Saturday, November 12, 2016

I follow a number of Facebook pages from churches, some near and some far. Not only because they remind me to "Fall Back" or "Spring Ahead" (especially "Spring Ahead") a couple of times a year so I don't miss church the next day. 'Though that is helpful.

Rather, I follow them because I am interested in how they go about differentiating themselves from other churches and attracting new members. It's an unenviable endeavor; they are eternally hopeful folks.

One of my friends during high school has been away from the church of her youth so long she probably doesn't even consciously remember it. She still lives in roughly the same area we grew up. Like most areas, churches there have been merged or closed. Decades ago, my friend joined up with a church that meets in a former movie theater. I visited the church with her on a couple of occasions, most recently last month.

Her pastor announced their acquisition of a former Catholic church nearby. The first service is tomorrow.

I find this interesting. Remember, I'm fascinated at how churches differentiate themselves and attract new members. The pastor's intention is to retain the original name and offer communion every Sunday. In the video he gestures in the sign of the cross, maybe without even realizing it:

It's just my suspicion that the church is trying to satisfy former Catholics who have a yearning for the aesthetics of Catholicism without church discipline or to attract current Catholics who can't be bothered traveling across town. Those who mistake this for that and conclude, "This is close enough."

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Earlier this year, April 1, in fact, I went to see a showing of the then popular movie, "God's Not Dead." at a local Presbyterian church. I didn't want to pay actual money to see the movie; this was a free showing. When I arrived, I could tell immediately that the event had been called off without my knowing.

Before leaving, I encountered two women on the church grounds discussing something. I had with me a donation towards the church's new hymnals. I recognized one of them and gave her the envelope. A week prior, that is, on the afternoon of Good Friday, a day I like to spend some quiet time away, the church was open to the public and in the pews there was information about the church's intention to purchase new hymnals and envelopes for it. I checked online at Amazon and they cost $50 (the price has since been reduced). I decided to dedicate a hymnal to the memory of a Reformed friend who died several years ago, so I set aside an amount commensurate with that. I had been following the discussion of the book's production, as well, in terms of which hymns would be included. I gave the money, left and promptly forgot about it altogether.

Fast forward to early September and I am struck with the idea to join a church choir. My daughter has sung in choir for several years. My son sings in school chorus. I have never sung in a church choir before. Only recently, due to piano lessons, have I begun to read some musical notes, the "home row" if you will, of the G clef. So I showed up at rehearsal one evening and found it somewhat bewildering. The choir director is excellent, which I already knew. Having never sung anything but melody, I stood next to an experienced alto to follow the part. I was getting up to speed on the pieces but then, almost immediately, I began to have scheduling conflicts that kept me from rehearsal. Somehow I hadn't even realized the weekly Sunday morning obligation! I questioned myself on whether I'd thought this commitment through sufficiently. Then rehearsal dates shifted around to accommodate the director's observance of the high holy days in October and my attendance at rehearsal became more consistent. More than that, others were unable to attend so I felt less bewildered with fewer participants and parts. I continued to get the hang of it.

The first Sunday that my schedule allowed me to attend coincided with the dedication of the new hymnals. I checked the several that were in pews around me for the dedication I'd made without finding it. The woman who seemed to be in charge of it asked me to write out again my dedication. I had the fleeting thought that nothing was made out because my name was unfamiliar or personally unknown. She presented me with the hymnal at the following rehearsal.

The only part of the service that touched me was the petitions. The pastor introduced this portion of the service by mentioning that we can approach God with boldness but then as he began to pray the congregation's intentions, his entire countenance changed to humility and intimacy. Not in a childish way but nothing like I think of "boldness." And I thought that perhaps we misunderstand what boldness is, especially boldness towards God. Now, maybe it was an act, maybe it was simply a habit of his. The authenticity almost doesn't matter because it starts from an intention, whether or not we can pull it off.

And my schedule allowed me to attend on the so-called Reformation Sunday, around October 31st. There was a bagpiper and we processed to the adjacent cemetery to the tune of "Amazing Grace" and recalled relatives buried there. For a nearly 300 year old church, it's not a large cemetery.

Monday, March 14, 2016

On the car ride to school this morning, my high schooler described a current meme about everyone's grave being the same size.

Something like this:

And he said that people are countering this idea with pictures of pyramids and such.

"Well, of course," I said.

"I grew up next to a cemetery and we could tell from the size of the stones who had money. Ecclesiastes conveys this idea better when it says that both the wise and the fool end up in the same condition."

"But, that's not true," my son protested. "The fool goes to hell."

"The afterlife doesn't factor into the book's theology at all."

"Well, then, Ecclesiastes shouldn't be in the Bible!"

So, we didn't even get into the biblical truth behind the "I'm spending my children's inheritance" bumper sticker! Eccl. 2:18-19

Eccl. 2:16

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The 30 weeks of Bible Study Fellowship ended at the beginning of May with a participant inviting others to join her in a summer study of Joshua. So later that day, I called the phone number she gave and heard back a week later that things would begin the following week. And that Joshua was too long a study, so we'd spend nine weeks on the fruit of the Spirit. When she called, I had been going through my phone's list of recent outgoing calls and wondering when I'd hear from her! I was just about to add her number to my contact list when she, in fact, called me.

But, to begin next week? So soon? With the kids still in school, the sooner, the better as I'm still driving over there everyday. And who knows what the summer will bring.

