Charles landed to pick Jim up for church spot-on at 8:50. Jim was surprised to see Charles in a snazzy, gray jumpsuit with a white cravat. Jim had never even managed a suit like that for his job explorations. You'd think that with the job cycle index running at 27 months, and 13 months in the trades, he'd go ahead and plop for a decent 'suit, but he didn't really want to move into management anyway.
They would be alone on this trip. Jim let his wife relax while he scouted out the local churches, and Charles's wife was accompanying their children to Bliss Megachurch. Charles' kids were teens now, and they were much, much happier in Bliss than they had been in First Evangelical.
As they flew over neighborhood after neighborhood, Charles explained that he was an elder at FE, and that he would be sitting in the front row. He was surprised that they reinstated him so quickly into his eldership after his time with the Walkers, but it felt good to be back in the board meetings with his brothers again. He had been raised Evangelical, and getting back into the rhythm was a blessing. He assured Jim that he would be completely comfortable in his new church home, if he decided to stay.
As they topped the last little ridge, it was easy to see the cluster of steeples that marked the center of town from the air. All three churches were of long history in the town, and well established. First Evangelical was the nearest of the three, so there was no complex approach pattern necessary. Charles just ID'd the parking space he wanted, and engaged the GPS auto-lander.
They were greeted at the door, and several more times as they entered the building. He was surprisingly under-dressed, but nobody mentioned it. Everyone showed great delight to meet him. In fact, he began to feel like the "single guy" walking into a bevey of grandmothers with eligible granddaughters in mind. His ring was still on, so that wasn't it, but he was not comfortable at the center of attention. Most people just wanted to know whether he was enjoying himself so far, so he kept assuring them that he was.
Charles disappeared, leaving him in Frank's friendly hands.
Frank asked which Sunday School class would interest Jim. Then Frank found out he needed to explain what Sunday School was. That obstacle cleared, he recommended either the old testament class on Leviticus or the new testament class on Ephesians. Having never heard anything promising about Leviticus, Jim opted for the Ephesians class. That worked out well, because Frank usually went there, too.
The room looked like nothing he'd seen in a long time, maybe since grade school. First off, there were no computers. That was odd in a classroom, which this obviously was. Second, it was just 5 rows of six or seven chairs each, all facing a stand - was it a lecturn they used to call those? Something like that. Anyway, Frank had allowed him to go in first, so he gravitated toward the back of the room, sitting in the last row, one seat in from the aisle. It was the same place he used to sit in 6th grade algebra.
They made chit-chat for a while, then everyone bowed their heads for prayer. Jim wasn't very good at the bible yet, but he could not remember anywhere that told him to do that. The Walkers always raised their hands and faces in prayer. Whatever. He bowed his head.
When the teacher started, he was talking about Eph 4, and how teachers were given to the church for the perfecting of the perfect ones. Paul called them saints - perfect ones - and teachers made them perfect-er. It was very cool. He was blessed. Which is to say that he was gifted by God with something to add to what the teacher was saying.
It was odd, because he kept wanting to add something about how blessed he was by truth the teacher was giving out, but he could not. Maybe he could have, but it didn't seem right. He was new, so he was keying off everyone else, and everyone else was quiet unless they had a question. It seemed the teacher had a lesson plan, and if there were too many interruptions, he would not finish it. So, they handled questions quickly and moved on. Jim remembered something about how songs could play a big part in building the saints together, but he wasn't going to speak up if no one else was saying anything either.
At the appointed hour, the class ended. The teacher had rushed the last couple verses, but he made it all the way to verse 16, exactly as planned. And Jim had learned a lot that he had never heard before. It was a very profitable hour.
As they left, he got to meet a couple more saints. There were almost 30 minutes to spend somehow between the end of Sunday School, and the beginning of "worship." Fortunately, a couple of the grandmothers were happy to talk to him about the weather, and what it was like to be an aerocar mechanic, and whether his family was just lovely. And, of course, whether he liked First Evangelical so far, and whether he would be back.
When people started filing through the double doors, he followed.
He had seen one other room like that in his adult life. Jim and Brenda had once gotten a babysitter, and gone to see a live play. It was like nothing they had ever seen before. The vids they watched in their basement were perfect, with every detail of sight, sound and smell to make you feel like you were part of the vid story, but the live play was better. It was sure different! The people on stage were sweating, and missed their lines, and needed the audience to laugh and grow quiet at all the right places. Somehow, even without High Definition, Surround Sound and Immersion Aroma, it was a totally engrossing evening. They had sworn to be live theater addicts, but somehow they had never made it back.
