Monday, 7 September 2015

Two timing on the Episcopal Church (attending a 360 Church)

 I goofed off from the Episcopal Church yesterday (6th September 2015) and attended the 360 Church in Sarasota.

This Church meets in a warehouse building at the intersection of McIntosh and Ashton Roads in SRQ

I wanted to find out more about one of the many new and growing  non-denominational congregations which are present throughout the United States (and most likely in countries such as the U.K., Canada, Australia etc)

You can read about 360 Church here

The 360 Church movement is an outgrowth of YWAM  (Youth With A Mission) an organisation which is well known amongst fundamentalist and evangelical Christians  in the U.S.A.

360 Church believes that relationships should be at the heart of the Christian life. It is a congregation with many small groups, known (in this Twitter age)  as @groups, small groups in which relationships in Christ can be fostered and grown.

The service began with music led by a praise band (they were good), and words projected on to two large screens.  The first two songs had texts which were repetitious and not very engaging. (such is the case with many "praise songs").  The thirds song was one which I recognised from my Evangelical up-bringing

"Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow".

(That song has been my ear worm du jour).

There were no bibles or hymn books on the seats, every text was projected.


The Pastor (Steve) was away, so the service was led by the youth Pastor (Clay). No other person spoke. The only woman on the platform was a singer in the Praise Band.

Pastor Clay's sermon was accompanied by many visuals, which we could see on the screen.  His "message" was about "Identity Theft", based on the biblical  story in which Jacob stole his brother Esau's birthright.

He had a folksy/funky style, with some self-deprecating humour, but  with  too many reference to his wife for  my liking (his wife was in the congregation with no right of reply), (and a frequent use of the word "weird"). 

He related that in the biblical story Jacob's name meant "trickster", but his name was changed to Israel, meaning "Prince with God". (He stole an identity, but God gave him a new one).

The central point was that sin has robbed us of our identity, but that Jesus can change us from tricksters into princes. 

How is that possible?   Pastor Clay said "that it is on the cross that God's perfect justice was satisfied". 

So far, so good I suppose, but I was disturbed by the under-lying theme of his message that we are never good enough for God  even after we are "saved". We are always and ever God's naughty children.

(I grew up in the Evangelical tradition, and I will for ever be grateful that it introduced me to Jesus Christ.   But that tradition led me to believe that as a gay man I could never be good enough for God).

If it is true that in the Evangelical Church tradition we are always God's naughty children, it is also true that in the Liberal Church tradition we are always God's spoiled brats,  (always loved but never called to accountability for our sins and failures.)


It is hard to enter a new Church for the first time.

 When I arrived at the parking lot for 360 Church my first instinct was to turn around and go home. 

I persisted.

As I entered the main door I was greeted with a smile, but without a handshake.

When I entered the Foyer I was shocked to encounter an off-duty Sarasota County Sheriff's Deputy, present for security. "Security in a Church?!"

I entered the "worship area. 

 The two screens proclaimed "sit with your @group". 

 That was a most unfriendly greeting for a visitor who was not a member of an @group.

 My question was "what is an @group, and were do I sit since I am not a member of such a group?"

 In the end I sat at the end of a row. Four people moved in front of me to take their places in my row, with never a word of greeting.

One young couple took their places in the row behind me.  As they passed the man squeezed my shoulder and said "hi there".  I was startled, thinking that maybe we had met before.  That was not the case.  He and his partner never spoke to me again.

At the 360 Church version of passing the peace Pastor Clay said "run towards someone you have met before".    A young woman who was seated to my right ran right by me to greet someone else!  Was I invisible?

At the end of his message Pastor Clay announced that we were about to enter a period of "worship". 
He said that the lights would be lowered and that the praise band would play.

He said that for this "worship"  we should gather together with our @groups. 

That's when I left.  How could I feel at home in this congregation when I was not part of an @group?


We Episcopalians are often self critical about the ways in which we do or do not "welcome the stranger".  That self-criticism is valid and necessary.

We have no right to take ourselves off the hook, but neither should we kid ourselves into believing that Evangelical/Fundamentalist Churches have perfected the art of welcoming.

I felt very much left out at 360 Church in SRQ on 6th September 2015,

1 comment:

  1. I like reading about your reactions, Michael. I would have thought that the 360 Church would be friendly if it's about relationships. I'm grateful for the Episcopal church. We're able to think and to reason (even if imperfect). And to be accepted as beloved of God. Thanks!