This morning we are at Bromley Baptist Church in London. Apart from a visit to the Met Tab, the last time I went to a London Baptist church was in 2004 and I wrote up a few guidelines on not getting embarrassed at a Baptist Church. Here are a few of them.
1. Sit in the back. You have no right to be in the front seat unless you are a penitent sinner, the preacher, a deacon getting ready to serve communion, an underground charismatic who is starting a revolution by waving their arms during worship, or a breast-feeding mother. If you are none of these, and if you dont want to be caught out sitting and standing at all the wrong moments, stay in the back where you will avoid embarrassment.
2. Dress smart-casual, even if you usually dont. If you dress too formal, they will assume you are Catholic or a novice, or someone vying for attention. If you dress too shabbily, you will attract the attention of the volunteer outreach program staff who assume you are homeless. If you wear Eastern fabrics, or wear a Marilyn Manson T-shirt, or have any pagan symbols, you will get special attention from the welcome committee and evangelism department who assume you are having your first church experience. However, you might get special treatment and thats not all bad. So do go casual and you will not feel like a dork. Instead, they will assume you are a church goer just like them. Jeans are OK in most baptist churches. So put your piercings back in. Trust me.
3. Be semi-somber when you pray. Unlike emerging or alternative worship churches, you should be happy when you arrive and somber when you pray. Not Anglican hard-core somber. More like a semi-somber, a soft-somber, with no facial contortion, lest you look too spiritual. And if there is an open prayer time during the service, which there sometimes is, don’t go King James or retro-Shakespeare on them (novice giveaway) but stay smart casual (like the clothing) and keep it on the healthy somber tone of voice. But don’t go too far on the casual side either . . dont start telling God your latest joke . . and don’t go asking Him for His.
4. Sing softly and hang back a beat or two. It looks weird if you dont sing but dont worry – its easy – the words are usually projected on the wall and the music is predictable for the most part. No one will notice that you are not familiar with the songs and mouthing the words in time is a cinch. Also, hang back a beat or two on the songs. There are one or two choruses where everyone sings on the off-beat immediately AFTER the beat which is precisely the embarrassing moment newcomers make themselves known by being the only ones not singing on cue. And if you sing softly, you might even get away with botching up the songs. I know I do.
5. Follow others and do what they do. If someone sings a solo on stage or does something creative, don’t be the first to clap and cheer and wolf-whistle – usually, there is no applause at the end, just a small appreciative smile or nod, You will also notice that people are not tipping the preacher or stage-diving during worship or opening a can of beer. Unless it is an emerging Baptist church but thats another story. Again, watch other people from the back and stay 2-3 seconds behind them, and I give you my word, you will never embarrass yourself in a Baptist church.