Monday, January 23, 2012

Commitments and schedule fell into place and so I attended the Presbyterian church on Sunday morning. I plan to return to their women's study on Tuesday mornings - Keller's guide to Romans, pray for me! - and wanted to make some personal connections to break the ice. For my sake.

I happened to be running ten minutes late but making a "grand entrance" is less possible now that they've moved into the cathedral. The former sanctuary was stifling, you know. In the larger space, the last five rows are roped off. I squeezed into the last open row, next to Mary. I always seem to plop myself down next to Mary, probably because she sits alone. She remembered me and told me the other Mary had moved to CA which I knew. She told me that she sits in the same spot every Sunday at 10 and she expected to see me every Sunday from now on. I said, "Probably not."

The choir was halfway through its playlist. Above their heads, a screen with lyrics. The background consisted of a rising sun and stars or fireworks coming forward. I was aware that the screen was not static but moved constantly. It conveyed an energy, albeit artificial. I thought to myself, "Right, TV generation: image must always be in motion." Blah.

We were next instructed to greet those around us as the children were dismissed. Everyone was friendly and the pastor's wife even came down from the choir to say hello, not really being sure who I was. The offering was made while the choir performed "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty." The lyrics were neither projected nor printed in the bulletin but I knew some so sang along. No one else sang along. Catholics have changed the word "temple" to "altar" but I'm not sure what the Presbyterians said. I didn't hear "temple," either. Maybe they said "presence?"

Before the sermon, a couple announced their plans to go to missions in the Far East. These plans weren't a great surprise - knowing them, I'd suspected for a few years now. But, still, unsettling for a church which seems to have few pillars. The sermon, drawing from 1 Sam. 3, insisted that God speaks to us all the time. Now, I believe that. I do. I don't have a quibble with that at all. But an aspect of the story of Samuel is that the "word of the LORD was rare in those days." (1 Sam. 3:1) I can accept that, this side of the Cross, things may be different but I suppose someone else could have the opinion that, with the Bible, we have everything we need without God speaking directly into our lives.

The preacher referred to Eli incessantly as a "prophet." Nowhere does the text call Eli a prophet. In fact, he's named a priest repeatedly. That's what he is. Look, he's wearing the breastplate. Another egregious error was making reference to Genesis 51:20. Everyone knows there are only 50 chapters in Genesis. The error was even printed on a slide that was projected overhead.

The sermon ultimately encouraged "good works" which was fine by me. Then we stood up to pray and the choir took that as their cue to assume the stage again. Other adults scattered to their "end of service" places: ladies to the back to distribute free books, ushers to the doors. My prayer was so distracted by the movement of people. And they don't even realize how disruptive they're being! Because, for them, the highlight is the sermon. According to their bulletin, listening to the sermon is an act of worship. I don't understand how but that's what they think. It's a good thing, because there's very little other worship going on. Only two prayers, one before the collection and one after the sermon. And a few hymns sung. It struck me that I can be quite comfortable worshipping with these Protestants because they do very little actual praying. Again, at least by my Catholic definition. It's also occurred to me that, over the past ten years, I probably know as many former church members as present church members. People certainly come and go.
A meeting for parents of first penance and eucharist candidates last week. A full forty-five minutes spent on the former sacrament, the forgotten one. Up front, an assurance that only priests who don't frighten children would be invited to "help out" day of. Does that mean that there are priests who frighten children?!

In a lousy attempt to "relate," shared some Catholic angst, came stories of youthful fear and confusion at confession. And a weird story about a third grade boy admitting in the box to putting his sis's brassiere in the freezer. Father wanted to know whether she was still in it when he did. Most of the mothers told me later they found this story wholly inappropriate. I'm quite sure, if it was even confessed - seal of confession? - it was done as a joke. And either Father is gullible and/or simply relishes the retelling. I wondered what any of this had to do with my child's sacrament preparation.

During Q & A, I asked what sign of reverence the children will be trained in so I can reinforce it. I glanced at the notes being taken by the mother next to me: "Longwinded," she'd scrawled across the top of her tablet. Amen. "Captive audience," thought I.

The following day, a close friend who'd attended confided that she'll switch parishes after first sacraments. She was completely put off. Not the sort of church she'd grown up in.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Religious Bio

Lifelong Catholic who got saved reading C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity third year of undergrad. Split my free time between two different campus ministries, the Catholic Newman Center and the Evangelical Campus Crusade for Christ (now called simply "Cru" because "crusade" is a bad word). Met nice kids in both settings, went on retreats and attended regional conferences and studied the Bible.

Graduated college and took a good job in southern Ohio. Plugged into the local parish, got a church mentor and volunteer-taught religious education. Continued going to daily mass before work and dabbled in the Latin mass experience offered monthly downtown.

Relocated to New Jersey. Continued volunteering at church and attended formation classes, gravitating towards the ones pertaining to the Bible. Completed the certification process for formation and was effectively "done" but still sought to broaden my experience. Got into the inaugural class for Theology MA's and after five years (and two children), earned the degree.

But the kids took me away to a new parish that lacked any lay ministries and I dropped out from volunteering. Now after nine years with a new pastor, opportunities for lay involvement have opened up but I'm not the shoe in for a spot as expected. I thought that, with my education and experience, I could find a niche. I've "sold myself" in informal conversations with the deacon, church secretary and other known members of the inside clique1.

So I wait and read books and try to keep my skills sharp for that opportunity, whatever it is.
1 Honestly, that there is a clique turns my stomach.