Thursday, March 14, 2013

That Time I Was Scared Out of Church

 Whenever I move to a new place, I immediately start "church shopping." Church shopping involves visiting the Sunday services of whichever churches I am considering attending. Because there are only four Sundays in a month, it usually takes me a couple of months to decide on a church to attend. I take my time shopping, however, because I know that wondering if there is a better church out there might provide me an excuse to not attend on those Sunday mornings I am feeling particularly lazy.

 The first Sunday I was here I visited St. Mary's Episcopal Church, which is the closest Episcopal church to my in-law's house, and really liked the service and community. When we found an apartment, though, I discovered that there were a few Episcopal churches that were closer to us than St. Mary's and with gas at $3.50 a gallon, I try to save money as much as possible in this area. So, two Sundays ago, I visited St. Augustine's of Canterbury Episcopal Church for the most memorable church service of my life.

 I am an old-school Episcopalian. I was raised in the Episcopal Church where the Holy Eucharist Rite II service was read exactly was written in the Book of Common Prayer. I don't like deviations from it. I understand when a congregation wants to add a hymn in a different place in the service, conduct the Prayers of the People in an alternate manner, or even leave the announcements out until the end of the entire service. These changes show that the congregation is utilizing the Book of Common Prayer, not being subservient.

 Besides, I am easily able to adapt to these changes when I visit a church for the first time, because no major, hallmark aspects of the service has been changed, like the blessing, reading of the Gospel, the sermon, Nicene Creed, and communion. I believe that the Episcopal service is a confusing dance that must be learned in order to fully participate in the service; the only thing that stops this confusing dance from being obnoxious and exclusive is that it is the same exact dance at each church around the nation. You shouldn't have to re-learn the dance every time you go to the party.

 However, I realize that many churches and Episcopalians don't feel the same way as I do and like to modernize the Holy Eucharist Rite II service. And I don't think that they shouldn't be allowed. In fact, I think they should be encouraged to do what they feel would best help their congregation and new followers of Christ to worship and learn on Sunday mornings. Even though I am hodgy-stodgy, I don't expect every Christian to be.

 But I was for real scared at this church.

 The fact that the church service at St. Augustine's more closely resembled the Presbyterian church services my mom and her side of the family attend was not what sent my heart rate into the heavens, because I know what to do during those church services. You stand up to sing hymns, you sit down to hear a sermon, you listen from your seat about the children's church. Easy-peasy. What made me so anxious was the getting out of the pew and the roaming guitar player.

 You see, I have a lot of social anxiety. My mom describes me as her "anti-social" child. I just get really nervous in public and I don't know why. I have learned cognitive behavior techniques to silently talk to myself when I begin to feel anxious in public, which helps me calm down and endure particularly stressful situations. I don't like to attend parties where I will be the center of attention. I don't like to go to restaurants and sit in the middle of a group of tables. I don't like to draw attention to myself in anyway, because I already feel that I am drawing attention just by being around people. That is how social anxiety works.

 So, I like to stay in my pew during the church service. I usually don't stray too far away from it during the Peace and I like knowing that I don't have to take communion. I can "hide" in my pew, lessening my social anxiety, which enables me to concentrate more on my prayers, the words of the hymns, the message of the sermon, and the communion between me and my God.

 But remember that this church does things differently. And within the first ten minutes of the church service, which for some reason was being held in the back of the sanctuary, the entire congregation arose to do something by the baptismal pool. Suddenly, I needed to leave my pew to go do something... what that was I wasn't entirely sure. I followed the crowd, but I hated having to move around, where more people could inspect the newcomer. I was glad to sit back down. 

 But that was when the guitar player stood up.

 It isn't that I hate guitar playing during church; it's just that I prefer an organ or piano. I have attended churches where a guitar and even a drum set was played and found it entirely satisfactory. 

 But I have never, ever been at a church service where the guitar player wore a headset like he was Garth Brooks.

 I have never, ever been at a church service where the guitar player roamed around the church, encouraging parishioners to sing a song that seemed like it had no ending.

I have never, ever been at a church service where the guitar player successfully convinced an Episcopal church to start clapping along with the music.

I have never, ever been at a church service where the guitar player has stopped at MY pew, where I sit alone, and tried to encourage me to start singing this song I have never seen before and am too anxious to learn.

 I have never, ever been at a church service where the guitar player made me pray to God that he would strike me dead right then, while my face burned bright red with embarrassment.

 But I did at that church service and I will never forget it. I really wanted to leave after The Guitar Player Incident, but I convinced myself during the sermon to stick around. I thought, "All we have left is communion, which you know how to do. Just made it until the end of the service. Don't make a scene."

 This self-talk was working until the Prayers of the People, which for some reason involves the entire congregation standing up and lighting a candle by the pulpit. Uh, leaving my pew unwillingly and ignorantly for the second time in a church service? No, thank you.

 I grabbed my purse, did a quick curtsy to the altar, then made my way to the exit. I didn't even let the ushers open the doors for me. Adios.

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