This past week, we made the 12 hour drive south to Georgia to spend the Easter holiday with family. With seven kids under the age of 10, we had a blast hanging out with cousins, going on egg hunts, and eating way way WAY too much sugar.One of the highlights of the trip was attending the local Carrollton First Baptist Church for Easter service. Aside from the Evensong my husband and I attended at Westminster Cathedral in London, mostly to avoid paying the high tour fee, I had never attended another faith’s religious service. With all this research I have been doing about other religions, it was high time I stepped out of my comfort zone, and what better place could there be than a Baptist congregation in the South?
You should know that I went into this experience with more than a little fear and here are some reasons why. First of all, I have had a few negative run-ins with members of the baptist faith in the past. For example, our local christian softball league, consisting primarily of baptists, tried to kick us out when they found out our team was Mormon. They let us play, but we are not allowed to be voice for the prayer at the end of the game. If this congregation on Easter found out we were Latter Day Saints, what would they do?
Another fear, much more mild, was the fear of simply not knowing what to expect. Where do we park? What is the dress code? How long is the service? What kind of things will happen during the meeting? Will I have to do or say anything I don’t agree with? Having frequently invited others to attend my church, it was a great experience to see things from the other side.
My final fear, small but coming from the deepest most vulnerable part of me, was what do I do if I feel the Spirit there? How do I fit the truth I hope to find into my current beliefs? Will this experience shake my faith or make it stronger? I think these questions get at the heart of why many of us remain so religiously isolated. We are stepping out of our comfort zone. Never easy.
So, how was my first ever baptist service? In a word; uplifting. I was blown away from start to finish by what a positive, faith promoting experience it was both for me and my family.
When we arrived (late and through the wrong door- I might add) a nice lady offered to walk us through the building to the sanctuary. She acted as impromptu usher and found us a seat in the back where we could all fit, and gave the kids activity pages to keep them occupied during the service.
We sat down just as the pastor began the children’s service, where he invited all the young children in the congregation to come and sit in the front while he spoke to them. My kids were too nervous to go up front, but they appreciated the special attention. The pastor used as his primary text for the children’ sermon, and the longer message he gave late in the program, the account of the Savior’s appearance to Mary found in John chapter 20. I found this particularly meaningful as I had read those verses that morning for my personal scripture study.
One of the most uplifting parts of the service was the incredible music. There were nine difference songs preformed either by the impressive 30 member choir and orchestra or sung by the congregation. Of those nine songs, I had heard or sung all but two. Music has always played an important role in my life and the music sung that day was in perfect harmony with my faith.
I should also note that the music was not at all what I expected to hear in a baptist church. I anticipated loud drums and a rock beat more like the music played on christian radio. Perhaps Easter service or this particular church was unique, but none of the songs would have seemed out of place at my own LDS sacrament meeting. Very inspiring!
The service including a litany, something I had never experienced, where the pastor and the congregation recited a poem of sorts which included rejoicing and giving thanks for the risen Lord. I found it unifying to share those words and thoughts with those around me as we recited.
There were also several prayers given including a very touching prayer thanking God that Christ’s triumph over death which provides us all a path to triumph over all the fear, doubt, discouragement, and evil we experience in this life. The prayer concluded with the congregation joining in with the words of the Lord’s Prayer as found in the New Testament. It was good to hear the Lord’s Prayer, which I find to be frequently recited without much meaning, coupled with such a personal plea to the Father.
I could go on and on about the other elements of the service, but my advice would be to go out and find a local baptist church and see for yourself. I know that not all my stops on my journey to gather faith will not be so completely positive. There may or may not have been some animosity had I mentioned to our helpful usher or the pastor as we shook hands after service that we were visiting Mormons. I would like to believe that there would have been the same good feelings. It is also impossible to say if services on any other given Sunday would align so perfectly with my own beliefs, but either way I am confident there would have been faith to be gleaned from within the walls of First Baptist Church of Carrollton.