I’m not really sure what a “baptist” is. I assume it has something to do with being baptized, though I know non-baptist churches still perform baptisms, so clearly I’m missing something here. Despite this, I decided to visit the Westville Baptist Church this week, hoping for a better experience than the Victory in Christ Christian Center I visited last week.
The Westville Baptist Church is a small, quaint place. It immediately gave me a more community feel. When I entered there was music playing, but unlike the last church, this music didn’t make me feel like I was in a club. It was simple, easy-listening music about Jesus and love and so on and so forth. There was a small computer displaying the lyrics on a projector screen, but it wasn’t as flashy and overdone the way the big-screen TVs and colored lights at the VICCC were.
Only about 19 people showed up, counting me and the pastor. Most of them were over 60, and they talked to each other like they’d been coming here together for decades. Half a dozen different people said “Good morning” to me and shook my hand. It certainly made me feel welcome.
The pastor stepped up wearing knee-length denim shorts and a flannel shirt. It was far more casual than what I was used to. The pastor at the VICCC was wearing a suit, and the priests at the churches I visited as a kid always wore religious-type robes. Though I’m all about a casual church. I’ve never understood the point in going to church in your “Sunday best.” Wasn’t God all about immodesty and running around the garden naked until we sinful humans gained knowledge about our bodies and learned shame? Casual Sundays seem like the right way to “keep the Sabbath day holy.”
The VICCC opened with a series of sales pitches and video advertisements, along with reminders to hit the gift shop after the sermon. Westville Baptist, on the other hand, opened with prayers for people in need.
I much preferred the talk about people in need over the sales pitches I got from the other church. This church also didn’t try to con people out of 10% of their income for tithes. When it came time to pass the collection plates at the VICCC, we were subjected to a long lecture about what percentage of our income should go to the church, what should go to our savings, what should be spent on luxuries, etc. This church was silent about all these subjects and passed the plates without a word. The only time they mentioned anything about donations was to bring up a recent accident where someone ran their car into the church, since the repairs had to be funded by donations. This seemed like a pretty reasonable thing to ask for help with.
The sermon here was different as well. At the VICCC, the pastor only spoke for thirty minutes before giving the floor back to more sales pitches. Here, the bulk of the time was focused on the sermon itself, and nothing was rushed.
I got pretty confused during the sermon itself. There was a lot of stuff about a guy named Hezekiah, who apparently was a really cool dude at first and loved God so much that when he was dying, God answered his prayers and gave him an extra fifteen years to live. But then he got all rich and powerful and turned his back on God and that was bad. I’m not entirely sure what the message was, other than “Greed is bad” and “Don’t forget to watch what you get into.” Which seems like a good message and all, though I think some of it was lost on me.
I’m also pretty sure I’m going to hell, since when the pastor was making a metaphor about gardening and pulling out the weeds of your soul, he said, “I really don’t mind getting down on my knees to take care of stuff,” and my first thought was “That’s what she said.” He also later said, “I remind you that you are not junk.” All I could think of was how Tyler Durden said the exact opposite.
In the end, I’m not sure what I got out of the experience. There was a lot of stuff in the sermon about how we’re supposed to accept that we are living our lives wrong and that we need to embrace Jesus and follow the path that God laid out for us. And I don’t agree with any of that, because I believe in free will. I can’t accept the idea that I’m supposed to live my life according to someone else’s plan.
There was also some stuff that just made no logical sense whatsoever. Like a passage the pastor read from Mark 7, about how the Jewish priests were all like, “Dude, why aren’t you guys washing your hands before you eat! You’re gonna get sick!” And Jesus was like, “Evil isn’t what comes into the body because it gets absorbed through the stomach, evil is what comes out from our souls through our actions.” And while philosophically the idea of paying attention to your actions makes sense, Jesus still told people they don’t need to wash their hands before eating. My understanding of a lot of the old testament rules were that a lot of them were just good hygiene and common sense. I can agree with the idea that we don’t need to think of hand washing as a religious thing or that skipping it is going to bring “evil” into our bodies, but it will bring bacteria into our bodies. Maybe bacteria are the devil.
At the end of the sermon, almost everyone in the church shook my hand and thanked me for coming. I was wearing one of my Rowan University shirts, so I got into a nice conversation with the pastor about education, engineering, and my studies in the master’s program. They invited me to come back again, and everyone was quite friendly and welcoming. Which are feelings I didn’t have at the last church I visited.
Whether I’ll go again is uncertain, but at the very least I feel like this was a more calm and communal than the VICCC. This place, at least, felt like a church, not like a sales seminar.