Restaurant recommendations? Check.
Church for Sunday? Uhhhhh. . . no. This is vacation. Vacation from everything, including church.
There are any number of reasons why we never consider attending church while on vacation. We don’t want to pack “church clothes.” We wouldn´t know anybody at the church, so we might be uncomfortable and conspicuous. We might have to get up earlier than we’d like. Particularly in a foreign country, you may be concerned about a language barrier. And what about childcare? You don’t want to leave your kids with strangers.
Some of my most memorable and refreshing moments while traveling have been the opportunities we took to worship with followers of Jesus at a local church.
A decade ago I attended a service with followers of Jesus in a small basement church in Paris. The congregation of fifty was dynamic and ethnically diverse. They were having a clothes drive to collect items for families in poverty, something not unlike what my home church would do.
Years later, my husband and I were deeply moved as a young man and his evangelical praise team led a small group of worshippers in the cathedral of Chartres, France (photo above). The simple melody of his guitar filled the heights of the halls and God was glorified. Though my husband does not speak French, I translated some of the lines and he was able to sing with understanding, following words on a small sheet handed out to all participants. Tourists mingled on the outskirts. If they understood what we were singing, they would have heard that Jesus is the Son of God and he has risen from the dead.
In Amsterdam, a plaque permanently placed on the doorway of a centuries old church announced service times. I was traveling alone over the weekend and passed by the church on a Friday. Familiar with the denomination, I decided to attend their service on Sunday. In the sanctuary built to host hundreds were seated only a dozen or so people. They were overjoyed to see my young face and even more excited that I sang along in the congregational singing. Would I please join their choir? Would I please BE their choir? Alas, they were disappointed that I was only passing through, but were grateful that I had joined them in fellowship that day.
On a three-day weekend in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, my husband and I decided to worship at a congregation where, it so happened, the parents of a college friend were also attending this particular Sunday. We bumped into them as we entered the building at the same time. I hadn’t been in touch with my friend for several years. What a pleasant surprise to bump into his relatives! But I am reminded there are no surprises in the body of Christ, only encounters God uses to encourage and remind us that his family is everywhere. His family is our family.
In London we rose for a leisurely breakfast at our hotel and took the bus to Hillsong London. We didn’t know anyone who attended the church, but we knew the fellowship would be welcoming and we would be encouraged, worshipping with and seeing the body of Christ in the city. We, along with our infant daughter, were warmly welcomed by likeminded individuals who watched the preaching on a screen in a toddler playroom off the side of the sanctuary. Coffee and chairs were provided for the gathering of families. This is not the environment in which we worship at home, but we were encouraged through the fellowship and the preaching of the Word nonetheless.
A friend and I once took a pilgrimage to a dreamland from our youth – Prince Edward Island, Canada. She found and booked our lodging at various Bed and Breakfasts. I researched day trips and found a church near our Sunday B&B at which I thought we would be comfortable worshipping (see banner photo). Shortly after breakfast we drove down a winding country road and, after a few miles, spotted a lone white church on a verdant, grassy hill in the distance. We parked on the gravel and walked in to a service that had begun many minutes before. Apparently I got the service time wrong. Instead of using our tardiness as an excuse, we, along with my 4-month-old, discreetly entered and found open seats. The congregation was small and, yes, I did feel all eyes on us as we took our places at the end of a pew. This church was non-instrumental. The congregation raised their voices, heartily led by the pastor at the pulpit with no musical accompaniment. That is not how the service goes at my home church, but this was nonetheless authentic worship that glorified God. At the close of the service, we were greeted genuinely by various congregants who invited us to the church fellowship hall in the basement for the weekly church potluck. Though we came empty handed, they insisted we join them and a handful of other families. They had nothing to gain, except perhaps mutual encouragement from other members of the Body. They knew they would likely never see us again, but they extended the hand of Christian hospitality to us. Any excuse I could have had for not attending church on my vacation was shot to pieces.
By the time I’ve planned out a vacation, the last thing I want to do is research a church. I’m not naïve. There are plenty of “churches” out there I would loathe to attend, foremost because the teaching may not align with what I believe. To some extent, I am sympathetic to that argument. My entire extended family was together one weekend after attending a destination wedding. Being of one mind, we agreed we should attend church. The owners of our hotel invited us to their fellowship in a large cathedral down the road. They were kind, gracious people and they insisted the church was wonderful and had helped them grow spiritually. The name of the church didn’t sound too off-beat or cultish, so off we went. It was a little more glitzy and showy than we were used to, but we chocked it up to cultural differences in worship style – not an issue we couldn’t tolerate for one service. But as the preacher ascended the pulpit and began to share about fundraising for a new facility in another city, a sermon never materialized and the offering plates were passed down the aisles to thousands of congregants who were informed in great detail how they could give – credit card, check, online, etc. After fifteen minutes of this show, in which several out-of-context verses were tossed on a screen overhead – we discreetly fled. The lesson here isn’t never attend church when away from home. The lesson is, simply, do a little research.
The internet makes it ridiculously easy to find a church. The point is not to find a church that could be your home church if you were to live in that locale. As a frequent mover, I can attest that finding a home church may be challenging. But a church that holds to the same doctrinal truths where you can worship for one Sunday? It’s not that difficult. Church websites often have a ‘Statement of Faith’ page. Read it. Church websites should also have a list of staff, including a short background of the individuals and their education. This will give you an idea of their theological bent. If your home church is of a particular denomination, find a church of the same denomination where you are traveling.
We have been spiritually refreshed and our perspective on how God is at work around the world has been transformed. . . even on vacation.