How Can You Not Be Changed?

Part Two on Deepening Your Relationship with God by Worshiping with Other Faiths

Carolyn Thompson Ten-minute read.   Resources

Stained glass windows at Calvary Episcopal Church. Image: Gary Allman

I spent Maundy Thursday at a Methodist Church singing the choral Living Last Supper, and Good Friday at an ELCA Lutheran Church, and sitting in the dark of the Easter Vigil service in the beautiful, Calvary Episcopal Church. And I thought, “walking with Jesus through Holy Week, how can you not be changed?” and it struck me that the Easter Vigil, is very like the changes happening to me from going to different places of worship each week. I had been through 40 days (okay, possibly, 59 years) of what amounts to Lent — a season of reflection, of preparation, of sacrifice, and of being in the desert. At the Easter Vigil I start in darkness, but slowly with the first light of Easter and the hearing of our salvation history and the renewal of my baptismal vows (and this was the first time it ever meant anything to me – I was surprised), I realize just how far I’ve come in my spiritual journey these past 20 months. A journey in which I expected to change but never dreamed I would be changed so much!

In case you didn’t read Part One of the story my journey began 20 months ago with a calling to go to a different place of worship each week within a one-and-a-half hour drive of home, so that I could learn to feel and see God no matter where I was.

One of the interesting things about dropping myself into a new place of worship each week is that I get to see a glimpse of the life of each church/organization I visit. I was there:

  • The Sunday after the 2nd organist in a row quit;
  • after the rector broke his arm the night before and after the scramble to prepare Morning Prayer a retired priest volunteered from the congregation to do the Eucharist;
  • after a heavy snow and after the Lake flooded and other events that bring a community together;
  • after the pastor went home for his ailing mother and didn’t return in time for the service, so the Elders led a prayer service;
  • for the first Easter Vigil that a church’s congregation had experienced;
  • when they welcomed back to church a man everyone thought would die the week before;
  • for an Easter sunrise service (my first ever) when it was 5 degrees and windy as the sun came up.

What are the odds I’d see so many of these unplanned, and truly formational events in the lives of these churches? Of course the answer is that God’s actions aren’t odds, for me they’re just part of the continuing strengthening of my relationship with Him, with other people, and with myself.

Picking My Weekly Place of Worship

I’ve had some really unique experiences after choosing my place of worship for the week.

Here are a couple of examples of what happens when I go where I let God lead me:

  1. I went to my church because I was scheduled to acolyte but something was wrong with the schedule so they didn’t need me. I got on the internet to see what church that I hadn’t been to in the area that had a service in the next half hour. The experience provided one of my most memorable “aha” moments regarding the progress I’d made in my journey.
  2. I was reading a book that led me to think I wanted to try meditating. In the middle of the book I ended up at a Unity church (lots of meditating) and had a great experience. I had planned to go to Unity Church the month before, but my plans had to change. Had I gone when I’d planned, before reading the book, the service would have made me feel uncomfortable. Visiting after reading the book, I was able to get a lot from the service.

Here’s what often happened when I was picking a place of worship to go to:

I would call and leave a message asking for the service time, and I didn’t get a call back. Nothing, nada.

These were all places I had chosen to go to (trying to get to a few faith traditions on my list). I tried calling them multiple times over a few months and never received a call back. I found this to be so odd, who wouldn’t want someone to join them in worship? It actually made me want to go all the more. The national website of another faith tradition that didn’t call me back said they “welcome everyone”. Interesting.

Realizations

  • Everything affects everything – since I started this journey I frequently notice how what’s happening to me right now is connected to multiple other things that have happened.
  • While praying for people in a nationally publicized tragedy, I realized how powerful it was that all over the world people were going to different kinds of worship and they we were all praying for those impacted by the tragedy.
  • Some places have specific memories and lessons that I learned about myself as I worshiped.
  • There was the great teaching pastor who literally made Bible stories “come to life” for me.
  • At a church in Florida, all of sudden, I really understood what “Christ died for my sins” means. Something I’ve been struggling to understand for decades
  • I’ve been introduced to many versions of the formal prayer of confession, the prayer of thanksgiving, the prayer before communion, and before the offertory. I love the Book of Common Prayer, but I have seen some even more meaningful versions – and that’s saying a lot coming from me!
  • The different traditions have an amazing number of names for the same thing, be it different parts of a worship service, parts of a church building, or it’s furniture and even the pronunciation of the word “amen”

