Can I Get an Amen?

May 17, 2011

10 a.m. t0 12:30 p.m.

Abyssinian Christian Church, Fort Collins, Colo.

Chosen because…ethnic diversity touted on website.

I grew up in what’s fondly referred to as Vanilla Village. White, middle class America. When I was a kid, if we saw a black person it was like encountering a rare bird. “Oh my God look, it’s a black person! Where do you suppose he lives? What’s he doing in Ft. Collins? Where do you think he works?”

Our fascination wasn’t malicious. We weren’t trying to find his workplace to torment him, we were just curious. Ft. Collins is more diverse than it used to be, but it’s still really, really white.

So imagine my surprise on Sunday morning when I walked into the Fort Collins Abyssinian Christian Church and found myself in the minority. It was fantastic.

Culture Shock

This church is in the middle of a neighborhood, which is how church should be — an extension of community. It’s very plain. Blonde brick. Basic A-frame. Old office chairs stand in as pews, each one with what appears to be a handmade pocket on the back. The pockets don’t hold Bibles as everyone brings their own and, when they pray, they hold them up to heaven. This is new.

A woman greets me at the entrance, hands me a handful of peppermints. Confusing. Later, during a pause in worship, a woman sitting near me offers me a peppermint from her stash. Is this some sort of new age icebreaker?

Several men stand to the side of the cramped aisles. They’re well dressed and big. They look like bodyguards and do not leave their posts during service. I’m intimidated. Not by them, but the situation.

I’m not the only white person in the congregation, but I stick out because I look like a bum and everyone else seems to adhere to old-fashioned church values of dress up. The dreadlocked hippie in the choir provides some comfort.

Get Your Shout Out

The choir and keyboardist are active and unbelievable, providing accompaniment I actually want to listen to. This is the first time I’ve heard a church choir sing. Usually they mumble, occasionally harmonizing words. This choir does its thing throughout the service, including when the preacher speaks.

The preacher greets us. “I hope you woke up with prayer.”

We all did. Even me. My prayer was, “Dear God, please shoot me.”

I can’t imagine anyone else in the congregation greeted the day this way because they’re moving about singing, talking, dancing, smiling — they’re thrilled to be in God’s house.  This is an anomaly. I’ve never ever seen such enthusiasm for God. Ever.

As per usual, the greet your neighbor bit sends me into a panic. A very large hatted woman to my left gives me a huge bear hug. I sit, terrified that the man jumping over a chair is headed toward me. He isn’t, kisses the kid in front of me instead.

The preacher encourages us to “get our shout out,” which means clap, yell, sing and dance the devil away. Terrified and amused, I sit, watching. Eventually a smile dents my crabby face. Though I’m not shouting, the shout out is working.

I’m fascinated by a woman in the front who looks like she’s leading a Jazzercise class. She disappears. She either had to suddenly tie her shoe or she’s fallen to the ground. When she pops back up, she sits in a chair fanning herself so I think she was probably writhing.

The preacher says religion is “not a spectator sport,” but I cannot will myself out of my chair. I don’t feel judged by anyone other than myself. Personal problem.

The preacher’s messages are simple. Be grateful for the day. Put your faith in the Lord. I like what he has to say because he speaks like a human – not a theologian – and says things like, “Can I get a witness?,” prompting the congregation to follow with“Amen” and “yes sir.” I freaking love it especially when the older woman behind me starts croaking out “that’s right.”

I don’t care about this church’s message. The congregants are so excited about God that it really doesn’t matter. Enthusiasm for anything is half the battle. Why is this the first time I’ve seen people get excited about church?

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ft. Collins, Colo.

10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Chosen because…went for Pentecostal but service times didn’t suit my needs so swapped it with another “al” denomination.

Well I Never

I’ll never stay in Colorado. I’ll never read the Bible. I’ll never go to church. I’ll never get married. I’ll never get divorced. Never say never. Lesson learned.

Since the Redeemer Lutheran experience, I’ve put my pissy pants on every Sunday morning, bitched and moaned all the way to church and resisted pre-service temper tantrums. But when I left St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, I was calm. Like abnormally, once-in-a-lifetime kind of calm. Why? Because it turns out that I’m getting dumber, not smarter and for that I’m grateful. I’m so sick of thinking.

Age: The Great Eraser

I don’t know anything about Episcopalians and that’s fine as knowledge taints experience. I love the church interior. Basic. A few stained glass windows. A cross draped in white cloth hanging from the ceiling. This is the first church I’ve been to with organ music, which I love. Very traditional. Love that too.

Service starts. A choir cloaked in white, wooden crosses hanging from necks, floats down the aisles. Priests or whatever take the stage. There are many. They have hoods on the back of their white robes. I’m not in the deep south or Michigan. I wipe KKK from the brain. During meet your neighbor the preachers step into the aisles, shaking hands as they go. I like this but am trapped between an old woman in a powder blue suit and a crabby note taker who nearly clips my toes every time she pulls down the prayer bar.

Most of the congregation will be chillin’ with God soon. Perhaps that’s why the preacher chose John 3:1 – 17. Here’s the story. This arrogant dude, Nicodemus, meets with Jesus at night because he’s ashamed to be seeking advice from a lowly country boy but he needs counsel so he does it anyway. Nicodemus thinks he knows everything but in his later years, after Jesus dies, he doesn’t say anything. He kicks his know-it-all attitude, which suggests that as we age we either lose our minds or realize we don’t know a damn thing about anything.

I believe it’s the latter. I’ve realized this in my own life, particularly within the last few months. I’ve ripped the blanket off some of my more gregarious opinions and stereotypes, but I still use “you’re wrong, you’re just wrong” when backed in a corner during arguments. Turns out I’m usually wrong, which I hate especially when my mom hauls out the dictionary as backup. You can’t argue with Merriam.

