I grew up not far from Lapskaus Boulevard in Brooklyn. No that wasn’t it’s official name. Officially it was 8th Avenue. It was the heart of the commercial heart of the Norwegian community. A stroll down this avenue felt no different than a stroll down a street in Norway. There were fish markets and bakeries, restaurants and bars and lots and lots of churches.
There were several Norwegian congregations. Most were Lutheran of one sort or another. The Salvation Army had an officer straight from Norway. My own church, a Pentecostal church, had a pastor with a thick Norwegian accent who could switch from Norwegian to English without thinking.
Our life centered on the church. It didn’t always have to our church, just THE church. My father liked to go to a good meeting. That meant if one of the Lutheran churches had someone special, or a special meeting he’d go for the service. If it were the Salvation Army, same thing. Everyone seemed to know Brother Johannesen. Then there was the mission or the Seaman’s church in downtown Brooklyn. My father got around.
He didn’t have much to pick from in Pentecostal circles. Norwegian’s aren’t known for being lively. I often say that to be Norwegian and Pentecostal is an oxymoron. I’ve found here in the Norwegian sanctuary of the upper mid-west, people think you can’t be truly Norwegian and be Pentecostal. It’s unheard of!
He would from time to time go to a church closer to downtown. It wasn’t all Norwegian. They didn’t have a Norwegian pastor either. This was something unheard of in my childhood world. The church was pastored by a man name Clair Hutchins. You’ve probably never heard of him, but you’ve no doubt heard of his daughter, Carol Cymbal director of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.
I remember visiting this church, Maranatha one time – it is a vague memory. What I remember the most is that they clapped and raised their hands more than we did and just seemed to be a much livelier group than I’d seen before. I rather liked it.
Later, when we left the Norwegian church of my childhood, again for a more lively Pentecostal experience, we would run into the now famous Carol Hutchins Cymbala. She was dating a young man in the church, Jim Cymbala and were soon to be married.
I write so much about my childhood church and it truly is my foundation. A strong foundation has stood the test of time, trials and tribulations. I thank God more and more for that foundation. I’ve found people who influenced my live or their descendants through the internet and Facebook. I’ve written about honoring those who have gone before you on Kingdom Bloggers.
Yet my childhood was spiritually diverse. I think there was some wisdom to my father’s visits to many churches. It was even wiser that he exposed his daughter to various expressions of the body of Christ. It seemed that during that time period, while fidelity to your local congregation was certainly important, strengthening the body of Christ was more important.
The Sunbeams at the Salvation Army are part of my heritage. The Pioneer Girls at the 59th Street Lutheran Brethren Church are part of my heritage. Camp Challenge and Ashford Hills Camp are part of my heritage. HiBa (High School Born Againers – an interfaith group for High School Students) was part of my heritage. Marantha Tabernacle and Calvary Tabernacle, exuberant Pentecostal houses of worship, were part of my heritage. And, of course, Salem Gospel Tabernacle, with its deep piety and faith were the foundation of my heritage. I even would visit the Catholic church, dip my finger in the holy water, light a candle and knee and pray for a while. That was also part of my heritage.
I’ve always wondered how the prayer of Jesus, that we be one, would look like. Unity is so hard to achieve. Two people who love each other in marriage often can’t achieve unity. So how do we as people, red and yellow black and white, ever achieve unity? We don’t even agree on how to say the Lord’s Prayer. You say debts, I say trespass – someone else says sins. Some end with thine is the kingdom and the power. Others stop with deliver us from evil.
I think the lesson from Brother Johannesen is that you just mix it up. You go where there’s a good meeting. You meet your brothers and sisters in the Lord where they live. You worship together. You forget about your denominational difference and just focus on worshipping Jesus.
This weekend people will be worshipping in all sorts of ways, some will clap and shout, others will bow and confess. It may look different. It may not be your style. Nevertheless, the focus is Jesus. Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day. How will you worship the Lord?