Places of Worship Attended Since My First Article

Church/Denomination Number of Visits
Church of Christ 1
Church of the Nazarene 1
Assembly of God 1
MS Lutheran 2
Unity 2
Greek Orthodox 1
Roman Catholic 1
Disciples of Christ 5 (same church, love their outdoor service)
ELCA Lutheran 1
Methodist 5 (4 are the same church, I was asked back to sing)
Non-denominational 3
Presbyterian 1
Baptist 1
My church 8 (to acolyte)
Other Episcopal churches 2

I started out on a one-year journey of visiting other traditions. At the end of that year I couldn’t give it up. At the time I didn’t know if this was me or God directing me. Now at the end of my 20th month I can definitely see God’s hand in my journey. If we ever meet, you can ask me about a huge life event in the 19th month that made it oh so clear.

Sadly my list of “be sure I get to these places of worship” hasn’t been completed in the last 10 months. Why? Other opportunities have been taken as I let God lead me, my church has a rector again, so I’m acolyting once a month, and another church has me leading singing once a month.

So here’s what’s left:

  • 7th Day Adventist (it doesn’t count that we parked our motorhome in the Plantation Key, Florida 7th Day Adventist church’s lot this Winter –- and what a lovely pastor we talked to)
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (I have tried calling the one nearest me multiple times with no call back – I will branch out)
  • Jehovah’s Witness (same as above)
  • Buddhist Temple
  • Muslim Mosque
  • Mennonite
  • Christian Science. I am reading “My Twelve Years with Mary Baker Eddy” and I have a copy of “Science and Health” to read, but I still want the “worship” experience.

I Expected to Change, But Not This Much

In my journey I was hoping to learn to see/feel God in every worship experience. Instead I am getting so much more.

  • I am getting the ultimate of “aha” moments from the outcome of a Christ-like relationship with others and with myself.
  • I am not judging things that before I started this journey, I would have hated (my mother always told me that “hate” was too strong a word, no one really actually hates, but these come pretty close for me). Just three cases in point (arguably the two things in worship I have been most verbal about disliking and had felt actual hurt the ability to connect with God).
  • Just after the beginning of the service at an Assembly of God – people who asked for prayer came to the front and a large number of people huddled around them and prayed loudly, all at the same time, all with different words so it was a cacophony of sound while the rest of us sang a long hymn – my reaction was one of feeling I’d been part of all those prayers and I was stunned at myself as previously I’d have felt it was a distraction at best and showy at worst.
  • Another Sunday, and Mother’s Day Sunday at that, the Church of Christ service was completely centered on the scripture of wives submitting to their husbands and no women talked, held positions of leadership in the church, and appeared to be perfectly in agreement with this through the 45 minute message on how important this was to Christian world – my reaction was again stunned that I wasn’t livid. I was simply interested in how all the pieces fit together to make the best Christian homes, communities and world.
  • And finally, a large portion of the almost 3 hours of chanting in the Greek Orthodox church was so fast I couldn’t even read fast enough to see what words the Reader was saying much less be able to read it myself and certainly not learn anything – my reaction was at first frustrated (but not the “what is wrong with people who read this fast?” of yesteryear) and then slowly I was able to start keeping up (3 hours will do that to you!) and in fact I later thought that this method was helpful to me as a feeling of immersion in the scriptures (not exaggerating, I timed it – he read 10 whole Psalms in about 5 minutes).

If I can come this far in 20 months, I can’t imagine what the next 20 months will hold.

But then again, maybe I am not meant to imagine. Me the planner, me the objectives girl. Maybe that is my true lesson so far — I am now allowing worship to happen to me. And because of this I will no longer subscribe to the popular saying “God never gives you more than you can handle”. Instead I am now saying “God always gives you more than you ever imagined”.

Carolyn B Thompson is a cradle Episcopalian with an unquenchable thirst for more relationship with her beloved Father.

Gary Allman

Gary Allman is the Director of Communications at The Diocese of West Missouri

2 thoughts on “How Can You Not Be Changed?”

  1. What a wonderful commentary. I applaud you for your open heart, mind, and soul. It gave me many points to ponder about myself and my preferred style in which to worship. Perhaps next time I’m traveling I won’t be so intent on finding an Episcopal church, but will just seek out the closest place of worship. Thanks for sharing your “worship adventure” and experiences.

    1. Your traveling example is one I wish I’d employed over the years (I do now, but never before – in fact, I was so intent that I even called ahead to be sure it was even the kind of Episcopal worship service I liked! – who knew what joy I was missing from just showing up and expecting only to see God).

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