by Andrea Sanborn
I left the old Lutheran church and hopped into my 1972 Volkswagen bug, eager to share with my husband the incredible news: I’d just been hired as the executive secretary of the largest Lutheran church in the state! How it all came about, I still wasn’t sure. After all, I was only 23 and I most certainly wasn’t Lutheran. All I knew was that working for a church had to be better than wearing the red polyester jacket required at the bank I’d been working at.
I was born into a non-religious family and gave my life to the Lord during the Jesus movement in southern California. It was there that I cut my teeth on fervent worship, a tear-stained altar, and guitars around a campfire at night. It wasn’t until I married that I first stepped into a liturgical church, and it was like visiting a foreign country. We were given a program that directed us to different pages in a big, green book. It seemed as if I was barely locating the correct page when people were already chanting and mumbling the strange cadences. When a song was sung, people murmured quietly in their seats instead of belting out the verses with the gusto that I was used to. And communion gave me my first sharp taste of wine instead of the grape juice I was expecting. My husband stifled a laugh as I coughed at the altar from the shock of it.
I learned a lot during my time working there. I discovered that there were different colors of robes and altar cloths for different liturgical seasons throughout the year, all pointing to the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the beginnings of the church. It all seemed frivolous, in a way, to someone who was used to encountering Jesus in a simple country church or a campus fellowship group.
All of it rubbed against my grain. I, at the ripe old age of 23, was sure that I knew what it really looked like to worship God, and singing the “Gloria Patri” wasn’t it.
As a staff at this church, we had a devotional time led by the pastor a few times a week. It was then that I noticed something unexpected: often he seemed visibly moved by the words we chanted and the hymns we sung. There were four pastors on staff, and as I got to know them, I realized that they each had a deep and genuine faith. And then something more happened. As I got familiar enough with the liturgy that I wasn’t constantly fumbling around in the big green book on a Sunday but could chant some of the parts by memory, I began to realize that the words I was saying were solid and good. The words led us through confession and repentance; through prayer and praise; through affirming the truths of our faith by creed; through remembering the death of Jesus through the bread and the wine, and receiving again the joyful announcement that He is risen. And then it hit me – this is the gospel of Jesus, the beautiful, unchanging, universal truth proclaimed from pulpits of all truly believing churches in different forms. Those words from the green book really meant something.
I had to confess my arrogance and pre-suppositions that day. And although I have been in a few liturgical churches since where the old words have lost their life and truth, that day I learned that God is the judge of true worship, not me.
I currently attend a church where I am decades older than the vast majority of the congregation, and that lesson has guided me as I navigate my attitudes and actions towards the younger generations and their ways of doing things. I do not want to be one of those older people who are stuck in their opinions and methods, who think they have all the right answers, and whose prideful attitude holds back the church from living out their version of Spirit and truth. I am grateful for their patience with me as I learn that just because I know more, does not mean that I know better.
I am still very much a Jesus-worshipper rather than a church-attender. But I have been humbled in my growing understanding of what Jesus meant when He said in John 4:24, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” The Spirit moves in more places than my pre-conceived notions allow for, and the truth is preached in more places than just those that suit my particular taste.
And those who are proud, He is able to humble.
Andrea Sanborn is wife to Bill, and mom to three transracially adopted adults and one young man with Down Syndrome and Autism. She likes morning walks, campfires by the lake and sharing her son’s latest adventures with her Facebook friends. Andrea lives in northern Minnesota and blogs about following Jesus at andreasanborn.com.