Nearly a year ago, almost to the day, I entered the sanctuary of an historic church in downtown Raleigh for the first time. Visiting a new faith community is nearly always at least a slightly uncomfortable social experience. In my case I’d grown quite accustomed to feeling like an outsider in these spaces as a significant portion of my work included traveling to congregations around the country. This particular Sunday, however, had me a more on edge than usual.
The church, as it turns out, was Baptist. I was Methodist. Sitting down in a Baptist Church for worship felt something akin to rooting for a rival sports team. It was simply not done.
I recall on several occasion the pastor of my hometown Methodist church, a soft-spoken and generally mild mannered man, would poke fun at Baptist preachers from the pulpit. If a worship service ran long as it often did on the Sundays we celebrated communion, my mother and I would half-jokingly lament that our favorite lunch spot would be filled with Baptists by the time we got there. One could argue it was all in good fun like any hometown rivalry. But even well-meaning jokes, if they are repeated enough, have a poisoning effect over time.