It seemed bizarre.
My normal Sunday morning route takes me eastward from Hampstead into the Upperco area of Baltimore County to ForestBaptist Church, where I've worshiped all my life. And here I was, headed in the opposite direction.
I hadn't backslid or lost the faith. Why then the about-face?
The fact is, I was caught up in a pulpit exchange between my pastor, Will Kopp, and Larry Steen, pastor of Westminster Baptist Church.
They didn't literally swap podiums. The whole scenario might be better termed a "preacher switch." Steen preached at Forest Baptist, and Kopp exhorted those attending at Westminster.
The reason I went to Westminster is not that I'm averse to hearing a different evangelist.Part of the plan also included a choir exchange. Since I'm choir accompanist and organist, it fell to my lot to play the instruments for the Westminster service.
A little practice helped me get a feel for the pedals, stops and sound of their Baldwin organ.
My cohort, Carol Haaversen, our assistant choir director, played the piano with me on the congregational hymns. I'm glad I didn't find out until afterward that Dean Therit has been the organist there for 23 years.
Even after eons on the bench as a volunteer keyboardist at Forest, let me tell you that an invitation to play elsewhere -- especially on Sunday morning -- catapults one out of the proverbial rut.
Our choir members felt the same way. We'd done hymn sings and other special programs, but this was something more.
Arriving early, our 12-member group rehearsed in the new setting and then sang "Love Grows Here" and "Don't Go Away Without Jesus" for the approximately 150 people gathered in the sanctuary.
Deacons Greg Miller and Jim Reger and YouthMinister Troy Goode conducted the service.
"I thought it was great -- a good change," said Lois Stevens, Forest Baptist's volunteer choir director since 1981. "All of our choir members were there. Will preached a fantastic sermon."
"I really enjoyed it," said Jan Turnbaugh, a Forest Baptist choir member. "It gives us a perspective on how another church runs its worship service. It's nice to have others hear you."
Marlene Cole, Westminster's volunteer choir director forsix years, came up with the plan to have the musicians join the pastors.
"It's a good experience to get out and share music, preaching, and fellowship," she said.
Cole said it gave her a chance to observe the congregation and to see the expressions on faces as the hymns are sung.
"I often do this during our worship," she said.
Westminster took 18 of its 28 singers -- the flu had captured a few. They presented "Instruments of Righteousness" and "One Day at a Time" tothe 80 listeners at Forest Baptist. Deacon Bill Mock presided over preliminaries.
Deb Lilley, secretary at Westminster Baptist Church and a choir member since 1987, said she enjoyed the program, along with her husband and children.
Westminster organist Therit said, "It's good to meet people of the same faith and get into a different church environment."
What were the viewpoints from behind the switched pulpits?
"It's good for our congregation to be exposed to different speakers," said Kopp, who has been pastor at the 148 year-old stone church for two years. "I have great respect for Larry Steen." At his former church in Virginia, two Baptist, two Methodist and a Quakerchurch had regular exchanges or joint meetings during Holy Week.
Steen, shepherd at Westminster Baptist since 1983, said, "It was a neat experience. I enjoyed coming to Forest. I'd like to do it again, maybe on a Sunday night. I heard good comments from our members about the Forest Choir and Will Kopp."
Perhaps the best comment of all came from Forest Baptist members Keith and Kay Zimmerman, who said, "The Westminster Choir was totally different from ours, and we enjoyed it. But we missed and appreciate our musicians and pastor."
That'swhat fellowship is all about -- love and encouragement in the Lord.