1UMCNLROK, before I forget about it, and before I go to another stop on my tour this Sunday, I thought I had better get down some thoughts about my visit last Sunday to First United Methodist, North Little Rock. Keep in mind that I went to the "Contemporary" service. This is the middle of the three Sunday morning services.
The church has several large buildings that take up almost all of the property, leaving little room for parking. Next door is an equally large Baptist church, so it makes for a foreboding presence when you drive up. Like an industrial park of 1980's church buildings. Although there were few parkings spaces, I did not have any problems finding one because I am the most punctual person that I know.
Inside it had the dark wood paneling/ big fancy light fixture/ stained glass thing that we are all used to. There were cushioned pews in three rows, with a couple or three dozen pews in each row. It had a large stage, but no pulpit. There was a place for the choir to sit on stage left, (choir is not "Contemporary" so the seats were empty) and a drum set balancing it out on stage right. I took a seat in the middle section, 2/3rds back, against the isle.
I should note that the sanctuary was all of the building that I saw. People kept talking about something called a Narthex. I have no idea what one of those looks like, so I may have seen it, may have not. I understand, thanks to Wikipedia, that the Narthex is at the end of the Nave. That did not help much.
Small. There were about 70 people there, which looked like none in an auditorium that could probably seat 400. There were more people my age than I expected, but this was the "Contemporary" service. I'm sure all the old folks were there at sunup to hear the choir and pipe organ. (Mmm, I love choirs and pipe organs sometimes. I think I will have to find me some of that action this week.) The children were in the back doing something else, so there were no kids in this service, except for a few pleasant, sleeping babies. In Country Church, the babies scream and coo, and the bigger kids run up and down the isles or color in books right next to you. That is fine, I guess, but it was awfully nice to hear what the people down front were saying.
The "Contemporary" band consisted of a drummer, an electric bass, an acoustic guitar, a Fender guitar, and three chick singers. Everyone appeared to be really young except for the bass player and the middle chick, who took the lead. These two were 40ish I would guess. The order of service was very traditional: An opening song, then everyone was encouraged to shake hands with the people around them. 1UMCNLR seemed to take this ritual very seriously and the they were great at it. Everyone left the stage and went to shake hands. They took probably three or four full minutes. I suppose I was singled out as a stranger, because the Lady Pastor came and introduced herself to me fairly quickly. Everyone was extremely nice and welcoming. Next was prayer and announcements and offering.
It was during the announcements that I first embarrassed myself. (Which I am sure will happen at least once a week.) There was one person at the end of my pew. She suddenly motioned me down and passed me a red book. I opened it up and it appeared to be some sort of register, like at a funeral or a wedding. They don't have these at Country Church. I signed my name and put my approximate address, but then tried to pass it off to the people in front of me. As it turns out, there is one of these on every pew and they did not need it. Also, I thought it was a visitor thing like the cards they have at Country Church. Apparently everyone signs the 1UMCNLR register, members and visitors alike. I suppose it is sort of like taking roll.
After the announcements we sang three more songs. No one, that I could see, raised their hands or wiggled much, even though the lady up front encouraged us to if we liked. It was very nice and reverent and mellow. I enjoyed this part very much. This is when it first really felt nice to be in church again.
Finally the Lady Pastor got up and gave us the sermon. It was a very simple piece on money. Mr. Wesley encourages us to earn all we can, save all we can, and give all we can. I support that. Sounds like Mr. Wesley is a good old fashioned supply-sider like myself.
After the sermon we took communion Methodist-style which was new to me. Some nice people stood up front with a bowl full of what looked sort of like oyster crackers and a big ol' earthenware goblet of red stuff. We all lined up and took a cracker, then dipped it in the red stuff. I could not tell if it was wine or grape juice, because not enough got sucked up into my little oyster cracker to taste. Just to be safe, later on that evening I uncorked a little Blood of Christ to go with my evening meal. Can't be too sure these days.
After taking communion, some people went up front to the knee-padded alter and prayed - some people just went right back to their seat. To me, it felt right to go kneel and close my eyes, and thank the Lord for living in a place where I can go enjoy so many different styles of worshiping him. Also I thanked Jesus for forking over his body and blood like he did. Man, he really loves us. In the Bible, Jesus said, "This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me." In Country Church they take The Lord's Supper twice a year. We were taught that when Jesus said, "As oft as ye drink it" what he really meant was, "Don't do this too often, or it will not be as special as it could and should be." Kneeling there in that ornate sanctuary, with strangers to my right and left, I could not imagine eating the Body and Blood and it not being special; not setting you back a bit and making you think about how loved you are.
Next were a few more announcements and we all filed out the back. I was the first one to my car and headed for home. Elapsed Time= 56 minutes.
Would I go back?
You bet. I had a great time. It was not a perfect match for me, but it was sanctified and the people were perfectly lovely and I think the Holy Spirit was there in the room with us.
Next Sunday though I continue the journey. I am thinking maybe Episcopal.