I am a student at Baylor University who doesn’t believe in God.
I know, we’re unheard of. When applying, I had no idea Baylor’s Christian foundation was such a huge part of the experience. My Massachusetts high school was “Christian,” and though we celebrated all faiths, had no homework on religious holidays, we were not required to take any religion courses and never talked about the Bible. But it was 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning in Munich, Germany, and my Baylor friends wanted to go to church.
I went to church growing up (Hi Mom, don’t hate me for this) but we were more as my mother calls it “Christmas and Easter Christians.” This meant my little sister and I participated, as sheep, in the annual Christmas pageant the local church held, and our family would be in the pews on Easter morning. We pray over our dinner as a family, say “bless you” when someone sneezes, and overall hold Christian values of being neighborly to everyone. But I never truly understood why we were all singing to a bearded man in the sky and his son and ghost.
I have no problem going to church. My boyfriend’s family is extremely religious, my friends encourage me to go with them, Baylor in general kinda shoves it down my throat … overall, I have no issue with believers. I just never personally connected. I think for me it’s an issue of hypocrisy.
I take pride in my zero-tolerance policy for religious bigotry. I have met too many awful, narrow-minded people who spit hateful words yet claim to be “good” Christians deserving of heaven. I find too often that a person’s character does not at all match up with his actions, a “you are what you preach” sort of deal.
So there I was in Munich, getting ready for another church visit. Without breakfast or, more importantly, coffee, I rode the elevator down to the lobby to meet my friends.
When the average person hears the word “church,” he thinks of a building with a steeple and a bell. Inside, there is a large chapel hall where families (mainly old people) congregate to sing hymns on Sunday morning and maybe, maybe, they won’t fall asleep during the sermon. What I did not know was that we were not going to church, we were going to Hillsong. Under the previous definition, Hillsong is not a church, but a passionate concert.
It doesn’t matter if you believe, don’t believe, identify as Jewish, Catholic, Evangelical, or any form of Jesus-based religion: members of Hillsong welcome you with friendly Christian side-hugs, warm coffee, and maybe an Instagram follow-for-follow arrangement. The greeters aren’t aggressively spiritual or trying to convert the audience, they’re just happy you showed up. Once the crowd settles down and the session begins, a band comes on stage and leads everyone in faith-based songs.
I know what you’re thinking: hymns. But no! Actually, maybe. I’m not super familiar with hymns. But I know the songs are written by the original, Australian-based Hillsong band with a young-adult audience in mind — so the songs are upbeat, easy to follow, and most importantly: moving. As a non-Christian who only went in fear of fomo, I found myself singing along and swaying to the rhythm, an occasional tear welled up in my eye (I swear it was the dust).
Of course, it is “church,” so a preacher will appear and, well, preach. However, I will admit: Hillsong pastors (judging by this singular experience) spread their message through hilarious, relatable, personal stories that connect somehow to a passage in the Bible. This guy announced that he was from Boston, so automatically he earned points in my book.
As he continued his address, I found myself laughing, crying, empathizing and personally identifying with the preacher. Once his lesson was over, the audience stood and belted out more songs.
I was touched. Inspired. Wholeheartedly affected by my Hillsong experience. My faith in good morals, overall kindness, the “practice what you preach” type of humanity, restored in my mind. I had met people from all over the world who were truly loving and good to others, regardless of sex, ethnicity, country or faith.
Though my stance on Christianity and God still stands where it is, Hillsong is the type of church I would sign up with. A community of passionate people who congregate to share in their love of people and all things in the name of the Lord. This type of gathering, where all are accepted and greeted with love and kindness, that’s church for a non-believer.