What it Means to Church

When God dragged me kicking and screaming back to Charlotte, I began a new season of my life. The sun of that season, which warmed the ground and made things grow, was The Gathering–a nondenominational church meeting in an elementary school gym.

Until The Gathering, I had always attended church. It was as necessary as attending school. The Gathering, however, spurred me on to something more. It wasn’t just a corporate worship event. It was a community of friendly smiles that made me feel like Sunday morning was home–like I had friends even though I was new. They taught me that being a part of the church was so much more rewarding than being a member of a¬†congregation.¬†For the first time in my life, I didn’t want to miss a Sunday because I didn’t want to miss the love and support of that relationship.

I can’t lie. I joined their children’s ministry because I thought it’d help me get a job. You know they say connections are key and volunteer work is what builds them. But all that changed in an instant when I showed up the first Sunday to work with kids. Before the service began, Pastor Derwin came back to pray with us. The head of the children’s ministry grabbed me and said, “Derwin! This is the one we have been praying for!” I knew then, that I wasn’t there for me. I can’t describe that feeling–to be needed that much, to be an answer to prayer. It was such a boost in confidence that it stirred a powerful sense of humility in me.

I was a part of the Gathering for eight years, working in the children’s ministry as much as I could. It was the longest I had ever attended a single church. And it was the first time I was really a part of a church.

Through them, I learned of One7 Ministries, which became my passion and the start of my teaching career. I gained invaluable friendships that have lasted through thick and thin. I found loving accountability and genuine connections. Through them, I found what it really meant to church.

The Gathering closed their doors this summer. It was the end of a season for all of us, and God is ushering us on to the next. He has sent us out to bear witness, and all the things we’ve gained from that community will be shared.

So we will “go out with joy and be lead forth with peace (Is 55:12).” …There’s not too many mountains around here, and far more buildings than trees, but… I think the sentiment is still there.

Thank you, Gathering, for your part in my life!


“Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church”

I grew up as a bit of a “church hopper.” While I lived in Papua New Guinea, my family attended a church which was made up of missionaries from multiple denominations. We didn’t have a single pastor, but instead, missionaries and pastors from around the globe and across the spectrum of protestant Christianity took turns speaking in church.

Every four years, when my family visited America, we went from state to state and church to church to show people our work in Papua New Guinea. I’m still not sure if I ever attended the same American church for more than a few months at a time.

When it comes to worship, I’ve experienced everything from a cappella choirs to rock; reverently standing tall with hymnals and humbly face down on the floor. Some of my favorite times of worship are done in silence beneath a tree. In that sense, I think Emily Dickinson and I would get along nicely in her garden church. With the birds as the choir and the orchard for the dome.

But church is more than a place, and worship is more than a song.

A while back, I was reading the book, Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster. In it, Foster talks about what it means to worship God beyond the Sunday morning experience. While talking with some friends about worship, I realized just how much worship becomes a dividing factor among the Body of Christ.

I love the congregation that I attend now. But I want to worship with other limbs of the Body. I want to be in fellowship with others outside my small gathering. And I want to experience worship the way others worship our God.

And so I, and two others, sought out some other limbs of God. This Sunday, we visited the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Charlotte. It was my first time to a Greek Orthodox service (called a Divine Liturgy, which took me about a week to figure out) and I was a little nervous about not knowing what to do. Thankfully having friends with me made it easier to laugh at myself when I walked into the kitchen instead of the sanctuary. And when I had to ask what I was supposed to do before being told, “you can have a seat.” And when I tried to say the Lord’s prayer with them, and didn’t realize that they say a shorter version than I do. And when I was smiling like a pumpkin at the priest as he sang the prayers and the scriptures and the general instructions. (I want to start singing “let us be attentive” to my students).

I wish I could have captured more of the symbols on the church building, but I was already feeling like a discourteous tourist.

I wish I could have captured more of the symbols on the church building, but I was already feeling like a discourteous tourist. Seeing the Chi-Rho always makes me happy.

The whole experience was a lot to take in. What struck me most was seeing people come before God in a very touching way. I love the human closeness that my church gives to God. It reminds me that Jesus calls us “Friends” (John 15:15). But what I loved most about the Greek Orthodox Church was how they reminded me that he is the King of the Universe, too.

In the Bible, when people are given the amazing privilege of seeing God, they either pass out, or fall shaking on their faces. I sometimes forget that, and treat coming before Him as casual as a hanging out with my buddy. But through the rituals of the Greek Orthodox Church, they create a sense of reverence, awe, and divine righteousness.

I was honored to share a pew with the people at the Holy Trinity.


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