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.