An agnostic Peace Corps Volunteer attends a Seventh Day Adventist church. Here’s why.
First, a bit about the denomination. Seventh Day Adventists (SDA’s) believe Saturday is the true sabbath day. This appeals to the part of my nature that likes to buck trends. Other practices of this denomination include: modest dress, no makeup or jewelry, no alcohol, no red meat, and general healthy eating.
You’re probably wondering why someone who doesn’t believe in scientifically impossible miracles or direct communication from an omniscient being is regularly attending church. Especially in a denomination known to be on the stricter side of religion. Let’s look at a typical Saturday morning to understand.
Meet Marcelina and her sister Missé at the gate, and walk to church on the edge of town. (about a 30 minute walk)
Things to bring: Water bottle, bible, hymnal, purse.
First ones to arrive. Sit down and start singing. At the end of each song someone can choose the next hymn number by shouting it out. Nobody knows the songs I pick, and only Marcelina is brave enough to try them. Choir of two.
This is the first reason I go to church. It’s the only acceptable place to sing, and I miss that part of my life.
People trickled in to sing, and now we move on to the lesson. SDA’s follow a book with lessons each day of the week (the equivalent to Sunday school or catechism). This Saturday the theme was “The Great Controversy”, and people shared their opinions using bible verses to support them. From what I gathered of the discussion, the controversy is the struggle between good and evil that exists inside us, and to which we are all equally vulnerable.
The person leading the discussion pointed out that when at your lowest, it’s hard to celebrate life. However that is when is precisely the time when you should be celebrating. Focus on anything true, honest, virtuous, or lovely at low points, because there will always be something positive.
This is the kind of philosophical life stuff that I like being reminded of, and is the second reason I go to church.
Announcements. One of our church members died from complicated diabetes this week. She was blind, constantly shifting from house to house for people to take care of her, and beaten by family members for her monthly pension. I just saw her last week, it doesn’t feel real.
Pray, sing, and offer whatever coins I have in my purse. Half the prayers are in English, and the other half in Afrikaans. All of the sermons, discussions, and hymns are in English though.
This is the third reason I come to this church. It is one of the only ones that holds it’s entire service in English. In fact it might be the only one.
Sermon. One of the long time church members picks a topic and presents it, often with questions to engage people. Today it focused on death because of the church member who died. They used Lazarus, the man Jesus brought back from the dead, as a metaphor for the immortality of those who believe in Jesus.
Now for the fourth reason. Although discussions such as this one make me uncomfortable because of my different beliefs, I think the mind is only expanded outside comfort zones.
Proceed out of church singing, shake everyone’s hand, and chat a bit.
This is the fifth reason I go to this church, networking. Although the congregation is small, it include the high school principal, a sergeant at the police station, the life skills teacher at the high school, and of course my friend and hospital social worker Marcelina.
Back home … this time. Most days we don’t run on schedule so well, and usually it’s 2:00 before I get home.
So that’s church and me. Dan worries I’ll turn into a bible thumper, but I think it’s good for Peace Corps Volunteers. It provides community integration, quiet reflection, and a chance to sing your heart out. What do you think?