By Amanda P. Westmont
Sunday morning came much earlier than usual this weekend. Drunk on the generosity of a friend who gifted us her just-about-to-expire hotel groupon, Joel and I had stayed up way too late on Saturday night for grown-up time after the kids fell into their post-snow-day comas.
“Hi! This is Amanda Westmont in room 325! I was wondering if you knew what time services are held at that cute little log cabin church at the end of the road!?” Julie, our friendly hotel receptionist, put me on hold while she figured it out.
Which is when the bald man beside me started laughing hysterically.
“Your voice!” He coughed out between coughing fits of laughter. “I swear I went to bed with Amanda and woke up with someone else! Who is that church lady I just heard on the phone?”
“Wait. You’ve never heard my receptionist voice before?”
“Well I’m just being nice so she’ll let us have a late check out.” Which she did, shortly after informing me that we needed to high-tail it down the road to get to the chapel on time.
Joel still hadn’t stopped laughing at me. But when in Welches, do as the Welchonians do and if Church on the Mountain left any impression on me, which it did, that impression was BE NICE. It certainly can’t hurt to kill people with kindness.
Having been unable to make a decent cup of coffee with the hotel’s single-cup in-room brewer, we stopped at Coffee Brewsters on the way and arrived at the service exactly on time. The church itself was as quaint as a postcard, inside and out, with both the architecture and the parishioners themselves devoid of excess ornamentation. The Church on the Mountain is simple: real people, real faith, no bull.
My first greeting came from a wide-eyed southern girl with a cute blond bob and a smile. She welcomed my children and told us that after the music was over, the kids were welcome to attend Sunday school.
“My daughter would love to join them,” she said in a Tennessee accent as thick as molasses, “But she’s feeling puny.”
This church had me at “puny,” kept me going by honoring their veterans, held me with their all-string honkey-tonk band, and lost me – ENTIRELY – with the sermon.
This is what the LORD says:
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the LORD.
Oh, great! Our favorite sermon: MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL. Delivered by guest pastor, Mike Coughlin, who shuffled onto the stage looking at the floor and muttering with a type of spasmodic in-eloquence that made me think of him as a Protestant Woody Allen, this sermon fell on deaf ears, and not just my own. Looking around the room at perhaps the saltiest, earthiest group of retirees and mountain locals imaginable, I didn’t see an ounce of greed. Welches is a place where the pursuit of LEISURE is the more likely culprit of worldly boasting, not wealth.
“Maybe God has blessed you financially. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But we, as Christians, know these things will ultimately fail us.”
Thanks a bunch, Nutty Professor! But if my book sales don’t pick up soon, I may ultimately fail to pay my rent in July. If I believed in God, I’d sure as hell be asking him to throw me a bone, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that either. If a few months of Sundays has taught me anything it’s that God scorns our financial ambitions. Or at least that’s what most Christian pastors want you to believe. Or maybe it’s just a way to guilt you into filling the red velvet bag.
Having worked the majority of my professional career in some aspect of wealth management or another, I can say with certainty that the wealthy are some of the most generous, kind, giving souls I’ve ever met, Christian or otherwise. It’s easy to vilify wealth when you don’t have it. But isn’t that ENVY in its worst form? To assume that those with wealth are “ultimately going to fail?” My experiences with wealth have taught me that generosity rarely has any zeros after it. It’s only generosity of spirit that matters and that has absolutely nothing to do with your balance sheet. I mean, the only reason we were even able to attend the service on the mountain was because of the generosity of a friend.
After the service, I headed back to pick up the kids from Sunday school, where Genoa had triumphed through her shyness to make new friends and Alex had been seduced by the siren song of a homemade baking soda and vinegar rocket. We hung out afterwards to watch the boys race around the church yard and frankly, because I was enjoying the easy company.
As much as the sermon annoyed me, I’d like to think that on every other Sunday, the message more accurately reflects the parish. In fact, I’d like to go back the next time the church President speaks, because any man who comes to church in a camouflage hunting vest is obviously a man worth listening to. Or at least hearing out. Church on the Mountain is as authentic and down-to-earth as it gets and for a small church in a small town, it’s not the least bit “puny.”