Smile Politely

The Church Hopper #2: Wesley United Methodist Church

Sometimes, when I visit a church for the first time, I feel like Dorothy when she says: “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” And other times when I visit a new church I feel like, well, Dorothy again when she says: “There’s no place like home.”

It was the latter experience for me this week when I visited Wesley United Methodist Church at the corner of Green and Goodwin streets in Urbana.

Being a long-time United Methodist myself, visiting Wesley was like slipping into a favorite pair of old sneakers. Of course, this makes my job here very difficult. How am I going to be objective about this church while I write about it through my clouded lenses of familiarity and fondness? Well, I will try, but forgive me if a little Methodist bias slips through.

My family and I went to Wesley UMC last Sunday, April 13, to attend their 9:30 a.m. traditional worship service (they also offer a contemporary service at 11:15). We had no trouble finding a parking spot in the church’s lot off of Goodwin.

We were greeted at the door by a friendly gentleman and I informed him that this was my family’s first visit to his church. He directed us to the sanctuary and said our children were welcome to attend a Sunday School class. However, we opted to keep the kids with us in the worship service.

We were greeted again inside the sanctuary by a person handing out bulletins. We then found a seat in the back row. My nine-year-old son, referring to the uncushioned, wooden pews, asked me, “Dad, why are these seats so hard?”

And I whispered to him, “So you don’t fall asleep.”

The sanctuary was quite large — perhaps too large for the number of people who were present, but this was good for us since we had no problem finding a place to sit. I bet though, with those expansive, vaulted ceilings, it costs an arm and a leg to heat and cool that structure.

After the organ prelude, the choir, under the direction of Dr. Barrington Coleman, sang “O Sing Unto the Lord” which was listed in the bulletin as being composed by Hal H. Hopson. This kind of bugged me because I knew the piece they were singing was really “Cantate Domino” (a setting of Psalm 96) written by Hans Leo Hassler. Hal Hopson edited an English version of this piece, but the credit should have been given to Hassler, not Hopson. A minor point I realize, but I have to complain about something. On the positive side, the choir did a very nice job on the piece.

This choral version of Psalm 96 was directly followed by Psalm 23 (one of the “Revised Common Lectionary”: readings for the day — a good sign!) which was used as a congregational call to worship. The theme of “The Lord is my shepherd” was then continued in the opening hymn, “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.”

The next part of the service was a “Commissioning of CROP Walkers.” For those of you unfamiliar with CROP Walk, it is a way for people to raise money to fight hunger throughout the world, so it was good to see many people at Wesley participating in this ministry.

This was followed by a children’s choir which sang the contemporary Christian song “Falling in Love with Jesus.” The kids were cute as only kids can be and the soloist was quite good. I only wish the sound system would have been turned up a bit more so we could have heard all of their beautiful little voices.

Actually, I didn’t care much for the sound in this sanctuary at all. I noticed, when I first entered, how “tinny” the pastor sounded, as if he were inside a can. However, I did seem to get used to it as the service went on and it didn’t bother me at all by the end of the service.

After the pastoral prayer and the Lord’s prayer, the Choir sang a response, “Your Will Be Done” by Paul Sjolund. Then the congregation sang “He Leadeth Me” which again brought back the “Lord as Shepherd” theme. I was a bit bored singing the bass line on both the opening hymn and on “He Leadeth Me” since both tunes gave me only about three notes to sing over and over, so I practiced singing the other parts too.

The Gospel reading was John 10.1–10, again one of the lectionary readings for the day, which made me glad. I am a firm believer in following the lectionary because I have seen too many pastors who do not follow it become “corrupt” in their preaching and preparation as they start with their own agenda and then look for scripture to support what they want to say. When one follows the lectionary, one must listen first to what the scripture says and then try to interpret and convey that message to the congregation.

I do wish the remaining lectionary readings would have been used, which for that day were Acts 2.42–47 and 1 Peter 2.19–25.

Rev. Dr. Howard White’s sermon, which again focused on the “Lord as Shepherd” theme was very good. I found myself both spiritually inspired and intellectually stimulated. Yes, it is possible to do both in a worship service! One of the things that intrigued me was when Dr. White recapped his experience attending the recent lecture by Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza. Smile Politely’s Dan Schreiber also attended that lecture and recently wrote an article about it so now I’m really kicking myself for not attending.

After the sermon, we sang the hymn “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” which is a paraphrase of Psalm 23 creating a nice bookend since that was the Psalm we used in the beginning of the service as the call to worship.

When the service was over, the gentleman sitting in front of me turned around and told me that choir rehearsal was on Wednesday evenings and that he thought I would be a good candidate to join them. We also had several other kind folks who knew us come and invite us to the coffee and fellowship hour after the service.

But there was something quite big missing from the service at Wesley. Where, O where was the Eucharist? I realize they probably have Communion once a month and this just wasn’t the Sunday to do it. But that seems odd to me. This church is called “Wesley” United Methodist, apparently so named after the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, who wrote in his sermon #101, “it is the duty of every Christian to receive the Lord’s Supper as often as he can.”

What could be more important than communion in a Christian worship service? Communion is what it is all about, folks. Being in right relationship (shalom) with God and other people is the essence of Jesus’ teachings. If we’re going to cut something out of worship, cut a hymn, or a prayer, or the sermon, but don’t cut the one thing that Jesus told us to do!

OK, so now I really want to give Wesley UMC a low score because of their Eucharistic neglect, but I won’t. In spite of not sharing the bread and wine, I did feel very at-home at Wesley UMC and I could easily see myself remaining a United Methodist and calling Wesley my church home.

But why would I do that when there are so many other churches out there to visit? So tune in next time, good people, for another installment of The Church Hopper.

Until then, I am, as always,

Your Humble Heretic

Wesley United Methodist Church in Urbana: 4 (out of five) stars.

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