This weekend, I found myself in the Mile High City –Denver, and before I found a place to watch Tim Tebow in the Broncos v Patriots game, I first did some research to find a place to worship. I drove down the hill from Evergreen, Colorado, where I will be working for the week, into the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver. A search of the Denver Black Pages had provided me with many options, but I chose the East Denver Church of Christ – mainly because I have been spending quite a bit of time discussing the beliefs of the Church of Christ with a friend who is a member of the church
In the first 52 Weeks of my journey, I visited the Harvey Church of Christ in Harvey, IL. That was a majority African-American congregation, and the East Denver Church of Christ was as well. When I walked in, two older Black gentlemen greeted me, and they were decked out – one wore an electric blue suit, matching blue trouser socks, and blue (faux?) alligator shoes. The other wore a pinstriped suit and shiny black wingtips. Sunday best.
As I approached them, I guess I had “visitor” written all over me, because one gentleman spoke:
“Are you new here?” he asked.
“Yes, I am,” I replied.
“Would you like to fill out a visitor’s card?” He asked.
“Well, I am visiting from Chicago, but I would be happy to fill out a visitor’s card” I replied.
He went to get a card and a pen while the second gentleman played the “Do you know game” with me – he asked me if I knew one of his friends from college (no), then told me that he had a lady friend who lived in Chicago (that’s nice, but I didn’t know her either.). It was fun to make conversation with these gentlemen, and after I filled out the visitor’s card, I asked them where the sanctuary was. They pointed me in the right direction.
The inside of the sanctuary was not fancy. Simple and clean, there was a pulpit up front, with a chair and some flowers on either side. In front of the altar, there was a table, covered with gold communion plates, each topped with a cross shaped handle. There were additional fashion statements being made by the women attending service today – some memorable church hats – one covered in furry leopard skin, and another covered in gold sequins.
Before the service started, I watched people hugging and catching up with each other. It was clear that this was a close knit church community – so much so that I received a visitor’s welcome many times over as people noticed me prior to greeting friends and family. They asked me where I was from (Chicago), and what church I attended (um, that’s complicated), and I made small talk until it was time for service.
In my previous Church of Christ experience, one of the things that struck me was the way that music was incorporated into the service. In my soon to be published book, My 52 Weeks of Worship, I share the following:
The music at this service brought me home, too. Every song was sung a cappella, no choir, no instruments. There was one musician in the back of the choir with a microphone. He was providing the bass to accompany the soloists.
I wondered why there were no instruments. A pamphlet in packet of materials given to visitors explained:
In the days of the apostles, mechanical instruments of music in connection with singing were not used in the worship of the church. Then, all worshippers sang psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and made melody in their hearts unto the Lord.[i] Vocal music was the only kind used. Instrumental music in Christian worship was not practiced until centuries later, after the church had been corrupted by error. We, of the church of Christ, sing the praises of God but do not use mechanical instruments of music in Christian worship since the Lord left them out of his church, and the New Testament nowhere authorizes their use.[ii]
We sang one song repeatedly. It was called “Let it Rise,” by Holland Davis…
Amazingly enough, the same song that I had heard during my time at Harvey Church of Christ, was the first song that was sung this morning at the East Denver Church of Christ. It is a song that I had heard many times in my time at my home church, Trinity. I am not sure if it is a Church of Christ staple, or just one that is popular and familiar in many Black churches. In any case, hearing it gave me a feeling of familiarity and continuity—and throughout the service, one gentleman led us in several other a cappella selections, including other familiar songs like: “Have a Little Talk With Jesus,” and “Soon and Very Soon.” I enjoyed the music today as I had when I visited the Harvey Church of Christ, last year.
I contemplated how important it is that the familiar pieces of worship services are what keeps people coming back. If I am a member of a church like the Church of Christ (note: I am not), and I know that I will hear the same songs in Denver that I will in Chicago, that can be comforting. I tend to enjoy learning new things about new ways of worship, but of course, I can see how it would be nice to walk in a place and immediately know the rules and the ritual
The topic of the sermon was familiar – the pastor talked about Faith and Light, and focused on scriptures from Hebrews and 1 John. There was only one thing that happened that I had never experienced before –whenever it was time for prayer, the lights were turned out, so we prayed in dim light. When the prayers ended, the lights came back up. I am not sure why that happened, but next time I talk to my friend who is a member of the Church of Christ, I will ask him!
The church was small and very welcoming. When it was time to welcome visitors, it turned out that I was the only one who had turned in a visitor’s card. The pastor introduced me, and I extended greetings from Chicago to this congregation in East Denver. Afterwards, I was surrounded by worshippers who hugged me, told me a little about their city, and welcomed me. I even got an invitation to lunch, when I told one church member that I would be in town for a few days!
Travelling gives me the opportunity to continue to interact with new people in new worship environments – and I learn something every time.