUSE it?”
Then he went on to say something about how “The Holy Spirit lives inside you!”
Like a tapeworm?
“Don’t ignore it!”
I totally agree: bad idea!
When the pastor brought up Matthew 28:19-20, which is apparently printed in big letters on the exit of the building, he gave the congregation a quiz about what it said, where it was in the Bible and what it meant. Of course, my bald, atheist lover nailed that scripture before a single person in the congregation even had time to raise their hand.
“Go and make disciples out of nations.” Oh the many reasons I adore him!
This Sunday was MISSION SUNDAY, which made me think about Mission Impossible and Tom Cruise and his high-on-life, couch-jumping Scientological ways. But as dry as the lecture was, I definitely HEARD where Sunset Presbyterian was coming from. They value outreach. Even if that outreach is as simple as pulling weeds at the local elementary school. They put a high priority on community service. They put their money (and their feet) where their mouths are.
They go Haiti and Honduras and Uganda. They go in couples and they go in families and they go droves and they do it all for the sake of Jesus – in a broad, non-denominational, lovey-dovey way.
I dig that in a congregation.
Of course, I EXPECT that in a congregation. Especially one as large as Sunset Presbyterian.
Unfortunately, I found the sermon boring. The pastor had recently taken his family to Disneyland and he thought the Happiest Place On Earth was a good example of God’s Great Commission (to spread the good word) (or something). Apparently the Disneyland employees have a similar mandate about making their guests happy. A mandate that came directly from Walt himself. Like God’s Great Commission.
“Just like every person at Disneyland, down to the janitors, has to wear a costume and play the part, we have a part to play for Jesus.” Oh, really? M-I-C-K-E-Y-J-E-S-U-S!
To be brutally honest, I felt like I was attending a business seminar, what with the white-shirted guy up there with the red tie and the missing crown of hair, speaking clearly into his clip-on microphone for a sea of khakis and button downs. He might just as well have been talking about Adobe Photoshop.
Oh! And don’t get me started on the name tags!
The rest of the sermon was a series of interviews, which reminded me of going to God Camp with my Baptist best friend growing up. Jesus skits! Each one seemed more forced than the last, from the family who got up and shared about how their missionary work served their need to be obedient to God, to the letter from a missionary who made her service sound like a Harlequin romance.
I am 100% pro-missionary (style), but I had to stop and think hard about how I’d feel if a bunch of, I dunno, Japanese Buddhists descended upon MY town and tried to convince me that the only way to salvation was to accept Buddha as my personal savior. It would probably piss me off.
That said? Building schools and hospitals is always A-okay in my book, even if my book isn’t the Good one.
Finally, the pastor summed up the day’s message by saying, “Maybe God’s tapping you on the shoulder and telling you to go to Uganda?”
I turned to Joel and whispered, “What if God’s NOT tapping me at all, but I still want to go to Uganda.”
“Check your meds.”
I had to laugh again when the velvet bags went around the room. Is there a Jesus Supply Warehouse or something? Because Sunset Presbyterian obviously shops at the same store as Beaverton Foursquare. At least the offering music was better. This old dude in a sweater vest got up and sang “Jesus Saves” and he sounded EXACTLY like Don Henley. The only thing missing was some bitchin’ 90’s screaming sax in the background. I loved it.
The best part of this church experience was the free pancake breakfast afterward, but definitely not because of the food. We got the chance to sit down and talk church with the parishioners, who were genuinely interested in our project and wanted to tell us about the work that their church does. They have Global Outreach teams and short-term teams. They go to Haiti and they’re already working on a plan to help Japan. They have children’s programs, youth programs and the Helping Hands community pantry helps feed hungry Beavertonians, not to mention the soon-to-be opened Community Garden that will give cityfolk a place to grow their own vegetables while also providing fresh produce for the pantry.
Of course, by the time the second morning service started up at 11:00, word had gotten out about our project and the red flag went up. ATHEISTS ARE AMONG US! CONVERSION ALERT! CONVERSION ALERT!
I’m mostly joking, but I do often feel like a raw chunk of shrimp sitting out at the end of a fishing line the moment I admit that I’m looking for a church to call home. But the truth is I’m not exactly sure a traditional Christian Church will ever be able to reel me in. Maybe the reason I identified so strongly with The Bridge was because I know they’ll take me anyway, even if I steadfastly refuse to be saved. By anyone. Ever. I can almost see myself attending one of Donna’s bible studies, where I’d almost assuredly hem and haw, question everything, and be a major pain in the ass, but where I’m sure I’d be accepted. And likely repeatedly (and lovingly!) informed of what a huge pain in the ass I am. Over beers. In a bar. Because that’s where Donna holds bible study.
I want some UGLY with my church. I think that’s my definition of authenticity. I want to see the flaws. That’s how I know it’s real. Sunset Presbyterian and its shiny happy congregation were simply too pretty for me.
Would I go back to Sunset? No. We just didn’t click. But I’ll tell you this: I am glad this church exists. Their members reek of kindness and generosity and I believe they do good work in the community and in the world. That’s pretty much all you can ask for.