Having returned to Ohio, yesterday Tom and I went with my parents to University Circle United Methodist Church. University Circle United Methodist Church is an urban church in the heart of Cleveland. It is one of the biggest churches Tom and I have attended during our travels. The building itself is very imposing. Constructed in 1928, it is loving referred to as “the oil can church” because the steeple resembles an oil can. The steeple is currently undergoing renovations.
In the summer, the congregation worships in the Great Hall on the lower level of the church. The Great Hall is air-conditioned (the sanctuary is not) and allows a more informal atmosphere than the traditional and very formal sanctuary. Before the service we toured the sanctuary and were particularly impressed by the beautiful and elaborate stained glass windows. But it also looked like the sanctuary would hold 1,000 people, so the 300 who were in worship that morning would have been swallowed up.
We chose to go to University Circle United Methodist Church for two reasons. First, Rev. Ken Chalker is the senior pastor at University Circle United Methodist Church and he also served at Lexington United Methodist Church where I grew up. Ken has always been “my pastor,” and he was the one who suggested that God was calling me to ministry. He also performed the wedding ceremony for Tom and me 34 years ago! All of us love to hear him preach. He is consistently the best preacher I have ever heard. The second reason to drive all the way to Cleveland for church was that we had Indians tickets for the game at 1 p.m.
The Great Hall is a basement Fellowship Hall with a vaulted stone ceiling that echoes sound. The echo made the singing sound great! We also had wonderful music throughout the service with interpretive dance for one of the anthems.
Rev. Chalker preached on 2 Samuel 18 which describes Absalom’s revolt against King David. David may have been a “man after God’s own heart” but he was a horrible husband and father. When David announced that Solomon (his youngest son) would succeed him as king, Absalom (the oldest living son) led a revolt that almost destroyed David’s kingdom. But when Absalom was killed, David mourned him more than all the loyal men who had been killed in battle. David wished that he had died instead of Absalom.
Rev. Chalker used this story as a springboard for a discussion of “family values” (you hear a lot about these during election years). When people suggest that we should have family values today, “just like they did in the Bible,” what family values are they talking about? Most of the families described in the Bible were extremely dysfunctional. Brothers killed or sold brothers. Men had so many wives they couldn’t keep track of the children. Women were property to be bought and sold. It was legal to beat wives and children as long as the beating didn’t kill them. Mistresses were part of the household. Jesus spoke about family values only to spotlight how far most families were from achieving the true peace and love that should be part of any family. Jesus wanted the family to be a place where the kingdom of God was lived out now, so he said that anyone who did the will of the Father was his brother or sister.
I found it interesting to think about family values in this way. The way we define family in 2015 – parents and children – is a modern way of thinking about family. Families for centuries were multi-generational. And one wife with one husband is also a pretty recent concept and not universally accepted. When we look at the families we see around us, we notice that they come in all shapes and sizes from a single person with friends, to step-families with eight or more grandparents, to same-sex couples with children. The families that Jesus values are ones where people are able to grow in love and safety.
We enjoyed our time worshiping at University Circle United Methodist Church. Rev. Chalker is a wonderful preacher and has been a pastor to me for years. I will always appreciate his ministry.
As for our other reason for heading to Cleveland: the Indians played a great game and won 8 to 1. Korey Kluber had a no-hitter going into the 7th. The weather was perfect, our seats were wonderful, and the company couldn’t have been better.