A word of warning: I discuss a visit to church but I am functionally atheist. If this bothers you, don’t read; go do something else.
My husband and I are friends with Pastor Chris Owens of the First United Methodist Church of Laurel, MD. My husband Edmund is atheist; functionally, I am too1. One pet peeve we have about theist behaviour is that people often seem to think that “I’ll pray for X” is a sufficient response when action is needed. Very few people just try to pray a compound fracture away, for example; they know that unless they get medical help it will not just get better. So why would they think that it was sufficient to pray about ills that don’t affect them directly, instead of taking action?
Edmund and Chris had an online discussion about this after Edmund wrote a blog entry on this following the Sandy Hook massacre, and the discussion continued on Facebook. Edmund ended up challenging Chris to get his parishioners to do something — send letters, sign a card, etc. to show solidarity with the Newtown community, rather than only relying on prayer. In exchange, Edmund offered to undertake a task of Chris’s choice, so Chris asked him to go to mass “at a Christ-centred church” the following Sunday and report his thoughts on the experience.
I wasn’t part of the bargain, but a few days before Edmund and I had been talking about Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco (we live just south of SF), so we both immediately thought this would be a good place to
serve penance complete the challenge. I said I would not go to a mediocre church, but I was interested in seeing service at Glide for myself. I had high hopes because Edmund said they were big on liberation theology, which was my particular bent back when I was Catholic. So yesterday we went to the 9am service, and I had a few thoughts. (Edmund wrote his yesterday.)