One of my goals while on sabbatical is to visit other worshiping communities. Today I attended Hessel Church, a non-denominational church on a country road south of Sebastopol. The pastor, Rich Cundall, met with me for breakfast about five years ago, shortly after I moved back to California. I grew up, and remain, a “liberal” Christian, but having lived in Colorado Springs for 17 years, I learned to appreciate, and in many cases respect, Evangelicals who were more conservative, theologically and politically, than I was. When I first met Rich, I was impressed by the clarity of his call to ministry and his commitment to the mission of his church: “To follow Jesus and be his presence.”
I arrived at Hessel and put on my mask walking from my car to where the people seemed to be. It wasn’t totally clear where the 10:45 service would be happening. The people from the earlier service were milling around visiting with each other in between a building and a tent. “Excuse me,” I asked the first person I came across, “it’s my first time here. Where do I go for the worship service?” “You can go indoors or in the tent, if you feel safer there. Welcome, by the way. I’m Mike. What’s your name?” I’m not sure if Mike had a specific role, but he represented his community well by giving me a warm welcome.
I walked through the crowd of people and into the worship center. An usher gave me a bulletin and I found a seat in a pew near the back of the auditorium. Here are some things I noticed over the next 60+ minutes:
Out of 125 people in the room, I was one of 4 people wearing a face covering to protect from Covid-19.
With warmth and authenticity, the song leader said to the gathered congregation: “I really love being in worship with you all. It’s one of the best parts in my life.”
The gendered language in the hymns and scripture were almost exclusively masculine: “He, brothers, Father.”
The flow of the liturgy (order of worship) was: songs, prayer, announcements, scripture, sermon, prayer, song, prayer. The sermon lasted about 45 minutes.
Rich preached on the second chapter of the Epistle of James. He pointed out that, when asked to describe Christians using one word, non-Chrisitians tend to respond with “judgmental.” According to James, Rich said, a Christian can’t be judgmental partial, unforgiving, greedy, racist, or hateful. If a Christian is any of these things, they clearly have not understood who God is, let alone Jesus, whose ministry was directed toward misfits and outcasts. The presence of God’s grace in our lives, Rich preached, necessarily shows itself in the way we treat others.
I’m glad I visited Hessel this morning. While it felt a little awkward to be a visitor, I generally liked the music and the message. The visit also helped me to appreciate some things about my own congregation.
I like that we continue to wear face coverings, even when not required by the County, as a way to keep the most vulnerable among us safe.
I like that we have prayers that are spoken by the congregation and not just the male worship leaders.
I like that we have gender diversity in our worship leadership.
I like that our song lyrics and scripture translations use gender-inclusive language.
I like that our ensemble music involves a lot of people – a Chancel Choir of 15-20 and a Handbell Ensemble of 5-10.
What I’ve hoped to convey in this post is that I think it’s a good thing for Christians, and anyone, to step outside of their comfort zones and experience a different community or culture. There were several things I noticed and appreciated about worship at Hessel Church and experiencing those things helped me to reflect on the culture of my own faith community.
On the way home from Hessel, at the corner of Llano and Todd roads, I pulled over where a young woman was slicing fresh fruit.
“Tiene usted mango verde?” I asked her.
“Claro que sí,” she said.
“Cuanto cuesta?,” I asked.
“Ocho,” she said,” Cómo lo quieres?”
“Con Tajín,” I said.
“Quiéres sal y limón?” was her next question.
“Claro que sí,” I said.
So delicious. A rare treat I would have never had if I had not gone to Hessel and then, on the way home, chosen to pull over.