I often look at my life and feel that I don’t have a home. I feel it physically—I find myself in Michigan with most of my family in Missouri. But more so I find theology as a sense of place seems to evade me. Maybe it started at that Methodist church on the gravel road. The church that never locked its doors because it was in the middle of nowhere. Safe. Now, I think it might also be because Methodists are some of the most welcoming Christians I have found.
Every year, our 4-H club would attend church together on a Sunday morning and a few times we worshiped at this church. I remember taking the Lord’s Supper there, and not thinking a thing about it. They did serve it a little differently. The pastor called it “Communion,” and asked believers to come forward to receive the bread and the grape juice. At my Southern Baptist church, we stayed in our pews, passing a plate of wafers then a plate of miniature plastic cups filled with grape juice. Without realizing it, I internalized the idea that it was an acceptable thing if believers didn’t do church the exact same way.
Yet there were more similarities than differences between that Methodist church up the road from me, and my own. The hymnals shelved on the back of the pews had the same songs. They had the same framed picture hung on the wall of Jesus knocking on an old-fashioned wooden door. Many chili suppers and potluck dinners were served in the church basements. Only later would I hone in on the ways Methodists differed from Southern Baptists.
Sometimes when I don’t have any obligations at my own church, I visit a Methodist church in my small town. When I walk through the wood doors, nostalgia sets in and the faith of my childhood is almost tangible. If I close my eyes, I almost see Mabel and Wilford from my childhood church on the left-hand side about three rows from the front. I see the swinging wooden doors between the foyer and the sanctuary in the Methodist church up the road from my childhood home. The hymnals still sit in built-in wooden shelves on the back of the pew.
In addition to the Methodists, I knew a few Catholics in my childhood. I visited the Parish once a year for their annual carnival. I had a neighbor who was Catholic. She lost her mom when we were teenagers and I attended the visitation. Those in attendance recited the Rosary, but I only knew the “Our Father” part.
My best friend in high school was Catholic. A few months every spring, we’d have cheese pizza at their house on Friday nights. For some reason, they didn’t eat meat during that time.
I thought I knew everything I needed to know about the Catholics. They had a completely different form of Christianity from me and the Methodists. Honestly, not one I wanted anything to do with. But when I moved to St. Louis in my twenties, Catholicism further introduced itself to me. There were a number of beautiful cathedrals in this city. I’d drive by just to look at them.
One afternoon, I slipped away to visit the St. Louis Cathedral after work. A few tourists milled about, but it was mostly empty. The presence of God felt heavy. I sat down on a pew near the front, flipped down the kneeler (mimicking that gesture after the person across the aisle), and took in the beauty of this place. Afterward, I snuck into the gift shop and bought a rosary. I had no idea what to do with it, but I wanted a physical reminder of this afternoon.
Over time, I learned more about Catholicism. I’ve made more Catholic friends. One friend in particular has spent a lot of time examining her Christian tradition. She wanted to understand the rich symbolism behind those things that comprise her faith. When I talk to her, it’s as if I’m talking to a family member, a sister.
Hopefully, if you were to ask her, she’d tell you I’ve taught her some things about faith as well. We’ve found a lot of common ground.
I made a lot of false judgments about the Catholic tradition. I’m ashamed to write these words now. I know Catholics who are devout in their faith. Certainly as devout as I try to be.
When I’m on vacation, I visit churches. Recently, I’ve been visiting my brothers and sisters in those hallowed buildings—and so far they have always welcomed me. More often than not, I look for a tradition different from my own. I’ve attended Catholic Mass, Russian Orthodox Vespers, and a Lutheran service, among others.
Of course, there are theological and liturgical differences, but there are also similarities. How a believer’s eyes light up when she tells me what to expect during their worship service. The number of times I’m invited to coffee hour or lunch afterward. In all these churches, we pray the Lord’s Prayer and recite the creeds (although I didn’t grow up knowing the latter even existed). All of us seem to know “Amazing Grace.”
Exploring Other Church Traditions
I am seated in a plush gray chair in my own church sanctuary, the one where I am a member. It’s the third Sunday of the month, so it’s Communion Sunday. Looking at the table where the bread and grape juice wait for us, my mind wanders. I wonder what the divine liturgy is like that morning at the Orthodox church. What portion of scripture will they read? What songs are they singing and chanting?
We’ve attended the same church for twelve years now. Although the Reformed tradition is not the one I was raised in, I am profoundly grateful for the emphasis they place on theological study. I have tread deep waters in my years at this church, and find myself among believers eager to do the same thing.
I’ve fallen in love with the variety of our church traditions—even though we don’t agree on everything. “Thy kingdom come” is more varied and beautiful than we ever imagined. This is an entirely different faith crisis I never saw coming.
Cover photo by Lucas Carl.