An Atheist’s Search for a Church: Sabbath #3 – First Baptist Church of Springfield
Sabbath #3 –
Sunday, August 2nd, 2014
What: 10:30 AM Contemporary Service
Where: First Baptist Church of Springfield
Why I picked it: Googled nearby Baptist churches and picked the biggest one.
Notes: As I’ve mentioned before, I spent my middle school years in Southern Baptist Churches and even continued going to a great Baptist church (2nd Baptist of Jacksonville, NC) after becoming an atheist. I have positive memories of the churches, despite my
personal struggle with faith. I was even in AWANA when I was in middle school, which was the Baptist version of Boy Scouts where you memorize bible verses and complete workbooks about the bible for badges. The past few weeks going to Methodist, Mormon, and Catholic services has made me think about the differences between my “home” sect and others and I was eager to refresh my memory at First Baptist of Springfield.
From the parking lot, I followed a family around the large exterior to enter. We walked past two signs: Contemporary Service Upstairs and Traditional Service —>
Unsure, I followed the family. As I entered the lobby, I looked around a bit lost, like I usually do, and then spotted the door to the Sanctuary and began walking towards it. As I approached the door, I was intercepted by one of the deacons passing out programs:
“Good Morning” I replied, smiling and continuing to walk towards the sanctuary door.
“Are you lost?” He asked, noting my previous confused looking about for the entrance, I supposed. He stepped towards me, blocking my path to the sanctuary door.
“It’s my first time here.”
“What are you here for?” he asked, which struck me as quite strange as people continued to stream into the Sanctuary doors.
“I think you want the contemporary service, upstairs.” He said, matter-of-factly, gesturing back through the door I came from.
“Oh, do I? What’s the difference?”
“Yes. This is the traditional service…the contemporary service is upstairs. It’s for younger folks and they have a band and whatnot” he explained as he began to escort me to an elevator, friendly, but firm.
He walked me through a maze-like series of corridors until we arrived at an unassuming, smallish multipurpose room that had been set up with a small stage and some chairs. A drum kit sat inside a sound-isolation chamber next to the stage and some 40 or so people milled around chatting and greeting each other. Two projectors showed ‘old testament trivia’ questions on the walls beside the stage. I was deposited with another deacon upstairs and he asked me where I was from (a question I can’t quickly or easily answer, being a military brat).
The worship band consisted of five 20-ish young people playing drums, guitar, cello, violin, keyboard, and one singing. They were good! I enjoyed the music and sang along despite not having sheet music to follow (the lyrics were projected onto the walls behind the stage).
The preacher was an early-thirty-something dressed in jeans and an untucked flannel shirt, with a pop-star microphone headset. He had a north carolina accent. He greeted me briefly before beginning the sermon
What the service ended up being was a novel mixture of “Contemporary Christian” style with Baptist flavor. The preacher opened up with a quick prayer before going into a 45 minute-long sermon, coordinated effectively with projected slides showing bible verses and other salient points. Some assistant somewhere advanced and rewound the slides on queue. It was a tight program, and the message was very solid. The lesson’s main points all came from the book of James and were:
- Don’t judge your Christian brothers and sisters by gossiping and slandering them behind their back. If someone is living in sin, confront them privately.
- Don’t spend so much time planning for the future that you forget about god and don’t be so arrogant as to think that you alone control the outcome of your life.
- Don’t spend so much time “don’t-ing” that you miss God’s doing. Do not define yourself purely by what you don’t do, but instead by the positive, constructive things you do for your community and family.
On top of this excellent practical life-advice, he gave a comprehensive historical explanation of the context of the original scripture and the audience James was originally addressing in his letter.
The Methodists just seemed like watered-down Catholicism without the ritual, but also without the protestant zeal I saw in the Mormons and Baptists. The Mormons spoke exclusively about being missionaries during the service when they weren’t performing a 20-minute solemn, music-less communion or spending 20 minutes raising their hands in perfunctory administrative ‘voting’ to promote various people to various administrative roles within the church. The Catholic Mass was fascinating, the music good and moving, the message decent – BUT TOO SHORT – and of little practical value. The Liturgy (bible readings) were mostly unexplained (although referenced in the homily), without any historical context provided. I did love the catholic church building, the symbols, kneeling, and body-crossing, and the rituals, but the Baptist service really shined as the most-practical of the lot so far, with a message that I thought I could easily derive value from with only minor secularizing.
I mentioned in a previous post how Baptist services always feature an altar call, where the pastor calls congregants to the altar to rededicate their life to christ, or to become saved. I had forgotten (until this service I attended) about the distinctly-Baptist use of music during prayer. As a hymn ends at the end of each service, the band (or orchestra, or organ) plays on softly, as the pastor begins his altar call, praying that the lost and sinful among us be moved by the holy spirit and come to the altar to be redeemed. As the prayer reaches its climax, the music swells in time with it, creating a truly moving experience! This was common at the Baptist churches I grew up with and I was pleased to rediscover it here.
After the service ended, I made my way back to the main sanctuary, curious about what it looked like inside. I was blown away by how big and beautiful it was. Stadium-ramped mahogany pews, an organ and choir area, huge vaulted ceilings and beautiful decorated glass, and a large baptism pool inset behind the altar, high up on the wall. I was suddenly angry that I had been intercepted and forced to go to that crappy youth-service in the dimly-lit, cinder-block-walled adjacent building, all the windows shuttered to darken the room for the projectors…I had been cheated from this beautiful church and what was probably an even better service! I might have to return and check out the main service next time…