God’s house is rockin’ and also quietly praying

What if I told you there was a free rock concert you could attend every weekend, featuring deep, thumping bass, driving drum rhythms, attractive lead and backup singers, amplified violins, and even a light show?

That would be pretty great, don’t you think?

Well, you can hear shows like that every weekend if you want at, of all places, church. Yes, they are rocking His house all over the Capital District. You can now — if you choose to — literally “get down” with the Lord.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit several different area churches and, let me tell you, I was amazed at what some of these so-called “mega-churches” have going on. At one 8:30 a.m. Sunday service, the light show, I kid you not, reminded me of arena rock shows I saw back in the day by bands like ZZ Top and Blue Oyster Cult.

At another church, again very early on a Sunday morning, they actually offered you ear plugs on the way in. It’s a good thing they did, because the music was so loud, the floor was shaking. You could feel the bass throughout your entire body. What a way to help digest your corn flakes.

Let me state right now that I would never, ever go to a church like this on a regular basis. At the Catholic church where I grew up in Brooklyn, they were considered cutting edge because they held Mass in English, not Latin.

As if that weren’t wild enough, every now and then one of the nuns came out dressed in her full habit to play on the acoustic guitar. Believe it or not, that was considered extremely progressive back “Kum ba yah” then.

I never even went to the bathroom in a church — I didn’t believe it was possible — until I met my lovely wife and started going to the Protestant churches. We Catholics trained our bladders to gut it out. That’s just how it was.

So you can see how, for someone raised like I was, hearing a full, amplified rock-and-roll church service is just so jarring to me. At all of these places where they blast it, there are huge video screens where they run PowerPoint presentations with the lyrics to the songs so you can sing along.

I was going to say there are no hymnals in the pews, but then I remembered that there are no pews, just chairs. Some folks seem to really get into it, raising their arms, jumping up and down.

At one service I went to that started at 10:30 a.m., the music, for which you are standing the entire time, didn’t end until 11:05 a.m. Only then did the actual worship service start. Wow. You better be in shape if you want to worship there.

At another one of these services, the main pastor wasn’t even there. They had him up on the big screen from somewhere in the midwest.

He was good, and there were local associate pastors there as well, but somehow it left me a little bit cold. It’s kind of like when you go see the Metropolitan Opera “Live in HD” in the theater. The good news is that you are seeing the best opera company in the world without having to drive to Manhattan and pay tons to park and buy tickets.

But after a beautiful aria, when everyone who’s there live is cheering their heads off, everyone in the theater just sits quietly. I mean, how do you applaud for a screen?

It’s the same thing with this church. The message may be good, but if you’re not there in person, it somehow loses its lustre, at least for me.

You could argue that these kinds of high-energy services draw in young people, and indeed there were plenty of youth at all the services of this type that I attended. But I would counter that a good organist, like my wife, Charlotte, can also create an energy when she plays some of the classic hymns while accompanying her excellent choir.

We all have different tastes in music, I get that, but at least when I hear the dulcet tones of a lovely organ, with or without a well-honed choir, I don’t have to feel like I’m in a mosh pit to enjoy it.

Believe me, a good organist can take you away to places you never even knew existed, and when she hits a low note, you can really feel it throbbing through your body, but in a good way — like it becomes a part of you.

After all, the organ, “the king of instruments,” be it the venerable pipe or the modern electronic, is really a part of the building. Nothing can match a well-tuned organ for sheer variety and power.

I guess you can say it all comes down to what kind of church experience you want, or don’t want. I mean, you don’t have to go to church at all; heck, you don’t even have to get out of bed if you don’t want to

But assuming you feel that a church service is something good for you, for whatever reason — worship, community, obligation, or a genuine need to learn more about God — then it’s up to you to decide what kind of service you want to attend. If you want to feel like you’re at a rave at 2 a.m., bathed in sound you can feel throughout your body, along with a concert-like light show, you can get that in many places around here.

Or if you prefer the more traditional organ and choir service, I know for a fact that there are world-class organists in the Capital District who are amazing to listen to as well. Your decision, but let me leave you with this:

One bright beautiful Saturday morning a long time ago, I had to go to a funeral in Mechanicville. I’d been through there plenty of times but never “in there,” and this was before GPS so I had only a vague idea of where the church was.

Finally, I found the street and there was a huge stone church on the corner, so I parked and went in. As I opened the thick, heavy doors hung on large, black wrought-iron hinges, it was like stepping back in time to another world.

Outside were cafés, stores, and traffic lights — the typical hustle and bustle of a busy Saturday morning in downtown anywhere. Inside, I had to adjust my eyes, as candles burned gently in the back of the dimly lit yet ornate sanctuary.

There were about a dozen people there, spread out in the pews. As I sat down in the back, I noticed that the robed priest had his head down and was praying, or more accurately, chanting, if you can believe that.

The people who were there were kneeling, some intensely, with hands folded and heads bent, praying like their lives depended on it. At that moment, you cannot tell me that God was not there, in that place, for those people.

In all my life, the only other time I’ve felt “His” presence at hand that closely was at the birth of my children. That is how spiritually moving this praying was, in that holy place, amidst all the gold, wood, and marble (you know how Catholic churches are). It was like being back in the 14th Century, when church truly was the center of all life.

Eventually, I realized I was at the wrong place, so I left and, sure enough, three blocks up the road was the funeral. Still, I’ve never forgotten that prayer service early on a Saturday morning in Mechanicville. That was something special for sure.

What makes this country great is that you have the right to attend a thumping rock-concert-style service, or a traditional organ-and-choir service, or a simple Saturday-morning prayer service, or no service at all.

Many fine men and women died to give us this freedom. Never forget that. And don’t forget to bring ear plugs if you’re going to a church you’ve never been to before.