Site Visit: Potential Church

As someone who grew up without religion, I have always been weary of churches. Maybe it was the media’s portrayal of the church as something dark and corrupt that made me keep away. I thought I would break my streak for the purposes of this project. It was time to face every notion of the church I had built through years of aversion. With a recommendation from a friend, I opened my mind and car door, then went off.
I made the drive to Cooper City to a church that seemed to be quite different from the normal pews and robed pastor image I had in mind, Potential Church. My friend had mentioned that it was sort of a more modern take on the church and that I would probably be most comfortable there.
People in semi-casual wear were flocking to the service, so much so, that I had to park in a nearby field. The second I looked around, I felt incredibly out of place. It was tempting to stay in the car and kiss my site visit grade goodbye. I was honestly uncomfortable enough to consider leaving, but could not deny my curiosity.
Greeters smiled and welcomed me as I approached the church, which only made my nervousness worse. I’m writing this now, and I worry that I didn’t smile politely enough. Or that in my anxiety, I forgot to smile completely.
After following the lead of a few people and finding the service room, I took my seat in the back intending to observe from a comfortable distance. On the way in, we were given a pamphlet of information about upcoming services and what appeared to be a woman’s service called ‘Viva’
The service started with a band. Electric guitars, acoustics, a drum set, singers, all appeared from no where.
I was suddenly cast into a really strange dissonant state between wanting to enjoy the music and wondering if it would be okay to sing along. The lyrics were on the screen, after all. I decided to treat it as a concert, and listened to the severity of the lyrics. The church sang in unison, thanking Jesus and reassuring him that they would “worship him, O Lord.” I was a little tense, I felt like an outsider. There were people crying and raising their arms to the ceiling, while I watched, uncomfortable with their emotions.
Soon it was over, and everyone sat, so I did too. Pastor Troy Gramling came out and asked us to greet our neighbors. I tried to look as comfortable as possible, and was greeted by the woman in front of me. She had a firm handshake and a warm smile that said “welcome.” I suddenly felt closer to those who had greeted me, and my anxiety was beginning to subside.
The service commenced. The pastor spoke about taking preventive versus reactive action. I thought it was interesting for such an every day interpretation to be drawn from a handful of biblical verses. Gramling also called the bible a “manual for life.” The church really seemed to approach the book as something applicable to every situation in life.
The most memorable part of the service was when Gramling began preaching with more intensity, telling us that God will be there for us when we feel like breaking down among other things. In the background, I noticed someone climb onto stage and begin playing chords on the synth. They played a full, bittersweet progression as the pastor elevated his voice.
People were crying again. I was honestly disturbed by the use of music to manipulate an emotional response from the audience. The pastor asked us to open our hearts, and the anxiety came back.
After Gramling prayed for us, we were dismissed. I rose, and followed the line of people to two gold bowls at the backs of the room. One held little cups of red juice (which upon tasting, found out was cranberry juice.) The other held what I knew was called Eucharist from a lesson in class.
As enlightening as this experience was, I don’t think I will be returning to church anytime soon. I still stand firm in my ideas of the church, but will never forget the faces of the people I saw there. They were all so kind, so full of joy, so open to their god. I’m glad I stayed.

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