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.

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