Suzanne Strempek Shea grew up Catholic and attended services regularly. The combination of the sexual abuse stories of various Catholic priests and being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 41, made her revisit her childhood faith. She still went to church, but only when the church was empty and silent.
Seeing the wake of Pope John Paul II, she decided to go on a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts, visiting other churches. Despite being taught as a child that the roof would fall in (or worse), Shea visited fifty churches in a year of Sundays (and a couple of Saturdays). She attended many churches in her area of Massachusetts and also relied on the specials at Southwest Airlines to attend those at a distance.
Her experiences? She heard a sermon to boycott Wal-Mart at Trinity United Methodist Church of Christ, washed feet at a Seventh Day Adventist Church, sat with thousands listening to Joel Osteen give a 28 minute (TV restriction) talk on weight loss, was fascinated by speaking in tongues, sat in a church totally ignoring the needs of Katrina victims (only 60 miles away), listened to Rick Warren in his typical Hawaiian shirt, and many more.
Her conclusions? Shea didn’t like the glitz, the show, the well orchestrated service. Instead, she was impressed with the simple service, with the heart of people helping others, with genuine hugs, and with people truly living out their beliefs. She visited what, in my mind, were pretty strange churches. Some could hardly be called “Christian.” Others had only a few attendees and rows of empty seats. Some had sterile, modern buildings while others showed an appreciation of traditional art.
While I am troubled by the spirituality of Shea, her observations of the churches she visited were very interesting. Ever wanted to know what a stranger would think of your church service? Read Shea and get a pretty good idea.