I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this or not, but since I’m going to be something like 35 weeks pregnant by Christmas, Dave and I decided a long time ago that we would not be flying anywhere for the holidays. Instead? My entire family is coming here. That means my parents, plus my brother and sister. That’s six people if you count me and Dave, and everyone is crashing at our house. It isn’t really a bad thing at all. I haven’t seen them since my cousin’s wedding in June, and they’ll only be here for three days, so it should be fun. I like the “short and sweet” trips – it’s great to get a chance to see everyone, but it isn’t long enough to wear me out. (My family is a very high-energy group of folks.)

I’m not trying to plan an agenda for their trip here. I have a couple of things I’d like to do, but I also like the flexibility of being able to change plans at the last minute, if we feel so inclined. There are only two things that I know absolutely will happen:
1) There will be a huge meal on Christmas Eve;
2) We will go to Christmas Eve church service.

Both of these things are family traditions that I can’t imagine my family (well, ok, my dad) being willing to alter just because the geography has changed this year.

So to that end, I’m getting prepared. For the meal, there are a couple of things that I can make and freeze in advance, that’s really no big deal. My mom will probably be doing most of the cooking anyway, since by that point, I’m sure I won’t need to be standing on my feet for long stretches of time. As for the church service… well, it seems that after having lived in the greater Seattle area for the last five years, I am now in the position of trying to find a church for the first time.

I consider myself half-Methodist and half-Catholic, and for a long time, I really thought that I was more Catholic than anything. But I’ve come to realize that Methodists generally fall into the category of “relaxed and groovy” Christians (read: liberal), so I’m identifying more and more with that as I get older. I like the idea of Christianity that’s based only on Jesus’s teachings and none of that hellfire-and-brimstone stuff that happened in the Old Testament. No judgment of others who happen to have a different lifestyle or belief system than your own? I can get behind that.

I also figured that maybe while I’m investigating churches, I could find one that has a Mother’s Morning Out program, and that would be all the better. (Selfish, I know.)

Dave isn’t really into this idea of “experimenting” with different churches to find one that I like. He agrees that it’s important to go regularly when we have kids who are old enough to understand, because we want our children to grow up with some foundation of beliefs. But right now, I’m basically church-shopping, and if Dave doesn’t want to go along, that’s fine. Kris was also raised Methodist, and she’s been more than happy to test-drive a few churches with me. This past Sunday was our third so far.

The thing is, I do really like the more traditional church services. I like it when there’s a choir and an organ and a minister who gives a regular ol’ sermon. That’s what feels church-y to me. Which is why the church that we tried out on Sunday was such a bizarre experience.

We got there right before the service started, so we had enough time to hit the ladies’ room (because, you know, it had been more than five minutes since the last time I had peed), and then we went to find a seat in the sanctuary. Right away, I noticed that there was no organ and no choir. And although they had a piano, they also had a full band – a guy on guitar, another guy on bass, a drummer and a couple of singers. Hmm.

They started the service by launching into song – which was not exactly a hymn, it was more of a song you might hear on contemporary Christian radio. Very pro-Jesus rock music. And apparently this was one of those churches in which the congregation raises their hands up in the air during the singing – I think it’s supposed to symbolize receiving God’s grace or something, but it looks more like an “I surrender” gesture. I have never understood why people do that.

Sometime during the first song, I noticed the one band member I had missed earlier – they actually had a guy on bongos. BONGOS!! And the guy playing the bongos? Had a harley-biker mustache, and he played with his eyes closed, because he was just that into it, man. He would not have been out of place at a Grateful Dead concert.

(I kept leaning over to Kris and whispering, “Bongos!” to make her crack up. Because I’m evil like that.)

After the first song, the minister got up and spoke for a few minutes – he said one prayer, and then did the standard church bulletin announcements. You know, the youth group will be meeting at this time tonight, if anyone wants to volunteer for such-and-such on X date, all that stuff.

Then, the minister sat back down and we launched into more of the contemporary Christian pop/rock singing. Only this time, it was a medley! I was thinking “ok, almost done with this song, then I can sit back down” and they’d launch right into another one. It felt like it would never end.