This room looked just like a theater, except that the audience was as well lighted as the stage.
He sat down to see what kind of show they would put on.
After a few minutes, his friend Charles walked up to the lecturn. He said, "Hello," to everyone, motioning them in to the room and to silence. After a couple social announcements, he called out number 347. Everyone around Jim opened one of the books conveniently tucked into the seat ahead of them. His neighbor noticed Jim fumbling, and helped him find the hymnal, and even helped him to read the song when they started singing.
Jim really didn't hear the first song at all, because he was too busy taking in the oddness of singing like that. He felt like a Christmas caroller. By the second song, though, he had settled in, and began hearing the words he was singing. "Bind us together, with cords of love." It was a beautiful song, and the piano plus the two hundred voices all singing with years of experience did it justice. The next song, declaring to Jesus that we were resting, resting in the joy of what "Thou art," was even better. Jim had seen a couple of Shakespeare's plays on the edu-vids back in school, so he knew what, "Thou art," meant, but it was wierd to hear it sung by people who meant it.
He decided with a chuckle that he would let the whole hymnal discussion, "rest in Jesus."
Charles next called the ushers forward to receive an "offering." Evidently, it was a collection of money, and since he was a visitor, he was not expected to participate. Still, it was amazing how many things Jim had not learned from the Walkers. He had never had to bring cash to a church meeting before. But, this was one of the big differences between the Walkers and the traditionals. The traditionals could collect money, and the government would not come after them. So, Jim guessed that he would have to think a little longer about the money stuff. No thinking today, though, because Jim had not carried cash in a very, very long time.
Charles then introduced Pastor Smith.
Pastor Smith stood up into the lecturn, and started a running monologue.
He took Col 2:7 as his text, and how we needed to be rooted and established in the faith, exactly as we have been taught. We were all here to be taught, so that we could be established, so that we could be rooted, and so that we could abound in teaching with thanksgiving. Teaching was the heart of Christianity, because knowing Christ started with knowing His character as revealed in His Word.
Jim soaked it all in like a sponge. It was wonderful to hear this man layer the Word of God like bricks one on another. He flew all around the bible, using this verse to establish that one, and those verses to explain these and making the whole thing serve the idea of teaching as central to our lives. Pastor Smith was just like those actors he had seen. He was sweating up there behind that lecturn, and he needed the audience to amen the good parts and hush for the bad ones. It was a real performance, and he played his audience well. Jim enjoyed the learning, and he enjoyed the show.
Eventually, of course, it had to end.
The pastor reached the end of his message ten minutes before the turn of the hour, and then issued a call for people to come forward to receive Christ. Jim was stunned. He instantly felt the need to get up and receive Christ, but he reminded himself that he had already done that. The doubts still nagged, though. He had never done it in a holy place. He had accepted Christ on Thom's living room floor, not in a real church. Maybe he should go forward? He sure wanted his salvation to be real. What should he do?
While he was thinking about it, the moment passed. They dismissed everyone, so the decision was made for him. Jim got up with everyone else, and started introducing himself all around again as more unknown people came up to greet him. Mercifully, Charles did not take long to find and free him. Charles needed to hurry home to start dinner, and Jim was only too happy to oblige him by leaving immediately.
It had been a good morning all around, and Jim was ready to get home to Brenda, and tell her all about it. On the flight home, Charles didn't pressure Jim to promise a return trip, but he let him know how glad he was that his first visit had gone so well. With a quick farewell, they parted ways.
Upon getting into the house, Jim did not immediately tell Brenda anything. He asked her to wait while he did a quick lookup. Picking up the vid tablet, he walked over the easy chair, and had a seat. He looked at the bible icon, and tapped the edge of the tablet. Then he looked at the search icon and said, "songs in Ephesians and Colossians," and tapped again.
Sure enough. He thought he remembered songs in both of the books he had heard about today. Ephesians and Colossians both said that everyone was supposed to speak to one another and admonish one another with different types of songs. The Walkers used to do a lot of that. They were forever making up little ditties, and long ballads, both. At times it had seemed like the Walkers should be called the Singers. Maybe he would get a chance to introduce the way the Walkers sang to First Evangelical? That would be cool.
It was a lot to think about. Brenda was going to enjoy hearing about all of this.
And next week he would get to visit Bliss Megachurch.