Famous Presbyterian Church and Twenty-seventh Presbyterian Church...
This e-mail from a certain academic who just spent a weekend away from home was sent to me a couple days ago. It could be any tall-steeple Presbyterian church. I've hidden its identity. It could be any successful academic. I've made an effort to hide his identity. It could be any Reformed church that practices pastoral preaching and living fellowship and simplicity of sanctuary and the propagation of a godly seed. I've tried my best to hide its identity.
It was a cold and crisp morning. After meeting with my past graduate advisor to discuss grants and research in my lab, I embarked on an adventure to (Famous) Presbyterian Church (FPC) which was about a mile away. While I was a postdoc at (Famous Ivy League school), I dreamed that one day I would get a job at one of the big pharmaceutical companies in (FPC's city) so that my family and I could worship at FPC. FPC's former pastor had written (books which) were the main fuel for this dream. So I was eager to get to church and worship. I arrived at the front door to be kindly greeted by a young black woman (who actually shook my hand like a lady...not the manly hand shake that women give today). I got a bulletin (so that I would have something to look at in the 10 minutes before the service began) and proceeded toward the front of the church where I could find a seat. After sitting down in the fifth row back from the front—dead center on the aisle—I noticed the strong incense of women's perfume...almost to the point where it made my eyes water.
During the prelude as the huge pipe organ at the back of the church boomed, I looked around at the sanctuary...beautiful metropolitan tabernacle...I felt like I was at C.H. Spurgeon's church, just not quite as big...elegant carpentry...spotless decor...sanitary...perfect. As the service began...I took notice of the men there. They were almost all in suits, ties, coats, hair combed to the left, perfect. Singing hymns...the pipe organ boomed, the bass trembled my insides a little...you could hear the congregation singing, but barely audible over the pipes...booming...glorious music...glorious.
During the time of prayer (and yes, no kneeling there) an associate pastor leads, and in the middle he began to pray for the "upcoming [such and such] conference, geared toward training in Biblical exposition and exegesis." I almost looked up thinking the prayer had ended and we had abruptly moved into the announcements...but the "advertisement" was part of the continuing prayer...shall I go on.
The preaching was glorious...(a certain foreign accent, not as pronounced as that of another Reformed preacher famous across America from that same foreign country)...(he mentions the text and subject)...good academic sermon...couple jokes to lighten up the stiff room...glorious Reformed sermon...Christ was King, high and lifted up on the throne of David...glorious Reformed sermon! The elders who served communion...mostly over 60, no smiles, dignified, standing tall, successful, hair combed to the left, perfect. The benediction was given, three-quarters of the room cleared out within the first five minutes.
After the service an elder's wife sitting next to me asked "if I was new"...obvious ice-breaker.... I told her why I was there. Her husband was "an inventor...really he's an electrical engineer with 18 patents..." I met another couple in the pew behind me...solid-state particle physicist who worked at (a certain global corporation with local headquarters)...and it began to dawn on me that I was fitting in too well there...we could have gone on and on about molecular motor biophysics and blah, blah-blah, blah-blah...so I asked the question "where are all the children?"
The elder's wife said "ohhhh...we have a phenomenal Sunday school program...the classes are growing so rapidly, that we need to divide school grades into multiple different classes"...the solid-state particle physicist's wife said, "Where do the children go for Sunday school? Oh...they meet (someplace else)"
As this went on, I begin to reflect on the fact that I hadn't heard a single child in the entire service, no children under the age of 9 or so...no babies...no toddlers...quiet...perfectly quiet...no disturbances...sad...sad.
Walking out of church I thought to myself first "I miss (a certain unknown Presbyterian church)" and second "it's kinda like reading a good book and then watching the pathetic movie, and being extremely disappointed". I called my wife immediately after leaving the church, and told her, "I miss you guys so much and I miss our church...I am so thankful that God didn't give me a job in (FPC's city), I am so thankful God led us to (Twenty-seventh Presbyterian Church). I am amazed that one of the most revered Presbyterian Churches in America would be so sterile...so sanitary...there was no sin in there...no genuine repentance...no sin...sanitary...glorious...Reformed!"
Sorry to go on and on, but I needed to get this out of me. I missed the love that people at (27th) genuinely show. I missed the (unpretentious sanctuary). I missed the musicians playing loud music with electric guitars and a man leading. I missed the multitude of children running around. I missed sitting beside my wife while I got punched in the gut with (our preacher's) sermon. I missed kneeling on the dusty concrete floor. I missed seeing our elders smiling. I missed confessing our sins together. I missed all the things I need and I am shamed to realize I want the sanitary and the glorious. Oh, how revealing it is.