Today’s blog is compliments of my good friend, Rammiz Khoury. Rammiz was a student of mine. He is a Christian who grew up in Baghdad, Iraq. He and his family are now in the States because of religious persecution. This past summer, Rammiz took a religion course at Nashville State Community College. One of the papers he had to write was about a different style of church and worship he had experienced. He wrote about my church, Franklin Community Church. Below is his paper in its entirety:
My father is Christian Orthodox and my mother is Catholic. When I was young I used to go to an Orthodox Church, but I didn’t connect with that church and I didn’t enjoy it because the church insisted on doing the mass in the Syriac language that more than half the people in the church didn’t understand. When I grew older, I decided to go to a Catholic Church. They did the mass in a language I did understand. Eventually, I became a Catholic.
When I came to the United States, I met, and became friends with, Reverend Kevin Riggs. Rev. Riggs pastors in an inter-denominational church called Franklin Community Church (FCC). He invited me to visit, and so the next Sunday I went to his church. The mass at FCC was very different from the ones I had seen in the Catholic and Orthodox churches I had attended. In the end, I discovered that FCC was a very nice place to find Jesus and grow closer to Him.
The first difference was the setting of the church. I expected FCC to be set up the way I had always experienced church—rows of chairs and benches for people to sit on, an altar in the front were the priest would perform the service; and of course, a big cross or a big statue of Jesus on the alter. The reality at FCC was nothing like this. When I walked in the room, instead of rows or benches, there where round tables and chairs around the tables where a family or two could sit together. There was no altar in the front, and no picture of Jesus. Instead, there was a big screen that was used to show pictures and videos and lyrics of the worship songs that were used during the service. In the middle of the room, however, there was a long table that had a cross on it, and two baskets that were used for prayer requests and donations. Also on the table were two cups of wine and two plates of bread that were covered with white clothes.
Rev. Riggs saw me come in, welcomed me, and invited me to sit with his family at one of the tables. I was about to ask why the tables when I found a sign on every table that explained the purpose of the tables. The sign read:
“Are you asking yourself, ‘Why are we sitting around tables?’ That’s a good question. At FCC we value community, and very few things build community more than sitting around a table, drinking a cup of coffee, talking and sharing…. We gather on Sundays to participate, not spectate. Worship is a verb. Worship is something we all do, not just the people standing in the front of the room. So, as a church, we have decided to worship by sitting (and standing) around tables.”
I actually loved this idea and found that it broke the formality of being in church and made you really feel that you were part of the community, not just a spectator coming in and out without knowing who the person was sitting next to you.
The entire service was totally different from any previous church service I had experienced. The Catholic Church, as well as the Orthodox Church, usually starts with a prayer, followed by three different readings from the Bible; one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and the last one from the Gospels. Later, in the traditional service, there is a ten-minute sermon based on the reading from the Gospel. Then, for the rest of the mass, the focus is on the Holy Eucharist. At FCC things were much different.
Before the service started, people were sitting and standing around the tables. Some were drinking a cup of coffee, but all of them were chatting and laughing, which emphasized the idea of a community of Christians gathered together in a place, not only for worship, but also for interaction with the people of the church. Once the service started, everyone stood up and worshiped together for a few minutes. Then the people, once again, gathered around the tables. On each table was an index card. Each table wrote prayer requests on the index cards. Then the people at the tables prayed together for a while.
Next came my favorite part of the service. All the lights were turned off except one small light that allowed you to see what was in front of you. Everyone stood up and sang and worshiped together for a while. I don’t know why, but there was something about turning the lights off that made the prayer and the singing and the worship more intimate. You feel like you are there alone, just you and God and no one else.
After this time of worship, Rev. Riggs asked everyone to join him around the middle table to share the Eucharist together. At first it was a bit strange to go and have communion without all the rituals; there was no kneeling in front of the Eucharist, there was no one who held the Eucharist up and said “Behold the lamb of God”, and there was no one standing there giving you the wine and bread and saying, “This is the body and blood of Christ.” There was no kind of rituals for this communion; it was only you, your thoughts and God.
After communion, the lights came back on. Rev. Riggs stood in the center of the church and opened the Bible to the chapter that was prepared for that day’s discussion. It was only one reading from the Bible, and for almost an hour Rev. Riggs gave a sermon and explained the reading, something I really appreciated because I think this is the reason of going to church. You go to church to listen and understand the word of God. Another thing the church did was provide a piece of paper that had the verses that were going to be read, along with some questions that the pastor answered during his sermon.
I found that my experience at FCC was a new way to experience Christianity and a new way to look at the meaning of the church. Church is not only a place of worship and rituals, but also a place for communicating with other people who share your belief and faith. I still go every Sunday to St. Edward’s Church, which is a Catholic church. But sometimes, when I want a break from the ritual worship, and want to have my alone time with God, I go and visit Franklin Community Church. I also take some of my friends with me. I believe when you go to a church, you don’t go to it because it’s Catholic or because it’s Protestant, you go to church because you can find Jesus there.
(After Note: After I obtained permission from Rammiz to post his paper, he wanted me to know that our church was different from any Protestant church he has attended as well.)