Ever since I was a baby, I have gone to the same church with my family. It belongs to the denomination The United Church of Christ (UCC), which besides the Unitarian Universalist Church, may be one of the most liberal branches of Protestantism. Our services aren’t as formal as a traditional Catholic mass, but they aren’t the “Praise Jesus!” types of services you may see at a Southern Baptist or Evangelical church. In my mind, it’s a happy medium between the two.
So, last week, the guy I’m dating (I’ll call him Jack*) invited me to his church. I accepted, because I could tell it was important to him, but I honestly didn’t know what to expect. However, I’m no stranger to different types of church services, or services in Spanish. In El Salvador, I lived with a very Catholic family who practiced Liberation Theology, and went to mass with them every week (sometimes more than once). I also participated in Lutheran services in El Salvador, and I’ve been to an all-black Baptist church in Georgia.
I went with an open mind, and I was blown away.
The church service in itself was very different from anything I’ve ever experienced. There was lots of singing (including a full band to accompany: two guitars, bass, drums and auxiliary percussion), lots of praying out loud (I’m used to silent prayers), lots of “Amen”-ing, and in general, a lot of joy.
The best part was, though, by far, the people. Jack’s church is in the población La Legua in San Joaquin. As we were driving in, he asked me if I had ever been to a población before. I said I hadn’t. He said, “Well, the people are different.” I asked what he meant by that. “They’re warmer. They will come up to you and ask you how you are, they’ll hug you, they’ll welcome you.”
It was all true. Practically everyone in the congregation gave me a big hug (I’m talking a bear hug here, not a polite squeeze), welcomed me, blessed me and in general were so warm and friendly. I left the church with a huge grin on my face, infected by the positive attitudes of those around me.
I took a huge, giant leap out of my comfort zone tonight, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had so far in Chile. I know I’ll go back to the church. Maybe I don’t agree with every aspect of their theology, maybe I’m not comfortable shouting “Amen!” and praying out loud, but I know the members of the congregation are special. And for that, I’ll be back. Amen.
*Jack is Chilean. I have had the luck (?) of dating three guys here in Chile whose names all begin with the same letter, so to avoid confusion, this will be his pseudonym. I know, you’re thinking, at least pick a Spanish name! But, Jack invented it himself. We were talking the other day about how I like to write and how one day I want to write the story of my life. He said, “Well, you can’t use my real name. You should call me Jack.” So, Jack he shall be.