At some point during the big Happy Christian Sing-along Hour, I turned my head to the left to whisper something to Kris, and I saw over her shoulder that – so help me, I am not making this up – along the side aisles of the church, there were interpretive dancers, people. I counted four of them, and they were all holding flags and waving them around while doing their little dances. The bongos were one thing, but that was the point where I officially lost it and spent the next several minutes shaking from trying not to laugh.

The dancers, for the record, were not synchronized and had nothing to do with each other AT ALL. I guess they were just moved by the Holy Spirit or something. Also, one of the interpretive dancers was wearing some kind of tai-chi outfit – sort of like white coveralls with a big blue sash belt around his waist – and everyone else was in street clothes. If there was a point to all of that, it was lost on me.

I have no idea how long the singing went on, or if that was the whole service. Somewhere around the fifth song in the medley, Kris leaned over and whispered, “Do we have to stay?” I was thinking the same thing, but I was afraid that she’d think I was being rude. So we high-tailed it out of there and went out for brunch.

For the rest of the day, I kept trying to imagine my dad’s reaction to that type of church, and I’d nearly pass out laughing. I know it’s going to be a challenge to find a traditional church in the Northwest, but there has got to be some sort of happy medium. Preferably one that doesn’t include bongos and interpretive dancers. Sweet Jesus. (No pun intended.)

7 thoughts on “bongos!

  1. That’s hysterical. I have a pretty good idea where you were, which makes it even funnier. If you are willing to go over the bridge, there’s a few decent ones in Seattle in the north end. Both are liberal and have good histories of social justice.

  2. i’ve been attending an episcopal church for the last couple of years. it’s *extremely* community-oriented. i don’t know how the rest of ’em work, but the one i’m friendly with is a good one.

    the services — the ones i’ve participated in, anyway — are very traditional. there ain’t none of that “happy clappy,” as my old man says. i like that. it simplifies things. we all meet at the same place with the same expectations but we take away different experiences.

    i don’t wanna shut my eyes and raise my hands and sway around to let people know i met jesus. i’d rather keep it to myself, thanks.

  3. Oh, Cindy. This had me laughing out loud at my desk, because I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about. Here’s my tale of woe…

    I, too, was raised Methodist, and grew up going to church every week (well, multiple times a week, to be honest — my mom was kind of a church freak). It was the same church my mom attended from birth, and my grandma before her, and yada yada. It was a regular church. We sang from a hymnal and had a regular ol’ sermon every week and there were little old ladies who watched me grow up and gave me cookies in the foyer after services.

    All that changed when I hit middle school and the church decided to “expand.” They built a new sanctuary, hundreds of random new people starting showing up on Sundays, and it wasn’t long before it all became way too Michael W. Smith for my comfort. They started a “Praise Band,” which — wait for it — included bongos and a full drum set. Also a tambourine. The youth choir (which, sadly, I was a part of) started singing only the hits of the aforementioned Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. People started raising their hands and swaying during services. And perhaps worse of all…there was interpretive dance. From the youth choir. We had to wear neon shirts and WHITE GLOVES and mime our “feelings” to contempo Christian pop songs. One time, they made us take the show on the road…TO THE MALL. I think a little part of my soul died that day.

    So, anyway, this is all to say that I truly hope that somewhere out there exists a regular old church, complete with hymnals and sermons and little old ladies who pass out cookies after the service and delight in watching your little girl grow up.

  4. What a service! Thanks for the laugh!

    If you want to consider the Catholic parishes, I’ll tell you as a Catholic who is very unhappy with the current pope and with the loud focus on anti- this and that from the Church, but keep in mind that the American council of bishops has always been considerably more progressive than Rome, and most American Catholics are much more liberal than the media would have you think. We found that Jesuit and Franciscan parishes, while VERY different (Jesuits focus on learning and science and such, while Franciscans focus on poverty, caring for the sick, imprisoned, poor, etc), both tend to be progressive. I’ve always thought of Good Catholics as liberals anyway.

    I don’t know much about Methodists, but my mom is Episcopalian and they are certainly progressive. Priests can be female, gay, or both. Which is pretty cool.

  5. I second the Franciscan suggestion, if you decide to look for a Catholic church. I consider them the hippies of the faith, and we regularly go to the shrine where they live and pray near us for Mass, because I like them so much better.
    I also second the Episcopalian suggestion. If it’s structured services you’re looking for, without the politics that often go with the Catholicsm, that’d be my choice.

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