July 9, 2013 Tom Berlin

Going to Church

I went to church on vacation Sunday as a civilian, sitting in the back because I rarely get to sit back there.

A lovely girl, probably 14 or 15, played Clair de Lune by Debussy with the appropriate tempo, not rushing. Sadly, I initially thought more about the closing fountain scene of Ocean’s 11 than the Lord, but I also considered how great it is that students get to play for real at church, because that girl offered her best.

I saw an elderly woman, probably well into her 80s, sitting by herself across the aisle. She was wearing a lavender and green outfit, matching pants and top, and looked terrific.  The colors were soft but vibrant, like Claude Monet had gone with her to choose something and after looking through the racks, said, none of this is you. Give me a white outfit and I will just paint it myself. I complimented her after the service and I could tell she was pleased in the humble way you are taught to be pleased in church.

The pastor had the congregation call out the hymns they wanted to sing, which produces a competition to see who can get the number out the fastest at the closing note of the previous hymn. If you don’t go to church, you should know that Christians love their favorite hymns and can actually feel anger if they don’t get them sung on choose-your-own-hymn Sunday. In this competitive environment, the slower paced hymn Because He Lives, closes with, and life is worth the living, just because he liv…717!

During the prayer time, a man raised his hand and asked for prayers for his son, who was having cancer treatments. This made me terribly sad, having just lost a friend to cancer this past week. I noticed that next to him was a younger man with special needs who was bald, the kind of bald that comes with chemotherapy. I was surprised how sad I felt for this man and his son, and when I saw him remove his glasses and wipe his eyes and I actually got choked up. Later, he accompanied his son to receive Holy Communion and the two knelt at the communion rail. When he started to leave, his son grabbed his shoulder and made him pray longer. I watched them as they returned to their pew and thought about how many stories of love and devotion are collected in church on any given Sunday.

You may think that I am poking fun at church, or at this church, but that would not be true. All of this was a wonderful reminder to me of reasons that I have always loved being in church. I think I enjoyed the pastor the most of all. He was an unpretentious man who seemed prepared and yet spoke from the heart and asked us if we demonstrated the heart and love of God in our lives. He reminded us that we may be the only expression of God’s love others see. That is such a fine thing to think about that I wrote it down. It is not terribly original, but it is true and convicting, which is what church is about at its best. Then we all received Communion and remembered how deeply Christ loves us and the world and then someone shouted out a hymn number and before long the benediction was announced. Even now I am thinking of sitting in the back of that church with those nice people and I am glad I went and glad I go. Because I need to be reminded of things larger than myself, and once a week is not too often.

Tom Berlin

Rev. Tom Berlin is the Lead Pastor of Floris United Methodist Church. Tom was raised in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and has lived in Virginia most of his life. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech and his Master of Divinity is from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He has co-authored three books and is the author of several small group studies. Tom and his wife Karen have four daughters.

Comments (9)

  1. J. D & Nancy Berlin

    You preach a great sermon just attending church and observing good things with the other attendees. Have a relaxing vacation.
    Dad & Mom

    • Beverly

      Dear Mom & Dad,
      God gave you a wonderful gift thru His love to you and you gave him your gifts of love to help Tom discover what a true instrument of God he is to the world. God blesses all of us in so many simple and marvelous ways. thank you for sharing your faith by living your testimony.

  2. Tizzy von Trapp Walker

    Tom, how could anyone think you were mocking the church you visited? What a tender and thoughtful observation.
    Now you have another response besides your Dad and Mom!! Enjoy your well deserved rest!


  3. Stephen Smith-Cobbs

    Thanks, Tom. What you said is what I often feel and just what I needed to be reminded of … I’d love to share some coffee and conversation sometime once we both get back from our respective vacations. Take care and God bless!

  4. coryepps

    “… we may be the only expression of God’s love others see.” That can never be said, or heard, enough. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. Robin Sparks

    Great reminders, Tom. Thank you. Hope you’ve had a relaxing, well-deserved break.

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