Sunday, July 24, 2022

Churches of the Silver Valley: Osburn Christian Center

(Part seven in an ongoing series.)

I wasn't in the best frame of mind when I left for this week's church visit. I was coming off one of my sleepless nights -- I think it's a neurological thing; my flaky health is something I've touched on here many times in the past -- and I was feeling agitated over some recent events that aren't germane to this post. 

I tried to talk myself out of going to church this week, but I had a feeling that if I didn't, I wouldn't go next week either, and the whole project would fall apart well before its completion. I know how I am.

So it was off to Osburn, two towns over from Wallace, for the second week in a row. This weekend, I decided to visit a place I drive by several times a week: the Osburn Christian Center, right along the main drag (so to speak). 

I try to do my due diligence before visiting a church every week; if there's a website, I'll listen to some past sermons or read up on the history and theology of that particular faith community. But information for OCC was scant. There was no website that I could find, and just a bare-bones Facebook page with an email address for contact information. I usually bypass the email option, as I fail to get a response more often than not. So that meant I was flying blind this week.

When the kiddo and I stepped inside the church, I looked around for a bulletin or a flyer of some kind, in further hopes of getting any information in advance before the service. Alas, I didn't see anything -- but I did notice a prominent "God Is Love" banner hanging in the social hall that led to the sanctuary. 

That statement, taken from the first epistle of John, is honestly one of my favorite New Testament verses: short and to the point, yet it conveys so much meaning. And if you proclaim that verse up front as a central part of your theology, I take that as a positive sign. 

Now that I think about it, that one banner told me more about OCC than any bulletin or flyer ever could. Good first impression!

Once in the sanctuary, I took a quick picture to capture the room, which felt really big after stepping into it from a pretty small doorway. I saw several musical instruments spread across the stage, but none of them would be used at today's service. I was left to wonder who played them, and when.

Looking around some more, I found a little bookcase full of Bibles and other religious books in a vestibule that led to an exit. I grabbed a New Living Translation so I could follow along, expecting that there would be a sermon drawn from scripture.

On the other side of the vestibule, I caught sight of this adorable little card on a bulletin board. I thought it did a commendable job of distilling the essence of the faith down to a level that even small children could understand.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see the old "Jesus Laughing" sketch from the early '70s that's been stuck in my mind ever since I first saw a copy of it hanging in a Catholic church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, probably close to 30 years ago now. I always liked how it showed a side of Christ that we almost never see in portrayals of him. We know very well how he looks when he's dour, sad, somber, tired, and serious, because we see him looking like that all the time. But rarely do we get to see the traits that would have made him relatably human to those around him.

OK, so I was starting to feel at ease here, even if I had no idea of what to expect from the actual service.

I needn't have worried. As soon as we sat down in the back row of chairs, that friendly evangelical outreach that I appreciate so much when I visit churches like this finally came through and saved the day. The fellow who walked over to greet me was named Levi Page, and he introduced himself as one of three pastors at the church. He and two women, named Shelby Brandi and Lisa Morden, are on a rotating preaching schedule, he told me. This week happened to be Pastor Shelby's turn to command the lectern.

But before that, the kiddo and I were invited up front to join in a prayer circle. I haven't been in one of those in a long time, so even though it felt a little awkward, it was nice of them to welcome a total stranger to join them in such an intimate moment. I stood and politely listened as the woman next to me asked for prayers for what I believe was her granddaughter, age 7, who'd asked if the congregation could pray for her as she went to the hospital. When the woman emotionally proclaimed that we all could use the faith of a 7-year-old, my mind went immediately to the verse in the 18th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus says that we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom. I admit that I don't know how to do that. It's a very hard concept for an overthinker to wrap his head around.  

Then we returned to our seats and the music began. Lots of it. Like, about 40 minutes of it. Now, I know nothing about the Contemporary Christian Music scene, outside of Neal Morse's first few prog-rock Christian-themed albums. But I have to say the music was pretty nice. Some of the songs at the churches I've been to so far have felt kind of bland and samey, but whoever made the song selections today came up with a nicely varied, lively, upbeat, and dynamic playlist. One song in particular jumped out at me, both musically and lyrically:

"Strike the Ground" by Seth Yates (I had to look that up) has a great buildup of atmospheric drama ... and in parts, it just flat-out rocks. Great stuff. And two lines in the verses stuck with me, inasmuch as they made me reflect on the battle between good and evil being waged in our culture, and even in the small towns we live in:

There's a war going on in the heavenlies
And we're tearing down wicked principalities

It really does feel of late as if diabolical forces are assembling to bring this world crashing down in a whirlwind of chaos and confusion, and I so deeply admire those with the depths of faith to propel them forward to be righteous and tireless warriors for their cause, especially on days when things seem so dark and hopeless. I lack that gift of faith and always have, but I still feel as if good folks like the ones at OCC and I are on the same side when it comes to the kind of world that we want to see prevail. 

