Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Neither of my regular Bible studies were meeting today so I stopped by the Presbyterian church in town for their mid-morning study with the pastor. I had been reminded of it on Sunday morning when I attended their worship in anticipation of the evening ecumenical prayer service. I'm quite sure I did exactly the same trifecta last year at this time.

It's a comfortable group, only one person I didn't recognize from last time. The first 30 minutes was spent in chit-chat and housekeeping, especially transferring the money collected at the ecumenical prayer service to the one who would purchase the food cards.

Catholics and Catholicism came up rather frequently and without warning. One lady noted that she's heard the Catholics are changing their "form," by which I think she meant liturgy. Another lady talked about gender issues and the suppression of women in Christianity beginning, she supposed, with the Catholic church in the Middle Ages.
There were books kept out of the Bible about women, like Judith. Of course, God told them which books to put in the Bible.
That's what she said.

The pastor showed me a picture of his grandson and I told him he was lucky to have such a cute grandson. He echoed back that he's lucky but it seemed to stick in his craw. I could have as easily said "blessed" but that seems so trite among Christians. I wanted what I said to effect him.

There were some other housekeeping issues discussed, enough to cure me of any desire to know the inner workings of my own parish, thank you very much.

The one lady, Suzie - so says her license plate - is the former Catholic who came in like a ball of fire to tell about a funny video by Sr. Mary Pat.1 I resisted the temptation to correct her when she fumbled for the routine's proper title, referring to it as "Night Sunday School" and "Nighttime Catholicism." I didn't want to appear to be too familiar with the program. She had, apparently, emailed the video's link to the pastor and some other people in the Bible study. She explained it to me and others who didn't have email. She wondered aloud whether she should forward the link to my pastor, Fr. Mike, but her pastor said he's probably already seen it.
Not that he wouldn't appreciate it.
She seemed to be still a little high from the ecumenical prayer service in which there were so many Catholics "in da' house."

We got to Genesis eventually and the reverend allowed me to read verses 26 and 27. I had the proper version with me this time, the NRSV. He distributed the entry for Genesis in the "Oxford Guide to the Bible," except they called it the Oxford Companion. I almost acknowledged having that book at home but wasn't real sure about it. Turns out, I do have it.

We talked about the first person plural, "our," and what it means to be made in God's image. We went on to chapter 2 and talked about dietary issues. The grown children of several of the participants were vegetarians, looking ahead to another meatless Thanksgiving. We talked about the significance of the sabbath rest and the pastor said that his professional journals encourage him to pick another day during the week for rest. They remembered how blue laws used to be when they were younger: Sunday was a day at home without options. They talked about how chains were drawn across the roads leading to the Methodist town of Ocean Grove. One couldn't drive in Ocean Grove on Sunday. Asbury Park was also mentioned and the pastor noted that "Asbury" is a well-known Methodist name - Asbury Theological Seminary - so he supposed the Methodists had also founded that town. I should have been the one to think of that connection! Cokesbury I would have got!

The pastor read a footnote from the book he had shared with us that he's enjoying at the moment about how when polled people overstate how often they attend church on Sunday. Even though they report about 30% attendance, actual attendance is about half that. Someone worked the numbers out for the town - about 8,000 inhabitants and they draw a weekly Sunday attenance of 70 people. So, the question was raised whether most town folks were going to St. Joseph's on Sunday? What's their weekend turnout like? I said nothing.

However, when the pastor speculated that Fr. MIke offered five weekend masses, I told him three. When he said 6500 families, I said 4,000. When they asked how many actually show up on Sunday, I gestured towards the reference book and said, "A quarter." And I kicked myself all the way to the car for taking the bait. They're designed to sniff people out. It's what they do. As if my name doesn't give it away. Just as well, I don't foresee any occasion to go back.

1 It seems to be Maripat, one word. Part of the humor, I suppose.

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