Have you ever visited a faith community for the wrong reasons?
I have, more than once. I made my most memorable trip during my opening sophomore week at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
I’d spent my freshman year floating between churches, so I decided to get serious about church attendance. Besides, church membership fit my career goal of becoming a pastor. Funny how that works.
The choice required little effort because Waco churches catered to Baylor students by scheduling Sunday buses to pick up students in front of the dormitories; all I needed to do was to board the Southern Baptist bus of my choice.
So, on the first Sunday in September 1976, I put on my best three-piece, double-knit suit and went to Collins Hall to catch the bus to Immanuel Baptist Church. My plan had mixed motives.
First, I chose Immanuel because I wanted to intern with their young, soon-to-be-famous preacher, Joel Gregory.
Second, the red-bricked Collins Hall is, even today, Baylor’s primary dormitory for freshman girls. I was hoping to merge my pickup point with picking up a new girlfriend. (Corrective footnote inserted here by Mrs. Chaplain: Not “a new girlfriend,” his first girlfriend.)
I arrived at Collins to find Susan Boyd standing on the steps waiting for her bus. I thought Susan’s bobbed hair gave her the cute factor necessary for the perfect pastor’s wife, so I fired my usual questions for potential clergy spouses.
“Do you play the piano? Do you sing?” No, but she played the violin and she taught Sunday school. I must have thought her answers gave her potential because I followed her into the first air-conditioned bus.
We took our seats and Susan posed a question. “Have you ever been to First United Methodist before?”
Uh-oh. I wasn’t sure whether it was the diesel fumes in my lungs or the lust in my heart, but somehow I’d boarded the wrong bus.
Nevertheless, I tried to keep my cool. “No, not until today.”
“I didn’t know you were Methodist,” she said. “I thought you were Southern Baptist.”
Honesty demanded that I tell her I was “Baptist born, Baptist bred, and when I die, I’ll be Baptist dead.” But instead, I laced my facade with nonchalance. “Well, you know, I am trying to be open to considering all denominations.”
With that comeback, I settled into my seat, folded my arms, and just hoped they served doughnuts.
I didn’t get to partake in any confections, but First United gave me a pleasant taste of liturgical worship and colorful altars. And the pastor’s sermon must have given me a healthy dose of guilt because on the return trip, I confessed my mistake to Susan.
While my detour with Susan wasn’t, as we said in the ’70s, “the start of something beautiful,” it did teach me something.
Lots of people board the faith bus for the wrong reasons. Possibly, they follow the boarding crowd or it’s the same bus Daddy always took. Perhaps they like the scenic route or convenient schedule. Maybe they are attracted by onboard amenities such as coffee or even good-looking girls with bob cuts.
I pray that you aren’t making my mistake.
This holiday season, somewhere between Thanksgiving turkey and New Year’s resolutions, consider making a faith journey. Visit a place of worship for where it might take you. Because, at the end of the day, we must commit to a faith that takes us into the hard places, plots new routes, and shows us relevant destinations.
Norris Burkes serves as an Air National Guard chaplain. Email him at email@example.com.
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