I arrived at the appointed time, but the usual way in was locked. I entered by the office and my anxious face tipped off the staff that I needed direction. She pointed me down the hall with barely a word. And I joined three other ladies in a small room.

There were introductions but the other three had met last summer. Two were old friends anyway. As usually happens. Not knowing what to expect, I brought only a pen and notepad. The leader seemed somewhat annoyed, left the room and returned with an NIV. She asked whether that was an alright translation for me, that there were also NKJVs available, and I said, "Whatever everyone else uses is fine with me." Then she curtly ordered me to bring my own Bible next time. Since I'm in the habit of borrowing their pew Bibles, I probably won't bring my own.

The leader admitted that the booklets for the study had not arrived yet. She said she ordered three booklets, so I asked whether I should order one for myself. She said that since she ordered them through a local Christian bookstore (near Mater Dei High School), the shop owner got about 15 booklets, to keep the rest in his store. She figured he could spare another one. I paid her $9 in advance for the booklet.

As a sample, she brought a book on "Decisions," also published by LifeWay, to give us a sense of how the study will proceed. She managed to flip through the entire book during our brief time together. Then, she assigned us each a Scripture passage to look up and then we went around the table rattling each off. I had Romans 7:4 --
So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.
Prayer requests were exclusively for unsaved family members, especially their adult children.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Saturday morning, my husband texted me that our credit card was no good and would be replaced on Monday. A full tank of gas and an unusual amount of cash on hand enabled me to check undue concern. As soon as I got home, I set the card aside so I wouldn't use it by mistake.

We didn't talk in detail about the cause beyond acknowledging fraudulent use online. The compromised card was itself fairly new, just recently switched from MasterCard to Visa, as so many other cardholders have. But after the many highly publicized breaches of security at well-known retailers had occurred. We could not guess how this happened.

Sunday morning, the intercessory prayer at church was for "victims of greed and violence," and I thought to myself, "Well, that's us." I'm not accustomed to intercessions at church applying to me. They're intended for others. But I took it this time.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Sunday Snippets

The first of the Lenten ecumenical services was this week during the noon hour.

I had to leave halfway through a Bible Study Fellowship seminar on "quiet time" in order to attend. It was a frustrating drive from Lincroft to Freehold because I got stuck behind a student driver whose only aggressive move was pulling out of the community college lot directly in front of me. After that, she didn't exceed 35 mph and I was trapped until Route 18 where Route 537 goes to double lanes.

Then a road crew was filling potholes at the end of Kozlowski Road and I made my own detour because none was posted. Between following the cars ahead and using my GPS, I got around the closure without losing too much time. Because, you know, I timed it down to the minute. And I am eager to let road crews fill potholes. Naturally, for all my efforts, the program began fifteen minutes late. Which messed up my afternoon's schedule.

While waiting, I checked Facebook:

And I'm like, "How funny, this is my view, too!"

The arrangement was luncheon before and after the service but I wasn't sure so I'd already eaten. As the pre-service lunch folks wandered out into the sanctuary, I looked them over good. Hoping to spot the non-Catholics. Expecting to see deformities: big ears, club foot, crossed eyes, withered hand. But, nope, nothing out of the ordinary. These were just regular people. I found myself smiling and greeting the women in Roman collars. I decided that if Episcopalians and Catholics can't get along, we're in trouble. The church website is more clear than it was over the summer announcing his arrival and installation: "he is married to the Rev. T. James Hargrove, also an Episcopal priest and hospice chaplain." He is an excellent preacher. And, you know, I prefer black vestments for Lent to purple. The black looked good.

The complete lyrics of the few hymns we sang were displayed on the screens. Many people didn't understand that Catholics only ever sing a couple of verses because our hymns are filler. Singing covers the procession, recession, collection and communion. When those activities are over, singing halts. How awkward if those things took place in silence!

I ran into some old friends and, when it was over, they invited me to the post-service lunch. I went for conversation and a drink. On the way, I spotted two old ladies trying to find their way to the lunch hall. They tried the first door of the many lining the back of the church - it was the confessional, clearly marked. I motioned for them to follow us out.

So I'm looking forward to next Wednesday's ecumenical service at my friend's Pentecostal church.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sunday Snippets

Ok, this is embarrassing. I spent a couple of hours Friday in the public library's "quiet zone" to catch up on my Bible study homework. I was reading the commentary for this particular chapter in 2 Corinthians. I honestly can't tell you which chapter but it almost doesn't matter. Because the commentary was talking about Satan in general at this juncture and had cited another Scripture to illustrate Satan's role as accuser:

So I happen to be studying Numbers in another Bible study, a topical one on the Life of Moses. And I'm like, "When was Joshua of conquest fame high priest?" Well, he wasn't, of course. Son of Nun, notwithstanding.

Frankly, this exposes the fact that I've never read the Book of Joshua. But it's not as if I've never tackled the post-exilic prophets. In the summer of 2008, I heard Fr. Boadt lecture a week on them. But he was always more into the historical background and not so much about the text. And I haven't read his book.

But, see, this is what comes, also, from reading Jesus into every Old Testament scripture. I've honestly never taken the time to reflect on the original meaning of Zechariah 3 before inserting Jesus into the role of high priest. And now that I've seen it, I hope I don't forget.