I am behind in my blogging about visiting churches! Yesterday I visited Bethany Lutheran Church, which is in a southern suburb of Denver called Cherry Hills Village. My dear friends Julie and Scott had their son baptized there yesterday. Bethany was one of the first churches that I visited when I moved to Denver seven years ago. I went there for about three months and stopped going because during that period of time not a single person greeted me as a visitor. So I did not have high hopes for this worship service, although I was there to celebrate with and support my friends.
This the largest ELCA church in Denver, so I have been there for a few concerts and most recently the installation of the Rocky Mountain Synod bishop in September. The sanctuary itself is very large, there are some beautiful stained glass windows and a very large pipe organ.
I was there for a baptism, and it was probably the most moving baptism that I have witnessed. Julie and Scott had each of us bring a cup of water from our home (Julie also had me bring a cup from the Episcopal church building where HFASS meets) to add to the fount. The ELW Order for Baptism was performed, but at the end, the pastor added something that I had never heard before, but really liked. The pastor held Julie and Scott's son and looked directly into his eyes and said, "You belong to God." This is the clearest articulation of baptismal theology that I have heard, and I loved it. They also invited the children of the congregation to come stand around the fount and witness what was going on.
The rest of the service was kind of lackluster. Yesterday was Reformation Sunday, which is a really big deal for Lutherans, but instead of using the lectionary texts and preaching about what this sunday in the church year means for Lutherans, the preaching pastor gave a sermon about tithing. Asking for money in church makes me feel profoundly uncomfortable, which is something that I definitely need to get over. But as a guest in a congregation that is not my own, getting brow-beaten about supporting the congregation feels awkward. The other thing about this church was that they did not really seem to care if a visitor knew what was going on or felt comfortable. However, what really got me was their announcement about gluten free wafers and grape juice at the Eucharist. The presiding minister announced, "If you can't have regular wafers or wine, you need to come to the center station." Which is awkward and exclusive and makes people feel immediately ill at ease, especially if they are visitors.
So here is what I learned about my visit to Bethany Lutheran:
-I loved what the pastor did at the baptism. I love how he articulated what baptism meant and really meant it.
-I love that children were invited to gather around the fount
-You will inevitably have visitors, so please don't make it awkward for them to be there.
-Don't cause shame for people who cannot take in the "regular" elements of communion. They are just as much a part of the body of Christ as everyone else.