I'm reminded of a story Tim Downs told at a Christmas conference, when he was witnessing to someone. As he talked, his mark nodded and smiled with a knowing smile that irritated him. So he baited him, "Look, I've given my entire life to serving God, so if you know something that renders it all false, you owe it to me to tell me." And he said it was a simple apologetic question. I would imagine her objection has something to do with the eucharist. Maybe she'll get around to it someday. But all her attitude at the improprieties of atheists towards Christians, she's got to understand, could be used against her, as well.
I went from there to stations. Boy scouts were saying them. Even now, we continue to get people who are out for "the first time." It's obvious because they don't know the gestures or the exposition/benediction component that's been added "around."
Saturday was a pickle because the weather broke, so Tim's little league team scheduled practice. Consequently, Jeff couldn't take them all to tennis so I could attend my thing. So I took them to tennis and tried to work out scenarios in which I could sneak away and "sign in" to my thing, get the materials, double back and return at my leisure. But the driving distances were too great, and the time was too short. I ended up watching the last 30 minutes of Tim's practice (and he did well) and took them out for milkshakes. It was after 1 before I started over towards Lincroft.
I entered by the gym which had served as the lunch room and exhibitors' hall. The exhibitors were breaking down their display tables. Probably a good thing to miss the opportunity to browse. I saw about 30 box lunches undistributed and I knew one was mine. But how long had they been out? I could pass.
The first person I saw when I entered was the bishop but he doesn't know me personally - although I bet he could presume I am his - and he was already in conversation with a man across the table. I probably could have still greeted him but he looked like he was having a moment of rest. Besides, I was a little anxious about salvaging something of "the day."
But, ultimately, I couldn't. I walked up and down the halls - the layout of the high school very slowly came back to me - peering into classrooms or listening for a familiar voice. The only person I recognized was the CRE of my parish: she was talking when I walked by the room. I had brought a book, actually "the good book," so I sat on a bench, actually a pew bench, in the hallway and set down to a lesson on Acts (ch. 9) from Keller's church. Exhibitors and presenters walked by, exiting into the sunny, breezy spring day. I felt self-conscious sitting there but I wasn't about the waste the time. I was, in effect, waiting for the session to end and the CRE to pass. When it did, and she did, I greeted her and explained the conflict the boys' sporting activities had presented to my, uh, punctuality.
Many of her catechists called it a day, at that point, and left. I have to admit, well, it's a long day and I never used to stay for liturgy, either. But I was curious whom I might run into, in the assembly hall, and also eager to experience a final, uh, you know, with you know. The CRE was about the only one who was pleasant towards me. The others didn't introduce themselves or greet me, not even the woman I'd met at the retreat two weeks ago. I tried to be nonchalant but, inside, I was uncomfortable with the apparent snub. I saw John from evangelization in the back row with his wife. He actually spotted me first and waved. I do miss that evangelization stuff.
A couple of things I remember from the liturgy was the second reading being proclaimed in Spanish. But the program guide had the Scriptures printed in the language opposite: printed in Spanish, if proclaimed in English and, clearly, vice versa. I expected some of the homily to also be in Spanish - he's done that before. But not this time. There was some tongue-in-cheek at communion, about being a "pilgrim people" and so not be bothered by the long & winding path from our seats, to up front, and back to our seats. As usual, the metal folding chairs were just too close together! I was shvitzing the whole time.
Now I'd promised my friend on Friday evening that I'd see her Sunday morning and I'd already taken care of the Sunday obligation. But my children hadn't. So we caught an early service and I had barely just enough time to change my clothes into something dressier. I've been there many times but I still don't have "the feel" down for when to take my seat. An usher was at his post, handing out worship guides so I entered, and as I did, a handful of people who had been meeting in the sanctuary exited. It was me and the sound guys for several tense minutes. And, for a change, I sat in their corner in an attempt to anticipate where my friend's "seat" might be. A man at the piano played from a music book with "Old English" in the title but I can't be exactly sure of the title. And a woman had her violin. The pastor breezed in as he does, followed by the choir in robes already singing. The sanctuary was barely half full. Years ago, when I would attend, it was SRO. In the meantime, 200 townhomes have gone up across the street.
I recognized the woman seated alone at the end of my bench and I wanted to slide down to her. But the benches in the back are sufficiently long that such a gross movement would not be discreet. Besides, who knew whether she wanted company? She had sat down after I. Regardless, I knew there was a "break" in the formality, when the children are dismissed and the attendance books are collected, that we greet each other. It's just that, at this, the "traditional" service, much more stuff proceeds that moment: there are hymns and extemporaneous prayers and a creed and the Lord's Prayer, and a (minor) doxology. I will say this, "visitors" were welcomed repeatedly. Oh, and two couples made professions of faith for membership and one infant was baptized.
But my neighbor knew her stuff, because she signed in straight away and shoved the book my direction, sliding it along the pew's cushion. It didn't hit me but collided with my Bible. I ignored the booklet until I realized that I could recall her name only by peeking inside the registry. Which I did. I am glad I did.
So, as I said, the choir took their seats, filling the vacant pew and a half reserved for them, the collection plate passed one way while the attendance register passed the other. I took those exchanges as opportunities to slide closer to Monica, but not too close. And she said, "I've never seen you here before. Do you attend the earlier service?" To which I just said, "Mmmm." Which is true: when I attend - the few times a year - it's the earlier, "contemporary" service, even though I prefer the later, traditional one.
The scripture was Jonah 4:1-5. Nothing complicated and no unusual remarks. Just a sermon like you would expect, nothing objectionable. But the emphasis that I appreciated was a confession that God won't tell you why he does stuff. "He's not like us. 'His ways are not your ways.'" Religion isn't really the crutch people think it is. Christianity seems to raise more questions than it answers. Fittingly, as well, he quoted Lewis from his spiritual autobiography: "I gave in, and admitted that God was God" and I was able, mentally, to complete the thought: "that night, the most [...] reluctant convert in all England." (reference). That book is in my car at present, so I looked up the quotation after the service and found it on page 229, at the end of the chapter "Checkmate."
I was a little relieved when the service finally ended. It wasn't boring. For once, I wasn't offended by anything, except maybe some technicalities of their baptismal rite. He smeared a moist thumb across the baby's forehead. Why have a font at all? But otherwise, either I've changed or the pastor ... and at his age, he isn't likely to change.
Now, I recognized the lady in front of me and I knew she had moved rather far away. So I said to her after the service, "Good to see you because I thought you have moved away." And she said they did, to Pittsburgh, but were back for a visit. Maybe they haven't found a church out there? But I doubt it. No, it was just a coincidence but, from my perspective, it was as if she hadn't left!
And so another lady came up to me after the service, rather shocked, "What are you doing here?" And Monica answered for me, that I usually attend the earlier service. But this other lady knows me better than that. "Oh, I thought you attended the Catholic church." So I guess I should have told Monica I was just visiting and now I have to be sure Elaine isn't confused about me. It's not as if I didn't expect to run into familiar faces there or not have some s'plainin' to do. I'd just rather not be a distraction (another reason to prefer the earlier service: nobody's really awake yet so I can go largely unnoticed). I'd like to have printed on a shirt: "Invisible" or "Fly on a Wall."