13 thoughts on “Resurfacing…

  1. Roberta Beach

    I just read your piece on the Cafe – the whole thing. In January, I went to weekend option at my hospital where I work as an RN. I moved from Rehab nursing back to ICU. This is where they needed me but, ho boy, do I miss the weekly Eucharist and meeting of believers. We have a centering prayer group Monday evenings and my priest, I and anyone else who chooses can join us in Morning Prayer Tuesday mornings but I miss the Sunday services. Thanks for a very good entry. And by the way, my priest expects and is demanding we grow up :).

  2. bls

    I have to say I don’t particularly care for the whole “you’d bettert go to mass every week or you can forget about being Christian” thing I saw over there. This, of course, leaves millions of people outside Christianity – including Quakers, who by definition can’t ever get in.

    Personally, I’ve had more than enough “you’d better do this or you can forget about being Christian” commands for one lifetime, thanks.

    Obviously, I’m not criticizing you, Derek; what you’re saying makes sense – but I still don’t understand why the compulsion is necessary. People who don’t come regularly are the ones who are missing out; what does it have to do with us? We regulars are here to be available when people have crisis in their lives and need to come back; we keep the doors open – but I don’t think we ought to necessarily congratulate ourselves for this. It’s just a fact of life, in my view. (It’s my theory that there really is a tribe of priests – 1/12th of the population, about 8%, who are religious – and most people aren’t like us. But they need us to be there when they hit the skids.)

    Sounds like A.A., right? Well, even in A.A., people stop coming after awhile – it’s a natural sort of thing – and nobody harangues them. (Again, I’m not saying you’re saying this – but I did see haranguing over there, and I don’t think that works very well.)

  3. Christopher

    bls,

    We hashed out that one–“the don’t go to mass…”, some time back when it came up on a post here. I had a similar reaction to yours. It’s asceticism gone awry. Many faithful Anglicans have not been at every Sunday Communion. The ideal of regular attendance runs up against historical realities and the complexity of lives. Rather than harp, reframing of the ideal as joy seems more helpful. At my parish, many who work on Sunday come to Wednesday Holy Communion. It is not my place to be looking around to notice them missing on Sunday. My place is to be joyful that I see them on Wednesday and they, I, who can rarely make a mid-week trip to my parish. When asceticism goes awry, pastoral concern becomes distorted, likely doing more harm than good to those not in regular attendance.

    Maybe I have come to see things like this through Christmas Day-Easter Sunday eyes, or Christmas day -Good Friday eyes in the case of German Lutherans, but having spent time in villages where most of the Church (village and Church being one and the same) comes only twice a year to services or perhaps monthly at most, I have learned that faithfulness is many-measured and is often lived out in daily ways Church officials have so long ignored that it is little wonder anyone would come more than twice a year. Daily life has been divorced from Sunday attendance. Prescriptions will not undo what requires ongoing pastoral work and a loving generosity toward those in one’s care.

    Presenting the joy of seeing one another in regular attendance for mutual up-building and Christ’s sustenance by Body and Blood, and working on one’s own regular attendance rather than harping on others’ seems more life-giving. When we treat ourselves as the Prodigal rather than the person long-time-no-seen, we can appreciate that they are here this Sunday and enjoy their presence among us. We may be surprised to find that our own sense of holiness pales in comparison to their own light.

    I think we miss a great deal about how God is at work, say in the life of the nurse not usually able to be present, when we frame things in hard-fast ways.

  4. bls

    Thanks, Christopher. I do have to say my post above came off as a bit indifferent, which I didn’t mean to be. I do agree that regular attendance should be encouraged, mainly because it’s a lovely thing; I didn’t mean to say that people shouldn’t come unless they are in crisis.

    But there are times when this is the reality, and I can’t see how haranguing people does any good, just as you say. If people are cold to the experience of church, it could very well be that we’re doing something wrong ourselves (as one of the commenters on Derek’s DE post is hinting).

    Or it could be something else – but I agree with you: we should communicate the joy of coming.

    I was at a training for Eucharistic Visitors this past weekend, and there was quite a lot of talk about being careful to to acquire a kind of noblesse oblige attitude; to remember, IOW, that we are not the dispensers of grace, but that we are participating in an exchange of grace. And then I realized that a warning like that should never really be necessary – if we only remember (if we’d only talk about!) the fact that we are all simply sinners, no more and no less.

    Here’s an interesting post (“From Grace In Addiction: AA As Church?”) on one of my favorite newly-discovered blogs. Here’s a quote from that post:

    It is an openly acknowledged fact in AA that the members of any group are far from holy. They have mostly lived tragic lives. They have smoked too many cigarettes, wrecked too many cars, done too many deceitful things ever to feel justified in their own skin. The result is that people in “the program” will fight to keep themselves and others from being overly self-righteous, judgmental, rigid, or serious. When a newcomer walks into a room, that person is not expected to be anything other than a terrible mess. Failure is the price of admission. One does far worse in AA to deny one’s weakness than to acknowledge it.

    By way of contrast, the Christian church often creates an environment where people cannot really be open and honest about their struggles. It can appear that Christians have no besetting struggles, just “victory,” and the occasional assaults of the devil, but very few inwardly generated liabilities or recidivistic tendencies. The person in AA who denies these things is nothing more than a liar. To quote 1 John 1: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves.”

    Imagine walking into a church where all who entered were asked to sign a waiver at the door that said: “I’m a sinner and by stepping into the room today I acknowledge that fact.” Ministry and church life would be tremendously more effective. Unfortunately, you can come into church these days and sign up for any number of identities: Easter/Christmas type, fanatic/Pharisee, sinner, middle-of-the-road, or whatever. In AA there is only the option of sinner.

