Going to Church - No matter how unpleasant the experience (or Why Pastor Johnson Hates Going to Church)

churchGoooood Morning, brothers and sisters! Isn’t it wonderful to be alive on this beautiful Sunday morning? Being here to fellowship with you and to see your happy faces is truly a blessing. Hallelujah!

This morning I want to talk to you about why I hate going to church. Now, you’re probably asking yourself “Why on earth would Pastor Johnson choose a topic like that?” Well the truth is friends; I was walking through the supermarket the other day when, just by chance, I heard someone use the expression "Easy like Sunday morning". It was just a random comment brothers and sisters but the truth is, it struck me like a thunderbolt! I said to myself, what the hell is easy about Sunday mornings in Jamaica? And the more I thought about it the more I realised that the answer was: Nothing is easy about Sunday mornings. Not. One. Blessed. Thing! In fact, Sunday morning is the opposite of easy if you grow up in a typical Jamaican home.

That’s right friends, I remember when I was a child growing up in Balaclava how my mother (may she rest in peace) used to drag me out of my warm-warm bed at 5:30 on a Sunday morning so I could spend the rest of the day at Early Service, Sunday School, choir practice and scripture reading! And if ah didn’t get up right away she would flog me within an inch of my life and call me a dirty little heathen! (Bless her soul) Brothers and Sisters I used to get out of that bed, bathe in a pan of cold water, and walk three miles, sometimes in the rain, to get to Church on time! Three miles! Country people say amen if you know what I’m talking about! Amen!

What's worse friends, is that, for most of us, very little has changed since those childhood days in the country. It’s just that instead of your mother it’s now your wife who’s forcing you out of bed at 5:30am on a Sunday. But your wife doesn’t use a belt… she uses her tongue! And you and I know that a “nenging” woman is worse than any leather belt. Am I right or am I right? Let me hear you say amen! Some of you haven’t slept past 6 o’clock on a Sunday morning in yuh whole life. True or not true? Amen!

But getting out of your bed before the cock even put on ‘im drawers is just the beginning of the suffering isn’t it? Can anyone tell me why Jamaican churches have to be so hot? For some reason local churches always remind me of a large oven or a steam room. When you arrive (at the crack of dawn) the temperature is generally tolerable. But as you sit there, hour after tedious hour, as the sun outside gets warmer and warmer, it just gets hotter and hotter inside. It’s almost as if the temperature inside the church is meant to remind you of the hellfire to which you shall be eternally condemned if you don’t change your heathen ways. Stop me if is lie ah telling!

And friends, it doesn’t help that, despite the fact that this is a TROPICAL COUNTRY and we KNOW the church gonna be hot, Jamaican people expect you to dress-up for church in a jacket and tie. Even the ladies showing up for church in suit wid hat and stockings like they going Pulse Super Model finals! The Bible says “rend your heart and not your garments” but some ah unnu wearing too much garments! Leave some of the garments at home! If you know what I’m saying, say Amen! I can’t hear you! Say AMEN!

But back to the heat. The “burning” question I have to ask brothers and sisters is what happen to the air conditioning fund we’ve been contributing to for the last 9 years? All now we struggling wid the 2 degeh-degeh ceiling fans we using from 1979 an’ the church hot same way! Global warming is a fact ladies and gentlemen! In fact, is not even global warming anymore, is global boiling. Global baking! Brother Jackson, the Treasurer, tells me that the money in the air conditioning fund is still short of the target. But the only air conditioning I see roun’ ‘ere is in Brother Jackson new Benz! I didn’t come here to be discreet ladies and gentlemen, I came to talk di tings! Amen!

And friends, while we’re on the topic of church facilities, or lack thereof, can someone please tell me why church benches are so hard? I refuse to believe they’re made of wood. Nothing made by nature can so tough! It must be a form of concrete that looks like wood. Prisoners in Spanish Town lock-up have softer benches to sit on. So why the benches good Christians have to sit on mus’ be so tough? And don’t sit there and look at me like you don’t know what I’m talking bout! Some of you experiencing it right now: a dull, aching pain in your gluteus maximus that comes from sitting on a tough bench for too long? And there’s really nothing you can do about it is there? Rocking side to side from one cheek to the other doesn’t help. Trying not to think about it doesn’t help. Cursing the pastor under your breath for this long sermon doesn’t help either, does it? Am I right or am I right?

