I walked into the church as a spy. Having worked at Church of the Beatitudes for several months, I had not yet done what I had wanted to do for a while…See how other churches welcomed visitors, what made them different from us, and in what ways we could improve.
When I walked into this church, I was handed a paper expecting a full bulletin – but no. I expected the room to be sprinkled with a few visitors maybe a hundred members waiting patiently for service, but no. I expected to be able to walk in unnoticed, but no. I expected to feel unwanted, or see lots of older people, but no. I expected only white people, again, no.
Instead, I was greeted by the friendly face of a 45 year old woman. She said, “Pick a side and have a seat.” The sheet of paper I was handed contained several questions and take aways about the service, upcoming classes for people who are new, and some other events. I walked into the worship area. It was filled. A wide variety of ages and ethnic varieties were singing together. There was a man standing next to me singing his heart out.
A man approached me wearing a microphone headset and introduced himself. I noticed he was the Pastor. He asked if I would like him to find someone for me to sit with. I said, “No.” He smiled and walked away. Another smiling lady around 60 approached me and offered me a seat. I tucked into a spot and listened to the music. My body betrayed me. I started to sway and began to sing the chorus. The music was so catchy I couldn’t help it. I even started to feel my heart become lighter and my shoulders relax. Then I remembered.
Even though, the coffers were filled so to speak, the lightening and sound were on point, the singing and music beautiful and well performed, the worship area pristine and smelled fresh and delightful, even though the pastor welcomed me himself and I could sit with someone if I felt lonely, and the room was filled with smiling faces, I remembered, what lies beneath.
What is this? According to these smiling faces, I’m a sinner. Jesus is coming soon to damn or redeem. Marriage is only between a man and a woman. There are only two genders and no one is to go against the gender they were born with. Under all the smiles is the rejection of most of the people in my life that I love. There is a belief that I am potentially a damned person because I am unwilling to change my beliefs and “save” someone else from who they are. Excuse me, but I choose my Church of the Beatitudes over all of that. Here’s why.
Yeah, you might visit our church a couple times and we look at you like we have never seen you before and reintroduce ourselves again, or forget to introduce ourselves, completely. Perhaps our carpet is worn out and a little stained. Sure, we aren’t high tech and every once in a while our mics go out or we rob Peter to pay Paul and steal a mic from the choir. We might have a video listed in the bulletin and have a glitch and the video gets taken out at the last minute. Yeah, sure, the bulletin isn’t perfect and don’t even get me started on the lighting.
Barring all of that external “stuff” this is what will happen when you walk into our church, if you allow it. As you enter the Narthex (foyer, I had to learn what that meant) you notice art work from local artists all along the wooden walls. You may be greeted with a handshake or a smile (we don’t want to impose or make you feel uncomfortable). As you walk through heavy wooden doors to the worship center an usher will hand you a full color bulletin that tells you about your time with us and about all the ministry events and ways you can give back to the local community. When you walk into the worship center you are greeted by an enormous stained glass window depicting Jesus at the head and his robes enfolding great leaders and teachers such as Fredrick Douglass, Einstein, George Washington Carver, Gandhi and more. It was so breath taking the first time I saw it I had difficulty finding my seat because I just wanted to stare at all the colors fractured through the artists’ intricate kaleidoscope of light and energy.
You will also notice that our congregation as of now is primarily 65 and older. They are our mentors, teachers, those that came before us and paved the way to make this world more accepting and open. Many risked their lives and way of life, to make sure that we have freedoms, we take for granted today. They continue to care for the homeless, give refugees a sense of safety and family, and offer support for local children and schools. They stand up for the rights of all, including the LGBTQ community, as well as, support for civil and gender rights. No matter your age you are welcome here. We believe that we have something to learn from those who lived their lives in the service of others and continue to change the world.
Next you are greeted by traditional organ music and Pastor Tony welcoming you and sharing what we are about. We welcome all people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. We question more than blindly follow. We are inspired by Jesus and follow what we believe he was about. Love. During the sermon you will be asked to stretch limiting beliefs and every once in a while Pastor Tony will make us all laugh out loud.
The music, ahhh, the music. Positive, traditional hymns mixed with some contemporary music. One Sunday you may be surprised by a band, but usually it’s just the organ and piano. Every time I hear our choir sing, my eyes, against my will, close and I shake my head in complete awe of what I’m hearing. It is unadulterated by synthesizers or fancy equipment, It’s just them, pure and a full expression of loving God through music.
It is a sacred hour filled with contemplation, spoken prayer, true love and acceptance of all, children, music, sometimes tears and usually laughter. There is a feeling here that what you see is what you get. It might not be fancy, it might be a little vintage, but there is love on top and love is what lies beneath.
Kyra Schaefer, CHI is the Pastoral & Ministry Marketing Associate.
You are invited to worship with us on Sundays at 9am.
555. W. Glendale Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85021
Visit us online at www.beatitudeschurch.org
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