Church Experience #45 – November 27, 2011
Calvary Church of the Nazarene – Chattanooga, TN
There Are How Many…?
When trying to think of Christian denominations that I had not yet visited as part of the ChurchSurfer blog project this year (how many stinkin’ denominations are there anyway? It is mind boggling! Oh, and 40,000 is the answer I found, BTW.) my dad offered up the suggestion of Church of the Nazarene. OK, I am sure I have seen the name before, but was not sure that I had ever known anyone who was a member of a church of this denomination (or anyone who admitted to it, anyway). I fired up the Google search engine and typed in “Church of the Nazarene Chattanooga TN” and got a list back with a few different options, the very first of which was Calvary Church of the Nazarene on Bonny Oaks Drive, which is not far from where I live (and that always helps because gas is expensive!). So without doing any research (shame on me) and not really knowing what to expect, Laura and I set out to visit our first Nazarene church. Here is how our experience went…
Expectations vs. Reality
Upon pulling up to the small, simple, traditional brick church building that could have been any denomination but in this instance had a sign out front for “Calvary Church of the Nazarene”, I began to fight off the various judgments and expectations that come along with seeing a building like this. Small + brick + in Tennessee = old men in suits and ties, elderly women pinching my cheeks, and old school hymn music with piano and/or organ accompaniment. Yes I know…extremely critical…but that was the expectation that had immediately popped into my mind and I did not want it there. I prefer to go to church without expectations and to reserve the judgments until after the experience (and there is a good reason for that…just keep reading). So we went inside, spent a few minutes exploring the empty lobby and hallways before heading on in the sanctuary where a few twenty-somethings were preparing the stage for worship. To my surprise, there were modern instruments on stage and a young lady was sitting at a laptop, which she was setting up to present various slides including the worship song lyrics and Scripture passages to be used in the day’s sermon. We sat down and I took a moment to survey the room. It was a fairly typical sanctuary with red carpet and red cushions on the wood pews. The ceiling had wood beam fixtures and the walls were lined with dark stained glass windows. The small stage area had a recessed baptismal shielded by a curtain and there were modern instruments set up, including a drum kit, a bass guitar with a solid looking amp, acoustic guitars, and a violin. My expectations had suddenly changed after seeing all of this, and as we sat and waited for the service to start, several people began approaching us to greet and welcome us. First the pastor’s son, Andrew, who was in town for Thanksgiving from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, spent a few minutes talking with us about Black Friday, the Nashville music industry, and college life. Next, a man named Tommy came by, then the pastor, Mike Campbell, and then his wife Melissa, who told us to “make yourselves at home”. Wow, friendly place! Melissa continued to talk with us even after the worship music had started, and by that time the sanctuary had filled in a little and I could see a surprising diversity in ages of the people in attendance. My “elderly church” theory had obviously been blown out of the water, and as the worship band on stage (which included Andrew) rocked through a few contemporary worship songs, I realized my “hymns and organ music” stereotype had been shot down as well.
After two worship songs there was an official greeting time which allowed basically every member of the church who had not already welcomed us the opportunity to do so (like I said, these were friendly people!), and then two separate collections were taken up, first a special Thanksgiving collection, and then the regular collection of tithes and offerings. Pastor Mike then came up to the front and announced that this Sunday was the first day of Advent, which is the beginning of the Church Year for most churches in the Western tradition, and a couple from the congregation marked this event by lighting the first of four Advent candles. Also, as part of the Advent ceremony, the congregation participated in a responsive reading which was then followed by a final worship song that incorporated an updated version of a traditional hymn that had been blended with a contemporary praise song. Pastor Mike, who was dressed in slacks and a sweater vest and seemed to be pretty down to earth and “relatable”, began preaching in a plainly spoken voice from Luke 1:26-38. Rather than holding an iPad or any type of new-fangled technology, Pastor Mike went at his sermon truly “old school”, referencing sermon notes on paper from a yellow legal pad. His message was seeping with sincerity and mostly covered the topic of Mary being a pregnant virgin who was not yet married. He drew conclusions about what that would have meant in the Jewish society of that time, the many risks involved in her acceptance of this responsibility, and the impact it would have on her life and the life of Joseph. Pastor Mike then transitioned these points into life-applications for today’s Christians, which included the metaphor that we should be “pregnant with the presence of God” and reproduce into the world. He then challenged the congregation to explore the entirety of what that looks like, claiming that it is not simply fulfilled with evangelism, but that it is fulfilled in becoming and acting as the body of Christ. I don’t care who you are, that’s good stuff right there (spoken in my best “Larry the Cable Guy” country accent)! It was a stormy Sunday morning, and as I sat and listened to the sound of the rain beat on the church roof in the background of Pastor Mike’s sermon, I had a vision of the Holy Spirit washing us clean and preparing us for growth like seedlings in rich, damp soil (which I liked better than the visual image of pregnant men when Pastor Mike was speaking of being “pregnant with the presence of God”). Pastor Mike concluded his sermon by speaking out about how today’s society pressures Christians to hide their faith in so many ways and how there is a lie of “tolerance” that is demanded of Christians but at the same time not extended to us. To me, it is like our society is asking for an olive branch under the guise of the “acceptance of alternative lifestyles” (whatever those may be) while handing us a thorn bush in return by quashing any opportunities we may have to pray or speak the name of Jesus Christ in public forums. This ruse by our society is cowardly, it is unfair, and it is dead wrong, but unfortunately it is also the popular opinion of the day. God help us! What people do not realize is that true disciples of Jesus will offer unconditional love and support for people of any lifestyle, while at the same time standing firm that if they desire to be united into the perfection of Christ, it will require their total repentance and surrender to Him. Here is a video I saw this week that I think sums up that thought pretty effectively and creatively.
After church ended Laura and I received as many greetings as we had when it began, including an invitation from Tommy and his wife Sherry to join them for lunch at Sticky Fingers (which I would like to point out is something that has only happened a couple of times this year). We gladly accepted and had a great time breaking bread and fellowshipping with them and their two sons. What a blessing to be welcomed so warmly as visitors into the Calvary Church of the Nazarene family and to receive a wonderful message of encouragement from Pastor Mike. We also received several hand-written follow up letters and cards from the pastor and from others in the church the week after we attended there. This experience served as a much needed example of how expectations can be so far off from reality, and how acting on premature judgments can prevent us from experiencing God’s blessings in our lives. I thank God that we got to meet the people of Calvary Church of the Nazarene, and I lift up prayers that just as I had the vision of the rain washing and preparing the seedlings for growth, that God’s Word is received in their church and that through their faith and the work of the Holy Spirit, that many harvests will be collected and presented as holy offerings to the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
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Grace and peace in Christ,