Riding the wave of positive family religious experiences of late (see Sam’s Bar Mitzvah), we decided to venture back to church after about an 8-year respite. Spoiler alert, it was actually a nice and welcoming experience. To find out more, read on; otherwise, you got the main point.

It has been a tradition in my wife’s family to attend Christmas Eve services followed by dinner and some present opening. Being Jewish, this was a new experience to me. I went politely and did most of the things besides the communion. But after many years of mostly hearing about Jesus and having young kids who couldn’t sit through a service, our family made the transition to skipping church, but keeping dinner and presents on the agenda.

I understand why a Christian church would focus on Jesus so heavily. He is the main differentiation point between Christians and other religions. But from an outsider’s perspective, it is almost as if they forgot about God (I know Jesus is supposed to be God and the trinity and all, but it just doesn’t feel the same from outside looking in). I felt out-of-place most of the time.

Now our kids are of an age that they are expected to wear nice, uncomfortable clothes while attending services. We went to a new church last night call St. Margaret’s Church of Annapolis, MD. It was only an hour service making it easy for our kids and I can attend with our family. Something was different this time. Instead of a huge church with half the seats filled, it was a medium-sized building with the pews filled. The beginning started talking about the House of David and the decedents of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. Put two check marks on the positive side of the ledger.

Then Reverend Peter Mayer took some time to speak to the crowd. He opened with inclusive words of welcome. Knowing that many of the faces there were new to this congregation, he declared that anyone is welcome to come take communion or at least come up for a blessing. He encouraged loud singing regardless of the tune of your voice since we are not here to be afraid, but to be joyous. He assured us God was here to help us when we are scared. God won’t heal us directly, but he can help us manage the situations we find ourselves in through family, friends, and community.

There is a commonality between this message and the Bar Mitzvah service a couple weeks ago. In both instances, a large percentage of the congregation were not regularly attending members. The Rabbi and Reverend Peter Mayer both seemed please to welcome these new attendees regardless of their religious background. They both provided some upfront context that is often required for a newcomer to a strange place. Neither one tried to convert or stress the benefits of their chosen faith. Both focused on community and God.

There is not one correct religion or belief system, and any faith community that thinks only they know best is not worth your time. There are many paths to any destination be it faith, health, education, or understanding. The more religions that are open to other religions, the better this world will be.

We had a long discussion about Jesus the Person and Jesus the Savior on the way there and back. It was a great learning/teaching experience. I am looking forward to attending next year. One suggestion…can you work on some songs with a tempo that is faster than my resting heart-rate?