By Kairis Joy Chiaji
The first time I walked into the building, in the context of him, the curiosity was tangible. I had visited this Apostolic fellowship many times over the years, and had a fairly decent sized group of people I knew, as well as friends there. But on that particular Sunday morning, my presence drew noticeably unusual attention. We were clearly a couple in the eyes of these saints even though we believed ourselves to be reserved in our interactions.
“Welcome! Praise the Lord. Is this your first time here…?” It was church code for who are you, where’d you come from, and what are your intentions?
For the four years and counting since this Brother in Christ decided this was his church home, he chose not to date. Heavily involved in ministry and service, he simply hadn’t made it a priority. A valuable asset to his church community, an outsider by his side could be a threat and no one (pastor, youth or fellow members) wanted him to be enticed into another fellowship by, of all things, a woman they didn’t know.
He stood out like a raisin in a bowl of rice. My non-denominational fellowship has an interesting characteristic: it reflects the larger demographic of the city in which it’s located. In Sacramento, California it’s a largely Caucasian population of retired people.
My children are fourth generation members of a family who joined in the very diverse San Francisco Bay Area during the early 1960′s. My job moved me 80 miles north of my childhood home, and my church attendance followed its lead. While there were external differences demographically, church culture was the same. My new location for corporate worship still felt like home. But it was not his skin color or his accent that stirred conversation that Saturday morning. It was his smile as he assisted a woman in her 90′s to the communion table; he’d never laid eyes on her before that day.
I smiled both at the surprise and the good feeling when his Bishop acknowledged me personally in his welcome to visitors. After the lively service concluded I was taken aback by the number of men of all ages who pulled me to the side to tell me “what a wonderful young man” I had been seated next to during the service. People in my own church echoed similar sentiments after they met him, and expressed how much they enjoyed his conversation. What was even more surprising was how much my new love interest enjoyed the low-key style of preaching and worship that was normal for our congregation. Culturally, I much preferred the dynamic of full instrumentation and uninhibited praise that enveloped me during his church’s service. All in all, we’d both had positive experiences as guests in each other’s churches. We had roles we fulfilled regularly in our own fellowships and it was easy to see where the other could fit into a service role, no matter which church we chose. The question became did we have to?
Every denomination has its tenants, practices and beliefs, which set it apart from thousands of other affiliates in the Body of Christ. Every one of them offers a style, a set of core values and a cultural identity that its members relate to based on how God hardwired them to receive and perceive a relationship with their Creator. Some would even go so far as to say their way of relating to Jesus is the only way…
As a couple exploring a new but permanent relationship, my fiancé and I had the challenge of facing our denominational differences. As scary as the idea seemed, we needed to see if we were “unequally yoked” before we moved any further. We needed to know what our collective beliefs were, and most importantly how to address any conflicts.
Here are a few things we had to consider:
- Speaking in tongues and other gifts of the Holy Spirit
- Old and New Covenant understandings
- Praise and worship energy
- Baptism by whom and under what
- NIV, NKJV or NLT
- Sunday school or children’s church
- Seventh day service vs. Sunday-go-to-meeting schedules
- Casual attire or your suited and booted Sunday best
- First name basis and handshakes or titles, traditions and armor bearers
- 10% or free will offering
I marvel at how God works. My husband and I have been blessed to experience the perfect middle ground. We are a product of the integration of two churches wonderfully opposite in culture. What’s funny is we always have been, even before we met. Our faith base is as compatible as every other part of our relationship. So far we have been able to attend both churches with absolutely no schedule or value conflict. Both Pastors study their Word intensely, motived only to teach what the Holy Spirit puts on their hearts to share. (Often we notice they preach from the same set of scriptures in their weekly sermons.) Our ministers offered excellence in their support of our union, even sharing curriculum for our premarriage counseling. Both offered service in our wedding ceremony, an act joining not only a man and his wife but also bringing at least two parts of the Body together in unity. There has been absolutely no pressure from either to “choose.” So yes, we wrestle children out of their beds for church on both weekend days. But it’s worth it for them to grow up seeing these two shepherds tenderly leading their flocks into Holy Matrimony, showing Christ’s love for his imperfect Bride. It is the Kingdom of God in action!
Kairis Joy Chiaji
Contributing Writer, Co-Editor, B.L.O.G. Magazine
At 40-something Kairis is the Mother of three biological children, and four more born in her heart. She’s a Labor Coach, providing family labor support as a professional and community Doula. She approaches the world from that viewpoint; holding your hand, reminding you to relax, breathe, trusting God with your purpose, no matter what your situation is giving birth to. She’s a volunteer teacher for homeless women, a project manager for a pregnant teen mentoring program, on two non-profit Boards, and a praise dancer. Recently she added the title of Newlywed, Foster Parent, and grandmother. She also has a passion for natural beauty; a self employed, self-proclaimed natural hair artist, escaping only to coach laboring women at whatever hour a baby decides to enter the world. Doulas, like Brides of Christ, are on-call 24/7.