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.