The return to church

I found a Coptic (Egyptian Orthodox) service in Albany.

trinityalbanyAfter my rebaptism event, I was surprised to find that I felt no particular need to start going back to church. But I got a girlfriend in the fall of 1978, and Susan attended the Unitarian Church in Schenectady. I tried it, and it didn’t “take.” I was in the choir briefly, though the music never connected with me.

More to the point, it seemed that some of the policy discussions were silly, such as whether candles were “papist,” undoubtedly the concern of some lapsed Roman Catholics. Candles are CANDLES! I went to church on Christmas eve, either that year or the next, at a Catholic church, as I recall.

It wasn’t until my maternal grandmother’s funeral in 1982 that I got to seriously thinking about church. She had died in Charlotte, NC on Super Bowl Sunday, but it was her wish to be buried in her hometown of Binghamton, NY. She was cremated in Charlotte, but her remains were brought back to Binghamton in May for a service at the church in which I grew up, Trinity A.M.E. Zion.

My father, sister Leslie, and I all sat in the choir. My goodness, I’m sitting in the choir! And it hit me, “I need to be sitting in a church choir.”

Thus began the Great Church Shopping Expedition. Susan, with whom I had broken up, and then had recently gotten back together with, and I went to at least a dozen churches. What I/we were looking for, I couldn’t say.

An early contender was Trinity United Methodist Church, which shares part of its name with my home church. Moreover, and it may have been my first day there, but the minister, Stan Moore, a great guy, albeit with a crushing handshake, gave a sermon. During his remarks, he had mentioned in a positive light the massive anti-nuke rally the day before in New York City, which Susan and I had attended.

It wasn’t until December, though, when Gray Taylor, one of the tenors in the Trinity choir, came down from the loft to the front of the sanctuary to note that the choir was seeking members that I decided to come to that church regularly.

Late in 1984, I joined the church. While I was at Trinity, I got involved in the governance of the church, including chairing the Administrative Board and later chairing the Council on Ministries, which dealt with aspects of church life, worship, education, and the like.

There’s a whole lot about this period I could share, but I’m saving it for the roman à clef that I will never write.

One useful exercise, in 1995-96, was a thirty-four-week Bible study called Disciple, generally held at the home of my then ex-girlfriend, and now wife. It coincided with the third, and last time I read the Bible from cover to cover.

One of the Disciple exercises was to go to a faith community different from one’s own. I found a Coptic (Egyptian Orthodox) service on Madison Avenue in Albany. I was about five minutes late, but I needn’t have worried, as the service went on for three hours, mostly in Arabic. Afterward, there was a luncheon, and I had this lovely conversation with one young man, in English. When he found out about my Protestant membership, he said most pleasantly, “You DO know you are going to hell, don’t you?”

My departure in 2000 from Trinity UMC wasn’t about a couple of incidents, but rather the fact that the pastor (not Rev. Moore) had goaded the membership into abolishing the Administrative Board and the Council on Ministries. The subsequent system was more “efficient”, in that it was a cabal run mostly by the pastor. Thus, when conflict arose, there was no recourse.

During the discussion about the change three years earlier, one choir member, who had also been a pastor, asked the reasonable question, “Where are the checks and balances?” But “efficiency” won out; efficiency in a church policy structure is highly overrated.

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