The CharlotteONE Experience

19 Nov

I’m a pretty traditional girl. Well, mostly. Certainly in my spiritual life. I’ve shopped around for churches, and tried different services at different times at my life. At my age, I’m finally figuring out what I like (you’d think I’d know that before 30, but…no. My experience recently picking out bedroom furniture was enough to tell me I’m pretty clueless with what my tastes actually are.) But with church, I like the traditional. I enjoy sitting in a church, singing from the hymnal, and hearing the sermon. I don’t like mega-churches. I don’t like being yelled at. I’m not into people laying their hands on me. I don’t want to be saved. I’m satisfied with the spiritual experience i have going to Dilworth United Methodist, listening to my pastor, going to Sunday school, chatting with my church friends, and going home.

However, I’m trying to be more open to things, especially in my spiritual life. I’m helping to organize a new Young Professionals (22-35) group at Dilworth, I’m going to Sunday School, I’m praying more, I’m much more faithful when it comes to attending Sunday service, etc. But if there’s a chance to see something radically different than my usual routine, to open my mind a bit–I’m game. It’s like trying a new food. How can you say you hate sushi until you try it?

Which brings me to CharlotteOne. CharlotteOne (http://charlotteone.org) is a group of young Christian adults that meet at First Methodist in Uptown Charlotte every Tuesday in the Fall and Spring to worship God. That’s a simple enough mission. Last night was the last one of the year, and they’ll start back up in January. Our young Youth and Adult Ministries person, Mary Taylor, heard about it and suggested it to me and my friend Kelly. Kelly is a new member to DUMC, but she was excited to try something new, and Mary Taylor is always looking for a slightly more contemporary way to worship since Dilworth is so traditional. As for me, I can’t say I wasn’t slightly apprehensive–the phrase “praise music” and the thought of words projected onto massive screens with a rock band jamming out to Jesus makes me a little…nervous. But hey–can’t knock it ’til you try it.

So last night, Kelly, a new friend Anie, and I trucked uptown (after visiting Reid’s for a wine tasting…fitting, I thought) to First Methodist, a large, stone, somewhat imposing church on the outskirts of downtown. There were a bunch of young people milling around on the steps, and as we went in, there were just a slew of people inside–probably 150-200 (I’m terrible at guesstimating, but it’s a big church, and there were a lot of people. Sue me.) I’d never seen that many young people in one group since college. Yep, there was a band, and yep, there were projector screens. But the sanctuary was beautiful, there were little candles lit everywhere, and people were just chilling out, waiting for the show to start.

The band opened up, and surprisingly enough–they were pretty good! I think of a lot of Christian music as slightly cheesy, but they had a good rock sound going on. However, as I’m used to singing hymns, it was a little odd seeing Christian lyrics projected on the screens. Not bad, just different. And a lot of the people seemed to know the songs, so I’m not sure if they were covers, or what. But after about 3 songs, and shaking the hands of someone you didn’t know (which is something we do in our church–it’s a nice touch), the preacher came to speak.

Last night’s preacher was David Hickman, who was the center of a fascinating personal interest story last Tuesday: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/local/story/349324.html. His second son was born in the hospital parking lot. Crazy, right? As he told the story he was funny and engaging, and he’s young! He’s my age. I could see why young people would relate to him. After his amazing story, he launched into his sermon, which was basically about what the cross means to Christians. And I actually learned quite a bit (I’m still woefully uninformed about much of what the bible has to say). He discussed propitiation, which I had no idea what it meant (what? I’m sure you’re asking–basically it means Jesus’s sacrifice took away all of God’s anger and disappointment in us. Forever.) But his main theme was that God loves us as we are. He isn’t disappointed in us, and we often feel that he is, or that he’s angry with us for the dumb, wrong things we’ve done. There’s something really peaceful about that–that all of his anger and frustration with us went away when Jesus died on the cross. Now, I personally don’t have the philosophy that God is mad at me all the time, a) because I think I’m a pretty good person, and b) because I just don’t dig an angry God. I’d like to think of him as hopeful that we’ll do better, that we’ll treat each other better, that he loves all of us, all the time, despite the stupid stuff we do and think. And I liked thinking that Hickman might have been reaching out to someone in that crowd last night who is just filled with self-loathing and despair, and maybe he brought that person some comfort. I found that very touching.

All in all, it was a surprisingly pleasant evening. I mean, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but there you go. I think I was prepared to feel…uncomfortable, like there’d be people fainting, or uncontrolled sobbing, or someone getting saved, or…I don’t know. I’m a pretty quiet worshipper, and I’m always surprised by Christians who just let it all hang out. But last night was pretty tame. There were a few arms in the air (and one bigger guy who vaguely looked like he was rocking out at a KISS concert), but hey–whatever moves you. And some people obviously don’t understand that if you’re going to sing along, try not to drown out the actual singer–because he/she is actually on key. Thanks.

But what I really learned is that this group of people looked just like me. Most of them were either clean-cut yuppies, or scruffy post-college types. If you had a business meeting with them, or met them at a bar, you wouldn’t know they like praise music or are choosing to listen to a young preacher on a Tuesday night. I find that fascinating. It’s like church is an underground secret society that people are curious about, but are afraid to ask. Go ahead and ask–you might be surprised at what you find.

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