Macon places of worship


Macon is an outstanding notch on the Bible Belt. Every street corner boasts spires, bell towers, crosses and stained glass windows. Every weekend, Maconites emerge from their homes in their Sabbath best, ready to worship at their venue of choice.
I was raised a Southern Baptist, but I developed into an uncertain agnostic. This isn’t to say I don’t want religion—I do! I yearn for a reason to behave. I just don’t know where I belong among the countless religions and denominations. For this reason, Macon is almost torturous. I, a veritable heathen, can’t throw a broken beer bottle in any direction without defiling a place of worship. And since I hardly know anything about the goings-on within the pious walls scattered all over town, I feel like I don’t belong in them.
This semester, I’ve decided that I’m done wallowing in religious confusion. I’ve taken up a new hobby: religious tourism. I’m going to sample some of Macon’s places of worship in order to know what they’re like, what they believe and how they worship. I’m not searching for the big answers here; I just want to know what sets all of these churches (and synagogues) apart. Maybe I’ll even find somewhere I belong.
So this is the first of a three-part series on Macon’s places of worship. I will be going to various religious services and relaying my experiences, impressions and (probably minimal) research into each of the denominations to you, my beloved Cluster readers.
To begin this spiritual extravaganza, I attended the Holy Liturgy at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church. This specific church is located on the corner of Arch and First Streets. (If you’ve ever been to Macon’s annual Greek Festival, you’ve been to Holy Cross.)
Holy Cross was particularly attractive to me for the spectacle that went in to the service. It was a much more sensual experience than one would get if he or she attended a service at my childhood church. To begin, the reverend father emerged from a room behind the altar with incense. He filled the entire church with the delicious smells, going from the altar to the foyer with aroma in hand, chanting a prayer.

A Greek chorus (seriously) was located in the back corner of the church. They sang praises in Greek throughout the majority of the service, including during the incense time.
There were a few call-and-response types of prayers, where the reverend father would say something and the congregation would respond. Often, the response was “Kyrie Eleison,” which means, “Lord, have mercy.”
The congregation at Holy Cross was small and friendly. When we entered the foyer, a fellow eager to have visitors clapped my friend on the back and asked us all to fill out informational cards. There couldn’t have been more than 15 people seated in the pews of the incredibly well-decorated chapel. The place was wrought with arches and renderings of biblical figures. In the center arch of the chapel was a crucifix with a two-dimensional Jesus affixed to it.
After the congregation had taken communion, a sacrament in which I was of course not permitted to partake, the reverend father informed the congregation that there were visitors among them. We were introduced and asked to stand and tell everyone a little bit about ourselves.
After this, my comrades and I were invited to eat of the bread that had not been transmogrified to the body of Christ. When the service was over, we were invited to join the congregation for coffee.
The following week, I attended mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, located on the corner of Poplar and High Streets.

Like Greek Orthodox churches, the Catholic Church follows a liturgical calendar, but the calendars are not the same.
I appreciate the ritual of liturgical calendars. It’s nice to know exactly what you are getting yourself in to before you even arrive at church. There’s something comforting in knowing that you can step in to any Catholic church on a given date and hear basically the same thing. And then, there are the little things that set each experience apart. At St. Joe’s, the preacher began with a little joke about Baptists, I think, which elicited a giggle from the congregation.
St. Joseph’s uses a bit of Latin in their services, which I really enjoy. (It makes me feel smart in the fairly ancient sense.) Call-and-response type prayers were involved in the service. They did mention that they will soon switch to a new English translation, which, I feel, runs the risk of diluting the glory of the ritual.
If I appreciated Holy Cross for the spectacle, I must also admit that the incredible spectacle of St. Joe’s is alluring. The massive church is beautifully decorated, with arches, rich colors, marble, and paintings of more saints than I can count in one sitting. Incense was burned in a procession, but the chapel is so grand that the aroma didn’t permeate the air.
One particularly noticeable difference between St. Joseph’s and Holy Cross, besides the whole split thing, was the level of intimacy among the congregation. St. Joe’s seats hundreds and holds mass several times a day. Even if I had been asked to fill out a visitor card upon entering the edifice for mass, it would have been a waste of too many people’s time to introduce me or ask me to talk about myself.
There was a sense of anonymity at St. Joseph that simply could not exist in a different venue. This is not to say that the lack of pressure was not welcome—to the contrary, I thoroughly enjoyed being anonymous. I feel certain that no one realized I was not a member of the parish.
I was not permitted to take communion at St. Joseph’s, but I was granted the opportunity to approach the priest and receive a blessing.
At first glance, some interesting differences between the Greek Orthodoxy and Catholicism are that they cross themselves differently and that, in the Greek Orthodox tradition, the Virgin Mary is referred to as Theotokos.
Ultimately, my first experiences at Macon churches were pleasant and vastly different. Most obvious was the difference in the atmosphere between the two: small and tight knit versus large and impersonal. Even though both of these churches follow a liturgical calendar, the calendars are dissimilar. They both utilize call-and-response prayers and ancient languages.
Stay tuned to The Cluster for more wanderings of a religious vagabond.