Never Say Never

I didn’t want to go to church, assumed it would suck, thought “I’ll never enjoy this” but like I said, it really chilled me out. I liked the sermon but I also didn’t feel any pressure to share my non-existent relationship with God with other people. I’m not sure I’ve gotten that from any other church.

Example. Rather than harping on Bible studies, the pastor focused on Foyer Groups, groups of eight-to-10 people who meet for dinner etc. to get to know each other. I like that. I need friends but I don’t want the Bible getting between us.

I never thought I’d use the prayer bar or reply to the preacher as outlined by the bolded text in the leaflet, but I did it. I kind of want to get baptized so I can receive communion. But I’ll never do it. I’ll never stick with organized religion. And I’ll never say things I don’t mean. Ever.

Scotty O’Brian’s, Loveland, Colo.

12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Notable Matter: Sponsored bar seats, each with an embroidered logo/namesake representing the donor.

I’m in la-di-da land and am therefore losing patience with Colorado dive bars. Dive bars should not include microbrews on tap. They should lack decor, serve characters and stick to bottles and cans like the Long Branch Bar in Laporte, Colo. But most of the Colorado dives have microbrews. I need to go back to the Midwest where there’s an abundance of good old fashioned dive bars, places where people go to get drunk off of $1 canned PBR beer. I yearn for blue-collar America.

I don’t believe the middle class is disappearing, it’s just become invisible. I’ve thought of this well before the whole national union uprising. I have my own opinions about that but I’ll keep them to myself.

America’s Struggling Middle Class

I love the middle class — blue-collar workers — which is why I love neighborhood bars, dive bars. But do I have to go to the Rustbelt, a region continually blamed for the nation’s economic meltdown, to find it? Until I head back to Michigan in May, I’ll keep trudging along to these Colorado “dives.” Colorado natives can’t even point me to dives because they don’t know what they are.

That being said, Scotty O’Brian’s is as divey as I’ve seen in a few weeks. Wooden façade, one window, long bar, narrow structure. It’s dark, six people watching basketball on two TVs. I’m relieved to see a race car event on one of the TVs, very middle America.

I walk in pissed off by my experience with the money mongering Redeemer Lutheran Church. (I invited Redeemer to respond to my scalding review of the church, but haven’t received a response.)

I’m a little testy with the young bartender. I’m not offended by his request for ID, but his delivery is off putting.

“You got your little thingy on you?” He makes a motion with his wrist indicating that by “thingy,” he means the little plastic card in my wallet. He justifies himself. “I have to ask. Otherwise my boss will get me in trouble.”

Me: “Or you could just say I look young.” My four second tutorial on women.

“You do look young.” He’s nervous.

I loosen up. Smile in the mirror at an older man in a blue work jacket and mesh hat. He’s drinking a beer and a shot, orders them together. He sees me and looks away.

The experience is dull until a younger man and woman walk in. They sit next to me. They’re new to the area and interesting, which is a fabulous find. I enjoy our conversation, it’s refreshing to speak with people that have imagination, passion, interesting things to say.

As much as I enjoy their company and hope to see them again, they are not blue collar workers, Middle America. Where do I find this in northern Colorado? What am I missing?

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ft. Collins, Colo.

11 a.m. to ?

Chosen because…late service

Biggest church I’ve been to.  It sits in a giant field surrounded by wealthy neighborhoods. Not only does it have a welcome center, which gives makes me feel like I’m walking through an airport rather than a church, it also has a worship center, life/center gym, preschool, student center, etc.

I’m grateful for the coffee/donut room. Guilt kicks in so I donate $1 to the coffee collection. This is the only donation I’ve made to a church thus far. After service I feel duped, used and wish I could take my money back.

Love Money, Then Jesus

Remember this scene from Jerry Maguire? This is Redeemer Lutheran Church.

JERRY MAGUIRE SHOW ME THE MONEY


The preachers or whatever are dressed in white, red sashes resting on either side of their chests. Huge choir. Massive movie screen. Many people wearing buttons purporting their love for Jesus. At least I think that’s what they’re for.

It’s “commitment weekend,” a time for parishioners to place donation envelopes they received via mail in Pottery Barn-like donation baskets. Before they do, the preacher fills them with artificial love, hiding the church’s need for greed behind Bible passages such as “whoever does not love God does not know love.”

When the preacher quiets, this message is conveyed, falsely — though song — and soundtrack as people in the sound booth add thunder and other such nonsense to the melody.

After guilt by love, the preacher gets down to business. This whole love B.S. will continue for 36 months because the church is on a mission to a) Raise up stewards b) Pay down debt c) Further the mission.

So learn about God, pay down the Redeemer Lutheran‘s $2 million debt during the next 36 months and then spread God’s word through costly missions. Appalling.

Need for Greed

He uses the following mantras to encouraging giving…and love.

“Love is not really love until it’s given away.”

“I hope you get to learn during this season we get to give love away.”

“We don’t want to whore the message of God.”

Then we watch a clip from Schindler’s List. It’s at the end when Schindler realizes the money he spent on material excess could have saved thousands of Jews.

People sniffle. It’s an emotional scene and a cleaver way for the preacher to beg for money. After the clip, he invites everyone to bring up envelopes of money, encouraging them to “woo hoo” when they dump it in Pottery Barn-like baskets.

I’m sick to my stomach. This place of worship is an infomercial, not a church. I leave and head to a dive bar in Loveland of all places, to cleanse my soul.

The leaders of this church should be ashamed of themselves for their unabashed call to greed. Redeemer Lutheran Church is antithetical to Jesus’ message. It’s disgusting.

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