Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday Morning Worship, April 19

As a female pastor, I'm still an object of curiosity to Adriana and Rocio, both raised Roman Catholic and educated in RC schools in Colombia.  During lunch yesterday, we had some conversation about their spiritual lives and their willingness to abide by certain Roman Catholic doctrines, particularly the ban against any kinds of artificial birth control.  Essentially, they were told by the nuns who taught them to ignore that requirement, which they have both quite firmly done.  We also talked about the differences between Methodist (in England), United Methodist (in the USA), Anglican (state sponsored religion here) and Roman Catholicism.  I was talking with them about the serious decline of the Methodist church here and they both surprised me by saying that the Catholic and Anglican churches in this part of London are bursting at the seams with families and children.

Here's why:  The RC and Anglican churches have started very, very good schools, and the only children who are permitted to register MUST have parents who attend church so regularly that the priest is able to recognize them and know their names.  So, if a parent wants his/her child in the best schools around (and I'm guessing the tuition is pretty reasonable), they'd better get up on Sunday morning and attend church.

I had at first asked Jonathan if he would consider taking me to London today so I could go to St. Paul's Cathedral for worship, but changed my mind--it would be a pretty exhausting trip and it meant not having the time with the children.  I then asked him if there is a Methodist Chapel nearby where I could go.  He found one, and then said, "Mom, stop being a Methodist for the day and go to the Catholic church with us."  This led to a discussion about whether or not I could participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion there.  Church law forbids it:  first, I've not been baptized RC; second, should I choose to convert I am divorced and the first marriage not annulled.  This, according to church law, makes me forever unable to communicate there.  Now, Rocio and Adriana both insisted it was up to me, if I felt in my heart that it was right that I should do so.  I'm also aware that open communion was practiced at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris where Jonathan and I attended worship last year.  But I do know church law . . .

Anyway, after a good night's sleep, we got everyone dressed and in the car and headed to the Roman Catholic church.  As we got near, I began to see what they meant by children:  multiple families with little children were making their way to the service.  As in lots and lots of babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, and elementary aged children.  Few teens, naturally.

We walked in and were handed a hymnbook, a book of liturgy, and various pieces of paper with announcements, schedules, and a sketchy order of worship.  Very sketchy.

Because we got there just before worship began, I didn't have time to get my bearings with all this paper and books, and never was able to get caught up.  

The sanctuary area was high ceilinged, with stone floors, wooden benches, padded kneeling rails, an inadequate sound system and bouncy acoustics.  Bouncy, as in, every time a child cried or fussed or whispered or was shushed, the sound went all over the place.  At the beginning of the service, children and parents were encouraged to come to toward the altar and then went to Sunday School until the Eucharist began.  Jonathan and Adriana took Samuel and Joshua and I was left to try to figure out what I was supposed to do at any given moment.  While much of the liturgy is quite familiar, the need to jump from a printed page to a liturgy book to a hymn book and back again was so confusing that I really did give up after a while and just enjoyed the flow of worship and tried to do what the others were doing.  

The prayers and homily were essentially impossible to hear.  Even though a lot of the children went out, many others stayed and their voices were constant.  Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed it and had a sense of the presence of God in the midst of the chaos.

These children will all be going to this church school.  In school, they will learn their academic subjects and they will also learn the liturgy and the meaning of worship and why the priest does this or the acolytes do that or the responses are such and such.  They will learn their Bible stories and even if they can't hear the priest, they will have some sense of the reading because they will have been taught these things day in and day out.  They will know why they kneel for certain parts and stand for other parts of worship.  They will understand why the children who are not yet confirmed get a blessing rather than the Host when coming forward to receive during the Eucharist.  Sunday morning will be a routine, essential part of their lives that will fit seamlessly into their academic lives.

It's a brilliant move on the part of the RC and Anglican churches here.  They know that we must, we must, we simply must reach the children if there is to be hope for the words and grace of Jesus to yet permeate the world.  And this nation needs it--its culture is in serious trouble and is collapsing under the weight of immorality and ignorance.  The church may yet triumph here. Yes, I know that many of these will leave the church as teens--but they will have the foundation laid for them and they will return and they will know that God is, and that God is good, and that salvation is ours as a gift from God--and that we must cooperate in the process of salvation.

Now, considering how confused I was, and considering that I didn't get greeted, nor did anyone seem to know that I was a visitor, and no one gave me a brochure, or will be calling me later because there was no visitor info card to fill out, would I go back if I lived here?  Yes. First, I'm well educated, understand the liturgy and could figure it out by next week.  But that is a unique situation.  Second, because I do enjoy the sounds of children in worship--I find those voices to be the voice of God calling us to mission and future.  Third, even though I did in the end choose not to communicate, I sat in awe and an awareness of the mystery of salvation in God during the Eucharist.  

But were I not already churched, were I unaware of the power of the mystery because I had no background, and no explanation was given, were it necessary for me to feel that I was welcomed and affirmed when I came, had I needed an entertaining, smooth, professionally led service then I would not come back.  And that is where most adults are now--no background, no understanding of the mystery of God, a strong need to be entertained and a sense of entitlement and expectation of someone knowing their name and "making them feel welcome" and lots of follow up and multiple invitations to show up so that perhaps they'll put some money in the offering plate and help pay the bills . . . then I would not come back.

Personally, I wish that every single person who thinks that just anyone can come into a worship service and find it a welcoming, understandable and friendly place would take a few Sundays and attend worship at someplace radically different from their knowledge, upbringing and culture.  It could be quite an eye-opener.



Angie Hammond said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angie Hammond said...

Ok you can tell it is early Monday morning here. Had to delete prior comment because I couldn't spell and it didn't have complete sentences. I've corrected as much as my brain would permit this early and will now post the original comment again with corrections.

How sad that while you felt God in that place of worship that you also felt that you could not take Holy Communion with them because of church law. Just seems so wrong to me after having worshipped and celebrated communion with you many times. But I also understand that while you might not agree with the law, that would also honor it in that place. Now I think I can understand a bit better why you are where you are and are doing what you do as a female pastor.
Thanks for reminding me where I came from and what is really important these days when it comes to worship and God. You put a whole new twist on community. Hope that is what you intended.