    Well, thanks. It’s nice to talk with you again; I’ve been away for what seems like a long time now….

  5. Derek Olsen

    Yes, I think that Fr, John-Julian is more on the rigorist side than I. However, there is quite a lot to be said for coming together. I know that Sundays aren’t an option for a few due to work situations as Roberta notes (thanks for commenting!). As Christopher says too, there may be some Christmas/Easter types out there who are holier than all of us put together. Nevertheless, I think you’re working with the exceptions here and—as with legal issues—hard cases make bad law.

    The Anglican way is a spirituality that puts emphasis on corporate worship; I don’t see anything wrong with honoring that. And certainly, joy should absolutely be a central part of the experience.

  6. C. Wingate

    To me the most striking response what that of “kayak girl” who juxtaposed regular church services (AKA “a museum with a floor show”) with “an honest, prayerful community of faith grounded in love”. I know I’m setting myself up with the next statement, but I have to say that I don’t know what the latter means– or rather, that I don’t think it means anything in particular. The introvert part of me thinks it means being hugged by strangers who haven’t earned the right to such intimacy, but the less emotionally reactive part wants to suggest that gathering in worship in the midst of a greater community that disdains the whole religion thing is in fact a community-building and strengthening exercise.

    I hope I am not taking Martin Thornton out of bounds when I point out that an important part of making a holy life is simply acquiring holy habits. Going to church weekly is part of making worship a regular part of one’s life and of making oneself part of a worshipping community. Back when I was a college student my church attendance, for no good reason, wasn’t very regular, but the expectation of such attendance was at the back of my mind, and eventually I got to the point where attendance was my normal behavior and missing church was the aberration.

    re JJN’s response: my daughter had a sleepover with a friend of hers who is SDA. Did she go to church on Saturday? You betcha!

  7. Derek Olsen

    Yes, I found that reaction interesting too–and I think BSynder was going along the same lines in pushing her to say a bit more. I had the experience of “an honest, prayerful community of faith grounded in love” at Sunday’s Solemn High Mass which I’m sure might be someone else’s “museum with a floor show”… Furthermore, when it comes to getting the community engaged, it’s impossible to do a nice Solemn High Mass without the community behind you what with choir and acolytes and thurifers and all the rest.

  8. C. Wingate

    That last is a very good point, and I confess I find myself envious when reading the goings-on at St. Peters London Docks on Fr. Jones’s blog that the parish and the school interact to provide a constant supply of servers and acolytes. I went to an Episcopal boarding school, where things were much the same (if hardly so A-C) and where I learned to understand what the heck was going on in church.; in my own parish unfortunately the solemn service has been starved of recruits due to a policy of directing people with kids to the guitar service.

    My sense is that she wants an interpersonal emotiveness which a solemn service is definitely trying to avoid. It’s what gets promulgated under the rubric of “celebrating the community”, but I personally do not want any part of such a celebration, at least as a regularly scheduled event.

  9. Christopher

    An extreme ascetical theology calls forth the in extremis situation as counter precisely because an extreme ascetical theology distorts our teaching on grace as found in our praying. I consider Fr. John-Julian’s remarks, though I think the world of him, to be quite extreme. Having proposed such an either/or, for me our teaching on grace must take precedence over our response in practice. Grace calls forth the in extremis situations from ordinary life to demonstrate Who it is that is ultimately at work in a way similar to St. Augustine’s and Luther’s investigations of baptism of infants. Even so, that does not lead me to suggest that we swing from pole to pole in recommendation of practice.

    The middle way of Anglican practice is regular participation in God’s own life by psalms, word, and sacraments–all of which is sheer gift, including our being able to participate. Regular participation is the work-a-day path of the average Anglican Christian for whom our Prayer Book was intended. Regular participation is not the same thing as insistence that one be at every Sunday Holy Communion for the rest of one’s life or give up being Christian. That simply does not hold water against the realities of the ordinary in-the-world Christian who it can be expected may miss a Sunday here and there, but is still regular in attendance, faithful in service, consistent in giving what she or he can, and strengthened in living out Christ’s call in the multiple realities, estates, and callings of daily life.

    A rigorist ascetical theology distorts this common prayer Christianity by distorting teaching on grace and then by distorting who is considered the common or ordinary sort. The monastic is not the common or ordinary sort in the theology or practice of Anglican Christianity, but a special case with a particular vocation. Just as we should not use the in extremis situation from ordinary life to set what is regular practice, neither should we use the monastic as the primary case for common practice where regular and common practice are meant to be in sync in a Prayer Book lifestyle.

  10. C. Wingate

    Christopher, I constantly run across this sort of thinking in Eastern church thinking. I cannot see it as something that fits into an Anglicanism in which monasticism appears as a revival.

    The other issue I see is that emphasizing regular attendance as an obligation has the practical effect of discouraging regular attendance. The sense of obligation (again, I’m working from Thornton) is useful to people who are regular in reinforcing their attendance, but for those who are not yet regulars, it is discouraging to have this hanging over their heads.

  11. Christopher

    C. Wingate, is it Charles?, precisely. Eastern Christianity is formulated around the monastic in its theological and ascetical formulation. Anglicanism is discipleship and discipline redefined for the common human being in the world. I operate off of the Prayer Book as Rule, but I do not understand Rule as obligation or adherence, but joy and thanksgiving–all is gift. That is the the formation we want to present to the newbe. Practice often leads to deeper regularity, but enforced practice leads to resentiment or dropping out altogether or worst of all, distortion of God’s gifts.

  12. Christopher

    I might add that I am not opposed to monasticism, and indeed, am quite a supporter of those with such a vocation; it is just that I do not understand asceticism or discipleship to be only or primarily located therein.

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