Monday, October 10, 2011

Between my high school reunion and my mother's birthday lunch lay all of Sunday morning.

What to do, what to do.

I'd already taken care of the Sunday obligation Saturday evening at what used to be called St. Joseph's. After mergers, it goes by Resurrection. I was immediately struck by all the gray heads when I entered. A sea of gray. I was early, hoping to make confession for the Day of Atonement but I didn't, and this was 4:30 on a Saturday evening. I didn't like the service in the least. After a million dollar sanctuary renovation, the sound system is still inadequate.

My friend from high school is church secretary for a non-denominational congregation that meets in the old Mancuso movie theater on Main St. She's done that from the beginning, sixteen years or so. I invited myself to her church on Sunday as it didn't seem likely she'd invite me. I opted for the earlier service, 8:30, because I could be sure it would end before the later service at 10 am. God only knows when the 10 am service might end and I had a very important lunch date! At 7:30 am, I attended mass at what used to be called St. Mary's on Ellicott. As this parish is merged with St. Joseph's across town, the music selections were identical. Ever since the outbreak of H1N1 or even before, Western New York Catholics do not make physical contact during the Sign of Peace. They are all overly concerned about germs despite the availability of hand sanitizer stands in the church entryway. I knew the service would run about 50 minutes and I'd have time to get to the next service.

Kathy and I arrived at about the same time. Just as I was asking someone where she might be, she appeared from the back. She'd gotten herself a coffee and offered me one. I don't drink coffee. She took her usual seat but caught herself and told me to select our seats. I moved us to the center of the theater which turned out to be a bad idea because the two screens which display the song lyrics are, ironically enough for a theater, each placed along an outside wall. No wonder no one sits in the center.

Her daughter performs in the band. She did a fabulous job and I told her so afterwards. She looked as if she was really getting into it but wasn't a distraction. She took this picture of us after the service. We didn't sing many songs, maybe three. I don't remember knowing any but they were uncomplicated praise songs. The collection was taken up immediately after, as the pastor said something about joyful giving. The preacher was an evangelist running a mission-type event for the youth that evening. He scared me considerably. I took adequate notes to describe the service here.

The presentation included a slide show in Powerpoint which the speaker referred to as "post-modern stained glass." Every bullet started with "P." He looked at each of the final words of Jesus to his disciples in the four Gospels and Acts. Matthew 28:19-20, "Presence Commission;" Mark 16:15-18, "Protection Commission;" Luke 24:46-49, "Power Commission;" John 21:11, "Personal Commission;" Acts 1:8, "Promise Commission." I was a little disappointed that the sermon didn't require me to flip all over the Bible. At one moment in the sermon, the evangelist seemed on the verge of making a subtle point and the pastor gave him a hardy "Amen" before he actually got the thought out. Inexplicably, the evangelist failed to make his conclusion - whatever it was - and the pastor was left saying, "Bring it, oh, bring it!" It was an awkward Emperor's New Clothes moment. He gave a helpful breakdown of obedience: principled obedience == the moral law, particular obedience is God's call on you, not on me and pointed obedience - do what Jesus says to do now or you miss it.

Something he said made me jot down "Pentecostal?" in my notes. It may have been the bit about asking God for an anointed pickup line, so he could meet his wife at church on Wednesday night. The website says he's Foursquare.

Afterwards, the band did not take the stage again; the service was just over. My friend offered to show me around. I told her that I wanted to make the Episcopal service at 10 down the street but I had a few minutes. She showed me all their space, including a new youth center across the parking lot. "Children's Church" will be taking place there next week. It was set up for a rock concert. She showed me their food pantry which was enormous and their dining hall space that they rent out to local guilds of businessmen. I was encouraged by all the good they're doing in a financially struggling city and I saw no possibility for this former Catholic to find her way back.

I was, unfortunately, a bit late for the Episcopal service. Unlike at the City Church, the bulletin was invaluable for active participation in the service. Jeff's grandmother was Episcopalian but the closest I'd ever come to setting foot in this church as a kid was attending her viewing at the funeral home next door. I came in during the Gloria and immediately recognized that, when the Roman Catholic liturgy changes next month, this liturgy which is nearly identical will remain the same. Quite a revelation. The Gospel was the same - this was the third time that I was hearing this particular Gospel reading - the first and second readings was both "earlier," if you get that. The service relied on the Book of Common Prayer. The sermon was outstanding, really made an impression. I was totally moved. The Peace was something else again. Orderly, yes, but not emotionally restrained. Very heartfelt. Naturally, my feet were bolted to the floor and I couldn't move from my place so everyone came to me! The choir came down and walked the entire aisle, shaking hands. Even the pastor came down, recognized me as a stranger and asked what brought me from New Jersey that weekend.

There was no elevation of the host during the consecration. The rubrics say not to. I didn't go forward for communion - even for a blessing - because the altar seemed so far away. Seriously. All the music was just perfect and beautiful.

If, by any chance, I could find an Episcopal or Anglican service like this one near my home, I would attend especially if I get frustrated by the liturgical changes this Advent.


RAnn said...

With respect to the changes coming soon, I say everything old is new again. These "new" prayers sound a whole lot like the ones we said when I was a kid and the mass had just changed from Latin to English.

Moonshadow said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm born in '68 so I vaguely remember some changes along the way but nothing specific.

I hear people today still uttering, "But only say the word and my soul shall be healed." I'm afraid I might turn out to be one of those who, after 40 yrs. again, still goes by the old words!

kkollwitz said...

"These "new" prayers sound a whole lot like the ones we said when I was a kid and the mass had just changed from Latin to English."

Yes, it's old home week for a lot of us.

Speaking of the centurion's line, I posted this awhile back:

kkollwitz said...

Hey we have a conservative Episcopal church here; their liturgy is very similar to the Latin Mass of my childhood, but in English.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had an interesting weekend, especially at that Pentecostal one (or whatever kind of church it was exactly). And they only had 3 songs? At the charismatic churches I attended while growing up, the music often lasted quite a while, with over twice that number of songs! If you don't mind my asking, how did you feel about that church? There's certainly a world of difference between that and a Catholic church.

Are you visiting various churches for research? Anyway, I hope you profit spiritually from it.


Moonshadow said...

I hope I profit, too, Evan. Thanks.

These were churches that, growing up, I was curious about but never had the occasion to visit.

I think songs at the first service were limited because a second service followed - a presumably more elaborate, drawn-out one - and things needed to keep on schedule.

I prefer liturgy. And kneeling. Churches with their own vans scare me. :-)


Anonymous said...

So churches with their own vans scare you? How about churches with their own buses! ;-) (And I've been to churches with their own buses, and vans too!)

I'm with you about preferring the liturgy and kneeling. When I reapproached Christianity after my long night of agnosticism, I never considered going back to the charismatic/pentecostal churches I had grown up in. Instead, it was actually an easy choice to turn to the Catholic Church.

Anyway, I hope you learn much in this endeavor.


Barbara Schoeneberger said...

I imagine that the liturgical translation taking place next week will take you deeper into the Faith. Although I attend the Extraordinary Form most of the time, I am really happy about the changes in the Novus Ordo.