Sara and I attended a movie night at our church last week. We had seen the feature before, but we were told there would be discussion afterwards and pizza by donation to boot. The movie in question was 2004’s “Saved!”. It’s the story of Jena Malone as Mary, a Born-Again teenage girl attending a Christian high school. One summer, her boyfriend admits to her that he’s gay and she sleeps with him in order to “help” him. The boyfriend ends up being sent to a Christian re-education home and she ends up pregnant. The rest of the movie revolves around her defending the dignity of herself and her friends from Christian Teen Queen Hilary Faye, played by Mandy Moore.
“Saved!”, in my opinion, really captures the dramatic relationship Abbotsford has with religion. We have churches on every other corner, and most people have some story about an uncomfortable encounter with a true believer. The nice thing about the movie is that it’s not a polemic against Christianity or religion in general. The characters all want to have some kind of salvation, whether it’s the approval of the church, God, or their peers. When we circled the chairs for the discussion, we started to talk about the difference between the mega-church sensibility of the high school in Saved! versus smaller congregations like Trinity Memorial. We decided that it came down to a difference between faith and belief. There is a lot of belief in larger churches. Moral ambiguity often gets sidetracked in favor of passion and conviction. Faith is a harder concept to put down in words. It is not simply believing in something despite evidence to the contrary. That would be called denial. It’s more of a mix of a sense of being loved and a sense of thankfulness. It’s hard to attain something that personal in a large church, but many people attend them because it’s so easy to ride the wave of enthusiasm.
Some members of the youth group were on hand to offer their thoughts. We learned that the mega-church youth groups were grand affairs involving youth ministers for every age group. They said they preferred Trinity Memorial’s youth group because they could spend more time getting to know people rather than just playing games or doing activities like at the mega-churches.
The amount of personnel at the mega-churches is mostly supported by the large amount of funds donated to them by the congregation. I asked everyone there what Trinity Memorial would do with that kind of money. The short answer was that it would paralyze us. Long drawn out arguments over what to do with a large inheritance have plagued many church boards. If Trinity Memorial put more energy into raising money than providing a friendly place to worship, we would lose that which makes Trinity Memorial what it is today.
It’s hard to tell what makes a place of worship the right place for anyone. A church is more than just having a relationship with a higher power. They are called communities of faith for reason. You can have deep discussions, find spiritual guidance, or just put yourself in a position to help others. At the end of the day, a church must more be a part of you than you are a part of a church.