I went to church last Sunday. Actually, my wife and I attended two churches last Sunday but exited before either service was over. We were visiting our daughter and her family in western Pennsylvania for the Thanksgiving holiday. We wanted to attend worship while we were there. We rarely miss a Sunday, even when traveling.
Our daughter was not feeling well, so we were on our own. I wanted to visit the church that I pastored for eleven years in a nearby town. Then I remembered that they just put in a new carpet, and I am allergic to VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) released from new carpeting. So we looked elsewhere for spiritual refreshment.
We walked down the street to the nearest church, a nice little Presbyterian (PCUSA) congregation. I had seen online that the pastor had graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, which I knew to be a good school. I had taken continuing education courses there.
The people at the church were friendly, and the pastor was welcoming. We were even given a church mug as a welcoming gift for being first time visitors. But I did not last fifteen minutes. We liked the style of the service, and I would have loved to stay. But the perfume! It stank to high heaven! I bet even God could smell it.
I am very sensitive to chemicals of all sorts, ever since I developed respiratory problems in the early 1990’s caused by Sick Building Syndrome. So we inconspicuously slipped out of the sanctuary while people’s heads were bowed in prayer.
We had just enough time to rush to a nearby megachurch that started in fifteen minutes. I prayed that the women in that congregation were not likewise scented. My prayer went unanswered. We arrived at the “campus” and entered the building, walking past the coffee bar (as well as multiple monitors on the walls) to get to the sanctuary.
My wife glanced at me with concern on her face, smelling more than dark roast. But I persisted. I reasoned that the perfume wasn’t that strong, and I really wanted to worship. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and I wanted to thank God! We walked into the dimly lit sanctuary and found a seat in the back row that would allow a quick exit if necessary.
The music began. I am sorry to say it, but the music stank more than the perfume at the other church. There was no melody that I could discern. Just a lot of yelling accompanied by music. Every song sounded alike. It was monotonous. The “inspirational” patter between the songs was painful.
As the room filled with hundreds of worshippers, I began to feel the effects of the increasing cloud of fragrance on my head and lungs. Simultaneously my wife was feeling the effects of bad Christian music. We endured nearly a half hour of odiferous Christianity before we left. It was too late to try a third church, so our forty-five-minute worship experience in two different churches had to suffice.
Although I never heard a sermon that Sunday, I learned a couple of things. I learned that western Pennsylvanian women love their scents. I suspect that the men love their cologne and aftershave as well. I wish churches would introduce a chemical-free service for those of us who can’t tolerate artificial scents, but that will never happen.
I also was reminded how much I dislike most contemporary Christian music. For the 30 minutes we attended the megachurch service, all we did was sing. We sang three songs. In each song we sang the same ten words over and over and over and over. The theology of the lyrics was worse than the music. On the positive side, the music did inspire me to pray. I prayed, “Lord, help me!”
I was reminded that bigger is not better. If megachurch style Christianity is what is drawing people into churches these days, then I will pray another prayer: “Heaven help us!” I am glad to be back at our scent-free, theology-rich, little country church in rural New Hampshire. Our state might be the second most unchurched state in the union (barely beating out Vermont), but at least we know how to worship without causing migraines in the worshipers.