Thursday, August 02, 2007

Accidental Church

On Sunday we went to Catholic church by mistake.

I will vehemently speak up for the Church universal. As discussed (though maybe not in as much detail as possible) in a previous post, it has a lot in its history--and its present--to discredit it. But if the Bible calls the Church as a whole Christ's Bride, and if He died for her, then who am I to denigrate her? And who am I not to invest my time and effort into serving in a local expression thereof?

On the other hand, I really don't like going to church when I'm on vacation.

I don't know what it is, exactly. You'd think with all this highly-sanctified-sounding talk about the Church, I would embrace every opportunity to participate in fresh expressions of worship with the people of God. And I do--on missions trips. Or when I first move to a new location (although even then, I tend to settle on one congregation fairly quickly; I hate church-hopping). But if I'm on holiday, I'd rather not venture out.

Last weekend, I felt, I was on holiday. So when Paulina talked about visiting a church even she had not yet attended, I felt mildly ill-at-ease. Sort of like you might when you head home for dinner and realise that you forgot to go grocery shopping, so all you have to eat is maybe a baked potato with some cheese--if it hasn't gone bad yet. (Oh. Maybe you don't do that.) You know you'll get through it, and you'll receive some sustenance, but it isn't your all-time favourite dinner option.

On Sunday morning, Paulina herself was not feeling one hundred percent, so I subtly hinted that, you know, if she really didn't feel up to it, we could maybe pray together at her place that morning, and leave it at that. But she rallied. She really wanted to visit this Episcopal church not too far from her house. So we got in the car and set out.

As it happened, the Episcopal church was just moderately farther from her house than she had thought, and there was a very similarly-structured Catholic church on the same side of the road . . . so we ended up at it, instead, and didn't realise our mistake until the people in robes at the front started talking about how they were going to baptise some new babies into the Catholic faith that morning.

But, well, we were there, so we stuck around. A lot of things happened in the service that I could talk about I guess. For example, one of the poor mothers got overheated and passed out on her way to the exit, and then didn't even get to be present for her child's christening. Paulina had the compassion and presence of mind to jump up and help out with damp towels during this exciting interlude in the mass.

However, the observations I really want to make, as the daughter of a Baptist minister, are these:

1. My parents, though willing to talk about differing theologies, have never put down the Catholic church, for which I am grateful. However, I do recall someone in my family saying that Catholic hymnody is virtually non-existent. I don't know about that, but at this church they sang a lot of hymns, and they were really good, beautiful hymns with good theology, which were a pleasure to sing.

2. Here is where liturgical churches have an advantage over non-liturgical ones: if the person up front is having, say, an off week, there's still so much Scripture and prayer and powerful words about God spoken around and over and through and by the congregation, that it's always possible to come away with something. Granted, it could become an excuse not to prepare a good sermon, I suppose. I'm not going to say that the priest at this particular church proffered the greatest homily ever. Then again, he did have a woman pass out in the middle of it. (Some charismatic pastors might give anything for that to happen in their talks, I think--and I am speaking from experience, here, by the way.)

3. I didn't know, any more than I ever truly know, in any congregation on any Sunday morning, what percentage of the congregants have what is sometimes termed a "true, saving relationship with Jesus Christ." But I do know that I was worshiping Him there, and I'm pretty sure that I wasn't the only one. And it just reminded me that yeah. I really do love the Church.

Photo by jennw2ns, 2007: Catholic church building, Costa Rica.


Llama Momma said...

I love this post. So true!

Christianne said...

Thanks for sharing this experience and these observations. Kirk and I attend a fairly large non-denominational church that's big on global impact and does all sorts of cool things with technology. Our pastor's been interviewed on MSNBC and CNN lately for his "green" perspectives, and he was invited to participate in one of the recent debates with the democratic candidates. So, yeah, the church is huge and doing some impactful things.

But sometimes we like to visit the small Episcopal church down the road. The rector is somewhat new but full of depth (ie., he quotes C.S. Lewis and Dallas Willard frequently, as well as all kinds of spiritual formation and transformation stuff). We love it when we show up and he's the one giving the homily. But other times it's this other girl who's not quite so . . . er, shall we say, intellectually stirring and thoughtful. Most of the time she forgets stuff and has to scramble through her notes. But this makes me really get what you're saying about all the Scripture being "around and over through and by" the people as a whole in the service that you still leave feeling nourished and like you truly participated in the body of Christ, both in person and in the Eucharist.

There's something about all that liturgy that's been said for hundreds of years and is being said collectively, all on the same Sunday schedule, by the liturgical body worldwide, that is powerful and awe-inspiring.

Heather said...

I know what you mean about not wanting to go to church on vacation. Does this make us less spiritual? ;)
But it sounds like a good experience. Something beautiful.

Annelise said...

Yeah, if you have liturgy, you definitely have a basis for worship.

Annelise said...

From the perspective of church history, once Vatican II came into being, Catholic congregations did begin singing and are responsible for a lot of Scripture songs that Protestants sing. So I don't know who in the family told you Catholics don't have hymnody, but it's not exactly true. Of course, not every congregation sings well, which might be what you were told. The same could probably said of Protestant congregations though.

Scott said...

good post, Jenn/ I take vacation from church when i am away sometimes. But that is fine with little time on vacation. You are right with not judging the catholic church since we are all sinners and God is the one who will do the judging at the end.

Inihtar said...

Thanks for this Jenn. I was raised Catholic, but don't go to a Catholic church anymore, and I must confess that I do go on rants occasionally. I need to stop doing that. But I do think it is ok to point out when a certain church's (or congregation's) practices go against Biblical teachings. No?

Jenn said...

Thanks, everybody, for the thoughts and feedback!

Just a couple of specific rejoinders:

Mom--yeah, maybe that's what "they" said. ;) I'm not going to say that the "performance" of the music in this church was stellar, but everyone was certainly singing. And it sounded significantly better than the first service at CBC yesterday . . . !

Inihtar--I think that's certainly true. For example, being baptistic myself (in some ways, at least), I'm not too convinced about the doctrinal basis for baptising babies. On the other hand, the prayer that was prayed over all those children that morning was one that Christians across the board would do well to pray over their children every day. I guess I was just more struck by the similarities and points of congruence that day, than by differences and inaccuracies or even fallacies.