My First Stop in a Search for a New Church Home: Harbor of Hope
Today I attended a new church: Harbor of Hope. Not only had I never been to this church on a Sunday morning, it was also a totally unfamiliar denomination for me: Assemblies of God, which falls under the Pentecostal umbrella. The atmosphere was unlike any other church I’d been in; it was very casual, and there was this heightened sense of camaraderie that is usually much more mellowed out in church settings. I must have seen about two dozen hugs given, and during a prolonged period of time after the praise and worship was over, the pastor asked that anyone who needed “prayer for a HUGE miracle” to raise their hands, then asked that members of the congregation wind their way towards those with raised hands and pray for them. In some cases, these people kept right on praying and talking after the pastor formally concluded the “prayer time.”
The worship was pretty typical; lots of appeals to the joy of the Lord and happiness and God’s presence in this place, etc., etc. What was unique about it – to me at least – was that the sanctuary was nearly empty when worship began, and people trickled in throughout the worship time. About half the congregation stood in the front of the sanctuary, and a lot of people had their hands raised. Kids were fooling around and enjoying themselves over in one section, and on the stage a very little girl – maybe two years old – was sometimes wandering the stage and sometimes standing and sort of singing.
When I was fishing around online for what kind of church I wanted to go to this morning, I was originally quite hesitant to attend Harbor of Hope, because I had heard that they spoke in tongues there on a regular basis, which is something that makes me uncomfortable. But I thought I’d make a go of it anyway and see what happened. Sure enough, after the worship and prayer time were over, one woman spoke in tongues. It was a bizarre thing to listen to, to be sure, but not the extraordinary experience I’d imagined. Afterward another member of the congregation prayed scripture (adding in something about the imminent end of the ages, but that the church is strong, not weak), and then the floor was passed back to the pastor.
The sermon was also rather a different experience. There was a whole lot of banging the pulpit and loud and confident declarations that Jesus is Lord. A couple times the pastor boldly declared that he didn’t care about offending people or being politically incorrect; he would speak the truth. In large part, the sermon was about baptism because there were to be several baptisms after the service. He dropped a couple subtle references to the belief that baptism is essential to salvation, and talked through all the ways it is extremely important, both literally and symbolically. He also claimed that Jesus commanded it, and used the Great Commission at the end of Matthew as a proof text.
The pastor was loud, and bold, and frequently invoked audience participation in the form of clapping and amens and appeals for agreement. He waxed eloquent about how we must be firm and confident in the gifts God has promised us for a propserous life, we must walk in the truth that God has BIG BIG BIG plans for our lives. We must be constantly filled with the abundant joy that comes only from Jesus.
I’m not sure it was really my cup of tea. The reality is that I’ve never, ever been the kind of person who feels bold and confident and assured about all the things of God. I am more of a cautious person, a doubtful person, a person who prefers to ask a lot of questions rather than boldly shout from the rooftops.
At the end of the service, the pastor led everyone in the typical Sinner’s Prayer. But it had a twist, as if the pastor was unapologetic about who he had to “scope out” as those in need of salvation. He began with asking everyone this question (paraphrased by me since I don’t remember it perfectly): “Who among you, if you were to walk outside right now and be hit with a car, know with firm certainly, with all the assurance you can have, that you will be welcomed in to heaven after you die?”
Though we were instructed to keep our eyes closed and our heads bowed (which I found to be humorously ironic after all that talk about being bold about your faith), I can imagine that almost every hand in the room went up.
I’m not sure of the implications of this belief, but I don’t think it’s up to me to know what will happen in the afterlife—either to me or to anyone else. I think that is God’s choice, and I don’t want to be one to speak for God. Perhaps that doesn’t make me a very good Christian, or a very confident Christian, but at least I am honest, and I am submitting to God’s authority when it comes to salvation.
So anyway. That was my first experience in my search for a new church home. It was definitely different, and I learned a lot about how diverse church experiences can be. But I’m not really sure that church is for me, though I can see both strengths and faults in it. And I suppose I should be careful not to judge a church based on one Sunday morning service. I think, perhaps, in the future I’m going to continue to branch out, and attend churches that are very different from the little conservative one I grew up in. Maybe, sooner or later, I’ll find a community I can call home.