church tourism.

Something Josh and I like to do is go to church while on vacation. I feel like a Crazy Church Lady mentioning that. When I was a kid, we kept attendance in Sunday School on a chart with smiley stickers. If you were absent one week, no sticker. However, if you had attended church elsewhere, that did count for a sticker. Our family didn't go off very much, and when we did, being away from our home church was excuse enough to skip services. I mean, you really have to be sticker-crazy to do something like go to church on vacation.

And here we are.

Josh in general is much more faithful than I am, and I think he feels different when he misses church, as if he missed his weekly soul-bath. For me, I've become interested in seeing how the experience of worship varies from church to church. We tend to stick to Episcopal churches, which I suppose limits the anthropological aspects of our visits. I dunno, it's nice to have a team.

It's funny, when we started going to the Episcopal church, I was pretty thrown by the liturgy. There is so much of it, and while you can follow in the bulletin, it seems like everyone else already knows the little things that are not printed. There's extra kneeling and bowing and crossing yourself. Now that I've been there a while, I'm pretty good at the words and the flow. I do not know all the times I'm supposed to be crossing myself, because I don't really do it at all. It doesn't seem to matter. Plus, since Episcopalians all use the same book, when I go to another church, there is a sense of familiarity in using the same words in a different setting. And so I feel the comfort of home while being far away. I notice that I do more crossing and bowing when I'm visiting another congregation, as if I am trying to signal that I'm in the know.

A couple of months back, while visiting Josh's dad in the mountains, we went to one of the churches of the frescoes. These are three tiny churches in the mountains that are local tourist spots for their murals. Two of the churches share one congregation, and they switch off month to month where they meet. This church was familiar to me in a couple of different ways - the small, rural congregation and the music (those things are possibly related). Whenever we got to the next song in the bulletin, I would whisper to Josh, "I know this one!" Our home church has some very talented people in charge of the music, and so the selections often seem chosen to broaden our horizons. I've gotten used to it, but it's still really exciting when I don't have to watch the notes to figure out where the next one is (and I don't technically read music - I'm seriously just going with up or down here). Obviously, familiarity is an important aspect to my church life.

The priest in that congregation also made a remark when asking for prayer requests. His daughter was up in New York, marching for climate change awareness. He prefaced it by saying that he didn't know how we all felt about the climate change issue, but he'd like us to pray for his daughter's safe travels, either way. Meanwhile, our church sent a delegation to that same march.

Everyone was very nice. They were excited to see young people (most people seemed retired), and had they been able to tell that I was pregnant, they might have offered us homes to move into. After the service, there was a coffee hour with such a spread that it required proper plates and silverware.

Then, in San Francisco, we visited the church of Saint John the Evangelist. There were two Episcopal churches that were close to where we were staying, and I actually used the online reviews to pick one. One review in particular sold me on this one. A guy remarked that he wanted to find a place to have his daughter baptized, just to make his mom happy. Twelve years later, he was still going. That's how they getcha.

Guys, everything you think about San Francisco is true, and it's even true at church. We were using my phone to navigate our walk, and then I saw a big sign that said "MORE LOVE," and I knew we'd found it. I had never seen such diversity at church. There were people of all ages and classes. One of the acolytes was a crossdresser. The congregation was small, but it was truly a family. For communion, there wasn't really an altar to kneel at, so we all stood in a big circle together.

Climate change did not come up, but I feel confident I know how they feel about it. They offered praise for the anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down and a recent law that had passed, re-classifying certain non-violent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, causing the release of thousands of prisoners. They had been keeping a weekly anti-war vigil downtown since 2003. I didn't know any of the songs, though they were from the same hymnal we use. Again, everyone was so nice and so glad to see us. They had shrimp(!) at their coffee hour.

Maybe I just like church people. They come in all flavors and have varying views on politics, music selection, and food. But the thing they have in common is what they have in common with us: they showed up this morning. Here we all are. They don't know who we are, but they're awful glad we came.

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