By Brett Younger
During the second Skype interview with the church in Chile I’m now serving as interim pastor while on sabbatical, a lovely woman from Holland said, “We don’t know many Baptists, so we need to ask three Baptist questions. The first is, ‘How do you feel about communion twice a month?’”
I said, “That sounds great. The table is central to worship.”
Arina seemed suspicious. “Okay, second question. What do you think about infant baptism?”
I said, “Throughout church history, most Christians have practiced infant baptism. It’s a beautiful picture of God’s love.”
Arina said, “Alright, I guess. The third question is the hardest. The culture in Chile is different from yours. We have wine at church socials. Is that going to be a problem?”
I said, “I’m not sure what kind of Baptists you’ve met, but we’re the other kind.”
But now I’m not so sure I’m really the other kind.
I knew it was coming, but it was disconcerting. On Saturday night the church had an international dinner. Ninety of us — eighty-five of which qualify as international — gathered for appetizers from the Middle East, meat and potatoes from the Netherlands and desserts from Argentina. On a given Sunday we are likely to have worshippers from Australia, Canada, England, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Peru, South Africa and Uruguay.
Our new congregation had Heineken in the serving line and two bottles of wine at every table.
As the meal began I said, “This is the first time that I’ve been to a meal in a church fellowship hall where wine was served.”
The Sunday school teachers, church council members and ushers at my table were incredulous. They were as shocked as if I had said, “This is the first time I’ve been to a meal in a church fellowship hall without crack cocaine.”
They were stunned: “What do you mean?”
I said, “I’ve been to thousands of church suppers and we’ve never had beer or wine.”
They were stupefied: “You’re joking. Are you serious?”
I said, “I wish I was joking, but the churches I’ve been part of have been serious about not serving alcohol at church.”
They were dumbfounded: “That makes no sense.”
I tried to explain Baptists, prohibition and the dangers of alcoholism, but I didn’t get far. I was a Church of Christ minister explaining to Mozart why we do not like pianos. I was a Mormon bishop telling Dr Pepper how bad caffeine is. I was a Jewish rabbi attempting to help Jimmy Dean see the wisdom of not eating sausage.
The members of my new church were thrown by the sheer ludicrousness of the arguments I was offering, but they recovered enough to state the obvious: “Jesus turned water into wine. Don’t your people think he knew what he was doing?”
“He gave the disciples wine at the Lord’s Supper, but your churches serve a children’s drink. Don’t you think grape juice is horrible?”
Here’s what I didn’t say: I grew up in churches where it was important to identify sinners. In order to be the good people we needed to recognize the bad people, so we decided what was sinful and what was OK. Drinking, smoking and cussing were bad. Materialism, militarism and homophobia were fine.
You could park in the church lot with a gun rack on your pick-up without questions, but if someone saw a Budweiser in your fridge you would be the subject of conversation. Our church covenant included the promise “to abstain from the sale of, and use of, intoxicating drinks as a beverage,” but did not have a word about the racism that surrounded us. I remember a sermon calling us to shop at Piggly Wiggly rather than Jitney Jungle because Piggly Wiggly did not sell beer, but I don’t recall anything about the sexism that denied women opportunities.
I did not have a drink of wine until I was 30 years of age — at an Episcopal communion service — because the need to feel superior had been so ingrained in me.
At the end of a delightful meal, the church treasurer said, “You must go home and tell your Baptist friends how much fun we have. Take a bottle of wine to your next church fellowship.”
I do not think this is the evangelism to which God calls me, but I might raise a glass to the kingdom bigger than I was taught.