Monday, August 13, 2007
Ramblings on worship, denominations and such, part 2
I noted below that I've served as a pastor for 13 of the 17 years I've been ordained. The off years have given me a chance to visit lots of churches and worship in many traditions. One year my then-hubby and I took time to do volunteer mission work -- including a couple of months with homeless families in rural Maryland, 3 weeks with homeless cows in Russia, and the rest of the year as house-parents for ex-offenders. Lots of worship opportunities over that year -- gorgeous Orthodox singing in candlelit churches with floor to ceiling icons, old ladies prostrating themselves repeatedly in prayer all around us; twelve-step meetings; outdoor services with homeless children and various dogs and cats wandering in and out of the circle; and months of masses at the progressive urban Catholic parish where then-hubby was then-worshiping.
This latter church was the sponsor of the ex-offender ministry where we were living, so we chaffeured the guys back and forth to masses whenever they wanted and every Sunday. When I first started worshiping there, the iconoclast in me refused to genuflect or cross myself or say what I felt was a horrible line in the mass: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." Somehow, it struck me as that wormish theology aimed at keeping the masses bowed down low beneath the Pope and other Truly Holy People.
Over time, I came to love that line most of all: "only say the word and I shall be healed." I loved that we said it circled around the table, squeezed onto the altar, singing together, hugging our way through the peace, looking around at faces as diverse as one might hope for in the kin-dom of God. Old, young, many-colored, gay, straight, homeless, known criminals, local politicians, affluent business owners, questioning youth. None of us worthy. All of us worthy. All of us standing in the need of healing and hope, holding out our hands for the body and blood. I also found myself loving that my body was invited into worship: I genuflected, I knelt, I crossed myself repeatedly, I raised my hands for the Lord's prayer. Sometimes I have to stop myself from doing those things now in places where they would be suspect.
[Later, that whole congregation got ex-communicated. After years of slaps on the wrist from the loving and liberal bishop-- for the women who served on the altar, for the glbt ministries, for the open ecumenism--it finally came down from on high that they needed to shape up. The issue that finally did them in? Open communion. They had the gaul to serve the precious body and blood of Jesus to (gasp!) non-Catholics. (In fact, as an ordained woman, I co-officiated at the mass at that church.) Who was the one to finally call it quits on the church? None other than our beloved Benny, back when he was still the Ratz. But I digress ... ]
My roots among the Presbyterians are deep. I love my church. I love that my own Dad laid hands on me to ordain me to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the very church where I had been baptized and confirmed and where I had listened to him preach about 2000 sermons. I loved going to the World Mission Conference as a child and later the Youth Conference and the Youth Triennium and our General Assembly as a Youth Delegate and then as General Assembly staff and later still as a seminary assistant to the Stated Clerk. I loved knowing our missionaries from around the world and visiting my own brother doing mission work in Haiti when I was a teen. I love my church.
And, given a Sunday not leading worship, I never attend a Presbyterian church. Really. One of the other years I wasn't serving a church, I was working on Presbytery staff (that's like a Diocese, for the uninitiated). Some weeks I preached at our regional churches and other weeks, I felt obligated to visit various of them. That lasted about 3 months. Then I couldn't take it any more. "The church isn't dying of liberalism or conservatism!" I would whine loudly to anyone who would listen, "The church is dying of boredom!"
Honestly, Presbyterians can be dull as dirt. I hate to say it, but it is true. And let me say this as clearly as I can: there is no greater sin than to take the Gospel of our Lord and Savior and make it BORING! I mean, really, how does one accomplish that? Jesus in not boring! Grace is not boring! The eucharist is not boring! People, please!
So I found an Episcopal church and hung out there for the rest of that year. Then I went back to a preaching gig.
Two and a half years ago I left my last called position. I needed a break. I needed to re-group. I wondered what else might be in store for me. I thought I could figure all that out in 6 months to a year. Still wondering. In the meantime, I have done lots of supply preaching, some church consulting, and non-church work of various sorts. Still, unless I'm working there, I don't go Presbyterian. My first Sunday off after leaving my last church was World Communion Sunday. I knew I wanted to be among the Presbyterians for that one. So I went to a friend's church. He's a great preacher. And everyone leading the service was old and white, as was all the music. On World Communion Sunday. In one of the most diverse cities on the planet. Heaven help us.
So my general rule on non-working Sundays was either Quakers, where at least I'll get some silence and I won't have to endure a boring sermon or Episcopalians, where at least I'll get the liturgy and the eucharist, even if the sermon is boring. For more than a year in DC this is what I did: the Quaker meeting where my hub and son attended or the neighborhood Episcopal church, generally alternating between the two.
Then I moved and needed to establish myself and my family in a congregation of my very own choosing. To be continued ...