Which brings me to another point brothers and sisters. Why are the church benches so close together? Even if you wanted to get some relief from the tough benches by sticking out your legs you can’t do it because the pews are only six inches apart. If you want to get up and stretch your legs you can’t do it either because the pews are so close that unless you plan to step on someone’s toes or climb into their lap you can’t go either left or right. Once you sit down you’re trapped on that tough bench like a rat in a trap! Can I get a witness? Testify! I know we want as many people to attend Church as possible but why we jamming them in here like is sardine in a tin? Is only Stone Love dance I ever see so ram. Puuuuuulllll up Selector! Amen!

Now it’s one thing for the church to be hot, and for the benches to be tough but why, in the name of everything that is holy, do some pastors have to be so long-winded? There is nothing on earth more long-winded than a Jamaican preacher on a Sunday morning. One hundred helium balloons couldn’t don’t blow as much hot air. A Jamaican preacher doesn’t feel like his job is done unless the service last for 3 hours. All the while you dying of hunger and your stomach rumbling like thunder! What kills me though is that every hour that passes the pastor will say: "And in closing brothers and sisters"… and then proceed to talk for another hour! When since “in closing” mean “talk some more”? Let me hear you say amen if you know what I'm talking about! Amen!

And in closing brothers and sisters… Just kidding, I woulda nevah do dat to you…

Friends, some pastors love to talk about the eternal conflict of good versus evil. But what about the eternal conflict of Chelsea versus Manchester United? What about the football match you’re missing because of a 4 hour sermon? Don’t take it personally, I come here today to talk the truth friends. I come to talk di tings! Amen!

My friends it’s not just the sermon that makes the service so long. Remember there’s also the 18 hymns, the 12 scripture readings, the special performance by the choir, the special performance by the youth chorale, the collection, and the reading of the 372 notices. Last week’s programme was the size of a telephone directory. Lightening strike me if is lie ah telling!

Friends I wouldn’t mind 18 hymns if at least they were sung in a lively fashion. Instead every hymn is like a dirge: “A-maaayyyyyyy-zzzziiiiinnnnng Grrrrrrrraaaaaaaaceee how sweet the sound, that saved a wreeeeettttch like meeeeeeee”. I’m sorry brothers and sisters there’s nothing sweet about that sound and the only amazing thing about it is that people don’t fall asleep while singing it.

It’s bad and not so bad if the congregation doesn’t sound too wonderful. I expect that from untrained singers. But what about the people who are supposed to be expert singers? What about the people who are a part of the choir and who do solos every week? Why do they sing in that peculiar nasal, high-pitched voice that seems only to exist in Jamaican churches? We all sit here and know they sound bad. So why we clap when they done? In any other place you would boo a bad singer. I say boo them if they sound bad! Clap yuh hands if you agree wid me!

But the singers aren’t the only ones making strange noises. Ever notice how some pastors talk in a kind of stilted way where they emphasise every syllable and then add an American accent to it? “And gaaaawwwd-duh wants you to-uh stop-uh for-nih-kading (fornicating) and give your soul to him-uh! And-uh while-uh your are giving-uh your soul-uh, please give generously to the church-uh air conditioning fund-uh. Amen-uh!”

I say stop yuh noise-uh and come off the podium-uh!

Friends the point I’m trying to make is that being trapped in a boiling hot church listening to a boring sermon makes something that ought to be enjoyable less enjoyable. Why you think my kids won’t go to church? They’re used to Wii and Playstation 3. They’re accustomed non-stop action with high tech graphics, high definition and crystal clear sound. All in the comfort of my air-conditioned living room. You’re busy droning on about how Shem begat Ezekiel in a hot church to bored people sitting on tough benches. Instead of a sermon, how about a half-hour power point presentation? You can give away the full sermon on jump drives afterwards. And how about a comedy segment at the start just to get the congregation warmed up? “A disciple, a Pharisee and a Muslim walk into a bar…” Can I also recommend a break for coffee and croissants at half time? All these things can make the experience a little less painful. All I’m saying friends is that wherever, however, and whomever you worship I think the Creator wants you to enjoy the experience. And if you know what I saying-uh, get up-uh and clap-uh, your hands-uh and gimme an Amen-uh!!