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Spirituality: The mistaken Methodist

November 02, 2012|By Norris Burkes | By Norris Burkes

Have you ever visited a faith community for the wrong reasons?

I have, more than once. I made my most memorable trip during my opening sophomore week at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

I'd spent my freshman year floating between churches, so I decided to get serious about church attendance. Besides, church membership fit my career goal of becoming a pastor. Funny how that works.

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The choice required little effort because Waco churches catered to Baylor students by scheduling Sunday buses to pick up students in front of the dormitories. All I needed to do was board the Southern Baptist bus of my choice. So, on the first Sunday in September 1976, I put on my best three-piece, double-knit suit and went to Collins Hall to catch the bus to Immanuel Baptist Church.

I had mixed motives. First, I chose Immanuel because I wanted to intern with its young, soon-to-be-famous preacher, Joel Gregory.

Second, the red-bricked Collins Hall is, even today, Baylor's primary dormitory for freshman girls. I was hoping to merge my pick-up point with picking up a new girlfriend. (Corrective footnote inserted here by Mrs. Chaplain: Not 'a new girlfriend,' his first girlfriend.)

I arrived at Collins to find Susan Boyd standing on the steps waiting for her bus. I thought Susan's bobbed hair gave her the cute factor necessary for the perfect pastor's wife, so I fired my usual questions for potential clergy spouses.

"Do you play the piano? Do you sing?" No, but she played the violin, and she taught Sunday school. I must have thought her answers gave her potential because I followed her into the first air-conditioned bus.

We took our seats and Susan posed a question. "Have you ever been to First United Methodist before?"

Uh-oh. I wasn't sure whether it was the diesel fumes in my lungs or the lust in my heart, but somehow I'd boarded the wrong bus.

Nevertheless, I tried to keep my cool. "No, not until today."

"I didn't know you were Methodist," she said. "I thought you were Southern Baptist."

Honesty demanded that I tell her I was "Baptist born, Baptist bred, and when I die, I'll be Baptist dead." But instead, I laced my façade with nonchalance. "Well, you know, I am trying to be open to considering all denominations."

With that comeback, I settled into my seat, folded my arms and just hoped they served doughnut.

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