Macon places of worship


I’ve reached the end of my three-part series on Macon’s places of worship, and I hardly even feel that I’ve skimmed the surface. Everyday I pass a new church I didn’t attend or think of another denomination that I failed to even consider previously.
I attended the Saturday morning Shabbat service at Congregation Sha’Arey Israel. The service began at 9:30 a.m. which, of course, feels very early on a Saturday. This particular synagogue is egalitarian, dedicated to celebrating Conservative Judaism and Jewish life. I did not immediately understand the meaning of this, and therefore felt a bit lost in the highly ritualistic service.
I had been told that only men were expected to wear kippahs—the rounded hat—so I did not grab one when I entered the synagogue. As congregants gradually began to pour into the synagogue, I began to realize that I was the only person, female or otherwise, whose head was not covered. By the time that I understood that I was supposed to be wearing a kippah, it was too late. I had committed to a naked head, and to try and scurry out my seat, up the aisle and to the basket of kippahs would have been mortifying. So I remained in my seat, uncovered head and all. This issue, perhaps trivial, largely occupied my thoughts for the duration of the service, because all I could think was, “Do I seem brazen? Is this disrespectful? AH!”
The service was simultaneously fascinating and confusing. At the Friday evening Sabbath service I attended at TBI, the prayer books were written in Hebrew with English translations as well as the transliteration of the Hebrew alphabet on the facing pages of the prayers. At Congregation Sha’Arey Israel, the prayer books had very little English. My knowledge of Hebrew is basically nonexistent, so I had minimal comprehension of significant portions of the service.
When the Torah was brought out of the arc (which is a small area in the wall behind the altar that contains the synagogue’s most important scrolls) for the reading, six people gathered around the scroll.
As the Torah was read aloud by one of the congregants (in Hebrew song, of course) the other congregants made certain that every word was pronounced an intonated properly. (When reading the Torah, every word is of utmost importance.)
The selected reading was Genesis 19, the story of Lot. I’ve always struggled with this passage. (The whole “Rape my virgin daughters” bit really rubs me the wrong way.) The rabbi at CSI was the first person who’s explained the story to me in a way that shows Lot in a light that is even mildly favorable. She brought up other verses from the Torah in which characters negotiate by first suggesting something absurd, such as offering offspring up for rape, with the expectation that the offer will be refused. She suggested that culturally, negotiation was key, and that was how it was properly done.
The rabbi who conducted the service was named Pam. Pam travels to CSI monthly. The resident rabbi is Rachel Bat-Or.
After the service (which lasted three hours and was largely in Hebrew), there was a delightful brunch.
I believe that if I knew Hebrew, I would prefer Congregation Sha’Arey Israel for its reliance on ritual. As I am new to Jewish traditions, I think that Reformed Judaism is more appropriate for me than Conservative Judaism.
On Sunday, I trekked to North Macon to attend Emmanuel, a non-denominational, evangelical, Spirit-led church.

I missed the first 10 minutes of the 10 a.m. service, which apparently were meet-and-greet minutes. Upon entering, I immediately noticed that I was one of the few people who were not wearing jeans. Beyond this, many of the congregants were young and hip.
The church’s exterior was monolithic and featureless, aside from a slightly raised cross above the entrance. Inside the worship hall was a stage with incredible lighting. A single barren cross draped with fabric was on the stage, along with a band of four members. (The drummer was beating on the electronic set that I drooled over a few years ago, and the lead guitarist could shred!)
The service was largely centered on the contemporary Christian rock music that the Emmanuel band played.
There were no Bibles or hymnals provided by the church. Nor were there stained glass windows or religious art.
The worship leader, who was also the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of the band, conducted the service. (Although I understand that usually a pastor conducts the sermon.) He read a passage from 1 Thessalonians about the importance of praise and worship. The passage was projected onto the walls for those of us who failed to bring Bibles. A video was played asking, “How often do you sit in the thanksgiving chair?”
While Emmanuel offered a new take on religion to me, I feel that it is not the right fit for me. I feel that Jesus isn’t meant to be cool and that church isn’t for fun. To me, religion requires humbling oneself, and ritual helps to achieve a proper worshipful state. Evangelism provides an outlet for the ecstasy of the Holy Spirit, but I need a place of worship that focuses on the gravity of religion. Emmanuel is great for celebrating and rejoicing, but  for me it’s too lax an experience.
Thus concludes my publicized spiritual wanderings. I have discovered a great deal about my religious needs and preferences over the past few weeks, and although the Episcopal Church and Reformed Judaism are most appealing to me, I intend to continue with the search.
I hope to have inspired my readers to test their faiths, to experiment religiously, to become religious vagabonds.