A visit to an American church is an experience !
Having come from an Anglican background with a Catholic spouse and children, I am used to leather kneelers and wooden pews in my church. Priests in long robes, communion when I have nothing left to confess, and a dedicated group of choristers which have over the years, gone from singing in English to ebullient and enthusiastic chanting in the vernacular .
I was quite unprepared for a Texas Bible Belt Sunday morning service.
Sundays in the Bible Belt create more traffic problems than the entire weekday rush hours. Traffic police are out in full force to control the church going population, and as there is a church on virtually every block, there are hundreds of thousands of devout folk out there doing their Sunday "thang".
You never see a pedestrian in Texas, we used to take bets as to who would see the first pedestrian, but no one ever won the bets cos there aren't any pedestrians. Everyone in Texas has a car, or two or three !!
All the Texan vehicles are all enormous, from the legendary Eighteen Wheelers to SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles) that our average Mazda 323 would be able to drive right underneath and emerge the other side quite unscathed.
All the Texas "Moms" drive Suburbans that would take up at least a space and a half of our average parking spaces back home !! Giant Minivans are the acceptable family car, all air-conditioned, all brand spanking new 2002 models, all guzzling gas as fast as they can much to the delight of the Texas Oil Millionaires who have their own Oil Wells in their back yards (literally.)
Anyhow, back to Church !!
The family I went with had three small sons, and we duly arrived at this enormous Church with a parking lot the size of ten football fields.
These three small sons were handed over to smiling fresh faced volunteers who care for the kids at Sunday School and the Day Care Centre while Mom and Dad can get on with their Godly business
Each child is given a name tag, each child is photographed and photos are taken of Mum and Dad or whoever has permission to fetch the child, and woe betide anyone who does not have photo ID when collection time comes. !!
Then off we sailed towards the central church which was the size of the Royal Albert Hall and twice as impressive, all of us armed with a polystyrene cup of coffee (which one is encouraged to take into the Church proper !)
No wooden pews and kneelers here, instead vast swathes of plush carpet, hundreds of rows of comfortable armchairs, on the vast stage no less than ten solo singers of the calibre of Celine Dion and Lionel Ritchie ! There is an orchestra to rival the Berlin Philharmonic, clarinetists, pianists, guitarists, drummers, violinists and a sound system that would rival the best at a Bee Gees concert. !!
Lighting effects pan across six giant TV screens showing wonderful heart rending religious scenes, gigantic fifty foot crosses stare down at you from the magnificent domed ceiling which is something Michaelangelo would have been proud of .
The singing is magnificent, inspiring, transfixing, there is a lot of hand clapping and arm waving, I found it very easy to be carried away in the charismatic atmosphere. There were no traditional hymns but lots of wonderful foot tapping religious songs that would have found their way to the top of the charts on any pop radio station.
The pastor wore a pair of jeans and a cotton shirt, he was a Billy Graham clone, warm, endearing, charismatic, powerful in his mesmerized community, I was eating right out of his hand after 20 minutes despite my initial skepticism.
After the service we were all invited to a Mission lunch of Lasagne and Salad followed by Candy Pumpkin Slices all proceeds to a sister church in need in the heart of starving Africa !!
Hallelujah Brother !! This is Texas at its Bible Belt Best , what a wonderful morning was had by all.