Jan 17 2010
I resumed the journey to visit 52 places of worship in one year and returned to my home base on Cape Cod this Sunday morning with a visit to my first Baptist church, the Osterville Baptist Church in the center of the village of Osterville. Baptists are among the more mysterious Christian denominations for me, and perhaps the most ridden with cliches and preconceptions to my uninformed mind.
The church dominates the center of the stylish village, nicknamed “Imposterville” by one friend for its glitz and wealth. As a year-round community, Osterville is a quiet village populated by a growing community of middle class working people and merchants. As a summer resort it is home to celebrities and the ultra-wealthy, with some magnificent estates and many waterfront “starter Castles” and McMansions. It is also a renowned yachting center and home to the Crosby Yacht Yard — birthplace of the totemic Cape Cod Catboat. In January the streets are quiet, in June they are bustling and shining.
Built in 1837, the church is a large white Greek Revival church on the intersection of Main Street and Wianno Avenue in the center of the village. I possess very little historical background on the building and its congregation, and don’t know if it has been a Baptist church over the course of its entire history.
Baptists seem especially susceptible to variants and sub-groupings. Osterville has at least one other Baptist congregation — the Faith Baptist Church on West Barnstable Road. I have a hunch there are more religious edifices on Cape Cod labelled “Baptist” than any other Christian denomination with the possible exception of Catholicism. Why this is, I cannot say, but this is a large faith with some polls indicating one in five American Christians identify themselves as Baptists. Coincidentally, some say 2009 marked the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement, though some Baptists would argue their lineage goes back to John the Baptist himself.
Baptists are, to be simplistic, a “born again” denomination with an emphasis on adult baptism — or induction into the faith through a requested baptism ceremony. Where other faiths accept infant baptism such as Catholics and Episcopalians — one common tenet of Baptism is an emphasis on adult induction, hence the tie to the “born again” component of the faith. Indeed, at the service I attended, one gentleman was interviewed by the minister, one Dennis L., who said he converted to Baptism from Catholicism as an adult. The literature, pamphlets, and brochures available inside of the church posed questions such as “Would you like a personal relationship with God,” indicating, as it did at the evangelical Victory Chapel in Hyannis, that membership in the congregation required a request to be accepted — not a passive entrance via one’s parents having one baptized as an infant.
Osterville Baptist felt like an evangelical church — I use the word “evangelical” in this sense, as defined by the Wikipedia:
- A belief in the need for personal conversion (or being “born again“)
- Some expression of the gospel in “effort”
- A high regard for biblical authority
- An emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus.
That pretty much sums up the feeling I came away with this morning from Osterville.
I attended the 9 am service (the first of two, the second is at 10:30) and tried to enter through the large doors on Main Street. They were locked so I entered through a side door into what I believe is called the vestry — a well appointed area stocked with pamphlets and waiting people who greeted me warmly. I took the last pew and settled into the corner.
The nave was simple — no stained glass — and consisted of perhaps 25 rows of traditional cushioned pews stocked with hymnals, Bibles, golf pencils, collection envelopes, yellow query cards, and those strange wooden racks with holes about the diameter of a candle that I see in many churches but can’t find a use for — umbrella holders? The altar consisted of a pair of well carved columns, a cross of course, and a small lectern. In front of the altar were microphone and music stands, and above it all stood that emblem of modern religion — the projection screen for the Powerpoint.
A series of slides flashed on the screen like the ads now shown at the movie theater. “AWANA” — a youth movement (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed) and a few other announcements and homilies filled the screen, but again, my weak eyes couldn’t make out the words.
A guitarist, three singers, an unseen drummer and pianist took the stage and we were off on the first “hymn.” Here I have to be disrespectful and say that modern church music simply sucks. This is a forgettable, muzaky genre of pop-pablum churned out and sold to churches with lyrics for display on the screen like Khurch Karaoke. Sorry, but give me the little board with the interchangeable numbers telling me what number hymn to sing, let me try to follow along with the notes, and sing the old stuff from a book held in my hands; not squint at some projected picture of clouds like a picture taken by a tourist out of an airplane window with words superimposed, the most repeated being “Halleluia.”
I heard so many “hallelujahs” that I began to etymologically obsess and wonder where such a weird word came from and why church people toss it around like so many gesundheits. Aha, indeed, it is a Hebrew exhortation to basically “praise Yah people.” According to the mob at Wikipedia:
“The word hallelujah occurring in Psalms is a Hebrew request for a congregation to join in praise. It can be translated as “Praise Yah, you people”, and is usually worded in English contexts as “Praise ye the Lord” or “Praise the Lord”. This is not a direct translation, as Yah represents the first two letters of YHWH, the Hebrew personal name for God, and not the title “lord”.”
With that, let’s take a quick Leonard Cohen break and listen to “Hallelujah” as sung by a Zen Buddhist.
There. Anyway, I don’t like the Powerpoint Karaoke thing, but as this is not a judgment, and the operative philosophy of the project is “to each his own,” so I will shut up on the point and get back to the service.
There is no liturgy per se. The Senior Pastor Nicholas Gatzke was dressed informally, stood behind a lectern and made a series of announcements. Then he spoke, while sitting on a stool for ten minutes with the aforementioned Dennis L., who told a good story about using his faith to weather a time of economic difficulty and poor health while showing a smile to strangers.
A series of songs were song, the collection was made, and the sermon commenced.
The sermon was very interesting, more of a lesson than a homily, and it was focused on one of the New Testament pastoral epistles, or letters, Timothy 1. Dr. Gatze spent a thoughtful 20 minutes discussing the first five chapters of the letter by the apostle Paul to Timothy, who was Paul’s “fix-it” man when it came to working out issues with congregations that were going astray. A map of the eastern Mediterranean sea and Paul’s pilgrimages through Asia Minor and Greece was shown, and I found the history lesson very interesting and learned something.
Dr. Gatzke concluded with a prayer, the band resumed and sang two songs. and with that the service was over. There was no greeting, no credo, and none of the other liturgical elements I’m starting to expect from a service. Being in the back row I was first out the door, I said my farewells, and was handed a visitor’s bag which included a coffee mug.
- It was good to pick up again after a one week, Las Vegas induced hiatus.
- The church was full
- The median age was 50, the crowd was mostly white
- I should read the Bible at some point, but not in a church bible study group
- Some of the hand gestures seen at the Victory Chapel were seen during the signing– the raised right hand, and the palms up gesture of supplication. I am sure these signify something formal, but what I don’t know.
- The difficult economy was mentioned twice
- I have assumed Evangelical Christianity was a southern thing, but I realize it is powerful here on the Cape
- There is a upcoming multi-church three hour prayer meeting at Barnstable High School, the purpose of which, according to the Pastor, is to “ignite a revival here on Cape Cod.”
- The biggest omission in this project is my inability to experience the sense of community that binds a congregation as I move from one church to the next. It was obvious to me that this congregation is very active together during the week, not only on Sunday
Next week: I may be flying to Istanbul on Saturday so ….. Friday night temple? I’d like another Cape Cod experience before trying to attend prayers at the Blue Mosque.