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 ...

18 comments:

pj said...

This is very interesting stuff. I so enjoyed the paragraph about your father's church and your very, very PK youth. :)

Benny the Ratz! He is the Dick Cheney of Christianity, I think.

For the record, I have never attended a Conservative or Reform synagogue without getting bored. Is it just being overly familiar with things, perhaps?

It's great that you can bounce around, don't you think? Anyway, please continue!

lj said...

Oh, yeah, baby, I'm steeped in it, I tell you, steeped!

Diane said...

I wish I could 'bounce around' a little. And what you said about Presbyterians? sometimes being boring? I think that about Lutherans too, sometimes. It shouldn't be true. God's grace isn't boring.

These are great conversations...
looking forward to continuing...

mompriest said...

Oh, and I kinda hate to say this, but we Episcopalians can be real boring too, frozen boring...I mean, we do at least have the liturgy and Eucharist, but even that can become automatic. It is the challenge of my ministry - how to keep worship interesting, engaging, thought provoking and thoughtful...and the sermons too...

at least I have a bishop that let the clergy pursue liturgy with a passion....

sigh...

looking forward to more of your story...and love how and where you were ordained, that is really special.

Grandmère Mimi said...

"Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed."

LJ, I love that prayer. I miss it from my days as a Roman Catholic, and I often say it silently to myself before communion. I also love the prayer from the old rite for the Eucharist from the Book of Common Prayer that goes like this:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us. Amen.

Some Episcopalians don't like that one either, but the way I see for both prayers is that it is honor due from creature to Creator, always keeping in mind that our Creator loves us infinitely.

Since we seldom use Eucharistic Prayer I, I sometimes read the prayer before communion.

Ed said...

I'm interested to see where you will go with this! Let's face it, the Reformed Tradition doesn't give you a lot to work with in terms of engaging worship. At my place, some of the things we do are: take the liturgical year seriously; maintain a basically liturgical format (based on the BCW) which we fill out with liturgical materials created by a team of our own writers; embrace our multicultural identity (which opens all kinds of possibilities for music in particular); adapt liturgical practices that are appropriate to our context (some recent ones include a Palm Sunday procession of the entire congregation and sprinking of the congregation for renewal of baptism); and creating our own rituals. And of course trying to do all of this with some degree of integrity and executing it well enough that it is involving and not just distracting or weird. Yak, yak, yak. One of my hobby horses... Keep writing, I'm looking forward to more!

Wormwood's Doxy said...

LJ--I have been blessed to be a part of parishes where the liturgy is lovely and the sermons are usually pretty good too!

We need to get together sometime. I am occasionally on your side of the state---I have family over that way.

lj said...

Doxy, I'd love to get together! I also have a close friend in W-S, about 1/2 way between or if you want to make a night of it, I just bought 2 tix to John Oliver (of the Daily Show) in Greensboro in October at my alma mater, Guilford.

eileen said...

LJ - Awesome essay.

Like Mimi, that line for me was the crux of attending Mass when I was a practicing RC. Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

We are all sinners - God knows this, and he loves us anyway. He'll forgive us if we asked.

I can't tell you how many tears I shed over those words, and the power I always felt in them only say the word, and I shall be healed.

This prayer is why I never felt a need to go to confession, btw. I always felt God knew which sins I was truly sorry for, WHEN I was truly sorry for them, and in the RC mass, you ask for forgiveness 3 times before Communion.

My parents totally discouraged denomination hopping (which makes sense, as I was RC - my mother always felt it would be "confusing" to me).

I'd like to experience a Quaker service. I can get Presby (we have a HUGE Preby congregation right down the road from me) or Lutheran. I've been to some Methodist services. But right now, I'm so in love with my little Piskie church, I don't feel the need to wander off. We have old people, traditional hymns (which I am so unfamiliar with as a new Piskie) and old white people trying to sing some African American Spirituals from time to time, which is HYSTERICAL. We have good liturgy, and mostly pretty good sermons. And two women priests and a woman deacon. Great for me - but I think we have some men on staff who'd like us to gain at least a male deacon.

Excellent thoughts, LJ. thanks for sharing them...

eileen said...

Also, I'm wishing I could visit with you and Doxy in person.

NJ is kinda far from NC though...LOL

Diane said...

me, too, but I'm far away...

pj said...

By the way LJ, thank you for your recent comment at Eileen's blog. (Am I allowed to thank you for that?) Anyway, I'm mulling over "be still and know that I am God" right now.

lj said...

PJ, are there rules about these things? I forgot to read the rule-book, I guess. Anyway, you're welcome. That's from a Psalm (46:10) so it should fit very well with Jufiscopalian theology.

Eileen and Diane, I do have fantasies about a big blogger party with all my favorite bloggers.

(But then I wonder -- maybe we wouldn't like each other as much in person? And maybe we should just leave the magic of these virtual relationships as they are ... but I'm willing to test that theory if any of you have a hankering to visit the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains!)

Wormwood's Doxy said...

LJ---e-mail the addy on my blog and I'll send you my phone number. I'd LOVE to get together!

FTR, I've met lots of my Invisible Friends over the years (I've been part of virtual communities since 1999), and people are almost always pretty much like they are online.

Eileen--I was just up in Delaware, and I might make it to NJ and NYC sometime this year. It's not out of reach. :-)

Diane said...

1. I'd like to experience a Quaker service too.
2. I'd love to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains.
3. I am a little nervous that all our "virtual" relationships wouldn't translate to reality well. You never know.
4. But I'm also curious.

pj said...

One of these years it would be fun to meet up in NYC.

Of course it would also be extremely convenient for me. ;)

But I'm willing to travel!

more cows than people said...

just catching up on your blog. great. great. great stuff. sorry i got so far behind.

i had a similar evolution on that line in the catholic mass too. and i'm presby to the core. like you, too.

but... i do visit other presby churches from time to time, when i'm actually out of the pulpit. twill be interesting to see what we do when i go back to school.

eileen said...

Cool Doxy....it would be neat to meet up!

And NYC is definitely not out of the realm for me either - or Philly for that matter. I'm sort of centrally located.

I just drove through Delaware yesterday...got to to get from MD to NJ.