After the music and before the sermon, we were invited to mingle freely around the sanctuary. There were only about 15 people present in total, so I got to say hello to most everyone. As I shook hand after hand, I had the distinct feeling of being introduced to members of a friendly, close-knit family. Most folks were, I'd guess, around my age or a little bit younger. Pastor Levi told me that the church itself was young and growing -- I neglected to ask him how long OCC has been around -- and I can certainly say that I felt a positive energy amongst the small congregation, one that exudes authenticity, groundedness, and seriousness about its faith, that I think gives it a strong foundation to build upon. I just hope the church can manage to get the word out to the public that it's here and, by all accounts, doing good things.

Finally, we got down to Pastor Shelby's sermon, which ran for about another 40 minutes. 

Using as a springboard the 37th chapter of Ezekiel, where God breathed life into a valley of dry bones, she talked about how so much of our contemporary spiritual strife is rooted in a rejection of the Holy Spirit that leads to a kind of spiritual dryness. If we've accepted Christ as our savior, she said, the Spirit already dwells within us; if that's the case, we just need to ask for a refreshing of the Spirit to renew our faith lives. ("The Kingdom of God is within you" is the verse that popped into my head when she said that.) 

But, she added, that doesn't mean waiting around for a big, grand, parting-of-the-Red-Sea moment. Instead, it means listening for the whisper in the ear to nudge us into everyday action, letting the Spirit, the Helper, the Paraclete, fill us with a holy presence so that we can be a light to others and do the work that has to be done before Christ's return. If we can do that, she said, it opens the door to allowing the Spirit to do great things through us, like performing healing miracles. 
It was an inspiring sermon that managed to remain friendly, casual, and personable. Its focus on paying attention to spiritual prompts for guidance reminded me of when I used to sit with the Quakers, who always emphasized the importance of listening for the "still, small voice" that would spur us to action. "Silence is the language of God," as the Sufi mystic Rumi once said, and I firmly believe that to be true. How can we hear what the Spirit has to say if our world and our minds are constantly full of noise?
Those who are aware of my spiritual leanings know that I'm drawn both to the Sacred Feminine, which I think has been overshadowed to our spiritual detriment, and to female ministers. I've always felt that women, as bearers and nurturers of new life, have a deeper connection to the life-creating Divine than we men do. Back when our family lived in the Seattle area, I often took my kiddo to an Episcopal church led by a female priest, because I felt it was important for her to see someone who looked like her up on the altar, as opposed to the Catholic church I was born into that only allows men to be priests. But I also felt that, somehow, that Episcopal priestess radiated a deeper, calmer, more profound, more mature spiritual wisdom and energy than many of her male peers were ever able to.   

All that's to say that I felt especially drawn to Pastor Shelby's message today, and I have to say I'd enjoy hearing her preach again sometime. But first, the kiddo and I have to finish our tour. I imagine we'll make return visits to some of the places we go, and OCC may well be one of them.

When I spoke again briefly with Pastor Levi after the service, he said that OCC was a nondenominational church with Pentecostal leanings. As soon as he mentioned Pentecostalism, the penny dropped: The Holy Spirit-centrism of Pastor Shelby's sermon made perfect sense, as did the prayer circle at the beginning of the service. I've had a turbulent relationship with Pentecostals and other similar "spirit-filled" churches, but overall I appreciate how on fire so many of them are for their faith. 

My experience with Pentecostal folks goes something like this. My first serious girlfriend, way back when I was 19 years old, came from a Pentecostal family, and not only did her mom regularly tell me how much she despised my Catholic faith, but my girlfriend once went to a Catholic Mass with me and remarked afterward that it was so spiritually dry, she'd seen more moisture in a piece of stale bread. The relationship was obviously doomed to fail. But at the same time, the Catholic church my family belonged to in my Michigan hometown was part of the "charismatic Catholic" movement that took hold in the '70s and '80s. The Masses themselves were normal Catholic Masses; the charismatic-minded folks met weekly in the church basement for prayer meetings -- complete with hands raised heavenward, healing circles, even speaking in tongues. While I was never quite sure what to think of it all, I couldn't for a second doubt the sincerity and depth of spirit-filled belief of those who participated in those charismatic prayer meetings, including my adoptive dad and my godfather. 

Those were interesting times in the formative years of my spiritual journey, and today's visit in Osburn managed to bring back some memories of those days.        

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