I grew up in the Presbyterian Church. Most people know that.
What you might not know is that I also spent my most formative spiritual years (17 – 22) attending charismatic, conservative, evangelical youth groups and churches. You also might not know that the small, solo pastor, Presbyterian Church I grew up in was part of a local Inter-Ministerial Alliance. This Inter-Ministerial Alliance (to my knowledge) consisted of our Presbyterian Church, as well as 8-12 local Black Missionary Baptist Churches. During Holy Week, each church part of the IMA would get together every single night at a host church to hear a sermon given by a guest church on one of the last seven words of Christ. My family’s close family friends, the Stells, were members of one of these BMBCs, so oftentimes, the kids would end up going just so that we could see the Stell kids (who were homeschooled in contrast to me and my siblings attending public school). As my Presbyterian Church was the biggest, we would host the Maundy Thursday service, and the sanctuary would be as packed as it was on Easter morning. These Holy Week services started out as a time to see the Stells when I was in junior high, but as I grew older, it became something more, something I needed to attend every Holy Week because the worship was so vastly different, and yet there was something about it that was so achingly familiar.
Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that having spent so many formative years in churches that are unashamed of shouting, “Amen!” and “Come on Preacher!” in the middle of sermons, of uplifted hands to the heavens during worship, of nodding and many murmurings of “Yes Lord” during prayers, that I find myself so at home in Guatemala and worship at the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Chajul (yes, that’s it’s official name, so there should be some clues already there as to worship in the church name!). Kids are running around in the aisles and chatting with each other (and the Americans they’re so attached to). Worship songs bring everyone in the congregation to tears (and one song can last 25 minutes). And when you pray, everyone starts speaking all at once, moaning, weeping, and wailing. It reminds me of those years growing up, of the Holy Week Services and of the various evangelical churches and youth groups I attended during the end of high school and throughout college.
I left the Presbyterian Church because there was an element of spirituality and energy that my soul found in evangelical churches, but I chose to return home to my Presbyterian roots when I realized the spiritual highs were nowhere near as sustaining as Reformed theology and the Presbyterian’s clinging to of the never-ending grace of God, and deep held conviction of our calling to serve others. My spirituality continues to move and adapt, has been refined and honed in over the years, but the reason why I need—not want, need—to return to Guatemala, is because this is a place where my past and present collide, where I’m able to preach and help lead worship, but also where it is as easy as breathing to lift my voice in prayer with the saints around me, and to weep at the sheer beauty of the love and grace of God that spans from Williamsburg, to Guatemala City, to Chajul, and to the ends of the earth.