But my friend Jane invited (read: blackmailed) me to go with her. She's been inviting me to attend one of these gatherings for six years. Sometimes I've declined because of legitimate conflicts. Other times, I've turned her down for fear of having my Catholic-ness corrupted.
Yesterday, I tried to tell her I couldn't go because I had plans to clean out Annie's room and that was going to require a large dumpster and a haz-mat suit. So she offered that if I went with her, she would come help me with Annie's room.
"How long are we going to be gone?" I asked.
"Well, we'll leave here at 2pm. The fellowship is from 3 to 5pm," Jane answered. I figured I could manage that.
So, we drove to the south side of town to where Jane lives to pick up a couple of other "sisters" who would be attending the fellowship meeting as well. Now, in my faith, "sister" means one of two things. An actual relative who shares the same parents -- or a nun. These women were neither.
As Jane was driving to the church, I recognized the names of many neighborhoods, apartment complexes and streets -- because I'm used to seeing them on the nightly news in connection with a shooting or other violent crime.
"What have I gotten myself into?" I wondered, thinking that if I got shot Mike would be eternally perplexed as to why I was in that area of town it the first place.
But I trust Jane and just said a little prayer that my heart would be open -- and that no one would ask me if I've been saved.
We arrived at the little cinderblock church and went in to set up the meal. In addition to getting help with Annie's room, I was going to get to eat Jane's cooking, which is always delicious.
As I walked to the kitchen, which was directly off the sanctuary, I notice a large red drum set right in the front of the church. I think the Pope would faint.
The fellowship was set to begin at 3:00pm. So at 3:45pm, things got underway with a prayer over the food. Now, the most common Catholic prayer before meals starts with "Bless us, O Lord and these thy gifts..." and is pretty short. Can't let the food get cold!
But this was an extemporaneous prayer that started soft and slow, then quickly gained speed and volume. It was led by Sister Someone, but as she went on..."and Father we thank you for your presence here..." other women chimed in "Amen to that!," "Yes Lord!" and "mmmhmmm!"
Prayer was over, the food was on and the fellowship study was about to begin. The topic of the day was having a servant's heart -- a lesson I can certainly use some schooling in. Sister Williams made copies of the lesson for me and I just listened as the discussion went on.
I was pretty amazed at how these women -- there were about nine in the room -- could quote Scripture like I quote...well nothing. I can't quote anything like they could spout Bible verses.
I have to admit that my brain wasn't fully there all the time. I was thinking about what I needed to do when we got home. Of course, I didn't have a watch and Jane informed me the two clocks on the wall were both broken. But finally, Sister Someone asked for the time. 5:09pm.
"If I could have just 15 more minutes of your time," she said.
Sister Someone was determined to end on praiseful note. She offered up two Scripture passages -- Old and New Testament -- that talked about how the Lord does not change. (Of course I can't quote them to you here.)
Then, she really got going.
"If you have an need in your life, ask Jehovah Jireh -- the Lord who provides!"
"Amen! You know it!," cried the other sisters.
"If you have an ache or an illness, ask Jehovah Raffa -- the Lord who heals!"
"If you want to know what's going to happen tomorrow or next year, call out to El Roi -- the God who sees!"
About 30 minutes later, Sister Someone asked Jane to lead the final prayer. I love Jane and I've asked her to pray for intentions before. But when that woman prays, she PRAYS -- long and hard. So she started the closing prayer, again soft and slow, and again like Sister Someone's opening prayer, got faster and louder. The other women in the room seemed to catch the spirit from the air and echoed with their own shouts of praise.
Then all of the sudden, someone started singing the kind of singing I've only seen in the movies. The soulful, joyful, clappy singing. It was what my Annie would call a "Praise Jesus! Hallelujah!" moment.
When it was finished, many of the women thanked me for joining them and I genuinely thanked them for having me. The invited me back and I said I'd think about it. Frankly, I'd like to see that big red drum set in action sometime.
Now, before my mother faints reading this, I'm not going to abandon Catholicism. But being there was a good reminder that we are all -- regardless of our denominations -- children of God.
And it was 6:30pm.