Friday, November 11, 2005

"I think we're orthodox": My Sunday at church

Whew! I've managed to get a couple of free minutes for the first time this week. Here are some off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts about going to church last Sunday:

- I did go with my family. In fact, my mother's (Catholic) brothers and sisters were in town so I went with a ton of family, and they were a big help with my one-year-old son.

- This was also the first time my husband had been to a Catholic service. He believes in God but hasn't been to church in years, and he was raised Baptist so the Catholic church is very new and different to him.

- It was hard to relax, but I managed. On the few other occasions that I've been to church I always feel like I have a neon sign floating above my head that says, "I NEVER GO TO CHURCH AND I DON'T BELIEVE IN GOD." I stick out like a sore thumb because I don't know when to sit and stand, whether to sing from the lyrics in the book on the pew or in the daily program, and I don't know that "Our father who art in Heaven" line that everyone else has memorized. I'm always waiting for someone to spot me, to run up to me and forcibly remove me from this house of God (which actually almost happened one time when I was a kid at my friend's Baptist church -- but that's another post).

- So I sat down in a pew toward the front with my family. I got all settled in, prepared for incense and Latin and maybe some chanting (for whatever reason I always pictured chanting being part of a Catholic service.) We all stood to sing and the music began. Over some canned beatbox and synthesizer the choir led the congregation in a song that had lyrics like, "God is so awesome, His glory makes me soar on eagle's wings." I noticed that they were copyright 2002. I felt like I was at a John Tesh concert. I leaned over to my husband and whispered, "I think we're orthodox."

- I looked around at the other people in the pews. I was struck by how nice and, umm, intelligent they seemed. I know this is a horrible thing to say, but my whole life I've been brainwashed (or perhaps brainwashed myself) to believe that atheism was for the intelligentsia and religion was the easy answer for people who weren't very intellectual. (Awful admissions like that are why this is an anonymous blog).

- Another thing I noticed about the other people was how casually they dressed. Even my aunts and uncles wore jeans. Sometimes I think I am misunderstanding the concept of God, because I can't imagine believing in God and wearing jeans to his house of worship. If I were going to the Queen's house I wouldn't do that, and God is certainly more worthy of respect than the Queen. I don't mean to insult anyone who dresses casually at church, I just don't understand it. Clearly I'm just missing something.

- As I scanned the program I saw a notice at the top of one of the pages. It was from a nun who has been part of this church and is now leaving. Her tone was, frankly, pissy as she explained that had she been born "Ray" instead of "Rhea" she could be a Catholic priest but, since she cannot, she is leaving the Church to join the Celtic Church where she will be a priest. I found the one-sided nature of this note to be unnecessary and divisive and was surprised that this church's leaders agreed to include it in their program. As a non-Catholic it gave me the impression that there is not unity within the church and that there are large, unresolved issues. I worried for the Church that there may have been other non-Catholics there who were left with the same impression.

- The music wasn't for me, but the note was the final factor in alienating me from this church. I want a church where the tone is one of quiet reverence and reflection upon God. The modern music strikes me as borderline disrespectful. And I might find a discussion about the church's male-only priest policy interesting, but the one-sided, passive-aggressive note included in the program was just intolerable.

So next Sunday I am going to the other big Catholic church in town. This one has a wonderful reputation and I've heard nothing but good things about it. I'm optimistic but think that this one probably won't be it either -- my husband and I drove by it one time and I saw many, many people wearing jeans and shorts. I had no idea that people dress like that to go to church! I fear that jeans and shorts might indicate another "modern" church with Muzak and disgruntled nuns, but we'll see. I'll give it a try. And even if this one doesn't work out my plan for now is to stick with the Catholic church. I like what I see in the Catholic church more and more as I do my homework on Christianity.

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UPDATE: I actually emailed the Bishop to tell him of my concern about the nun's note in the Sunday program and just now received his reply. I love it. Here's an excerpt:

"I have become familiar with the article that was in the bulletin of [the church] and Sister Rhea's desire to leave the Catholic Church. I am gravely disappointed and shocked by this news and the way in which it was communicated to the parishioners. There is no way in the world that I would ever justify her actions, nor can I justify the way in which it was communicated to the parishioners. I am sorry that you and others have been the object of her disobedience to God and to the Church. Please pray for her and please pray for all those who have been harmed by this scandal."

It is so refreshing to see a church that is willing to lead and make clear calls on things. So many modern churches have fallen into the "I'm-OK-you're-OK" good-vibe-fest mentality and are no longer willing to boldly say what they believe is right and wrong.

More and more, I think this is the church for me.

3 Comments:

At November 11, 2005 8:17 PM, Anonymous SteveG said...

What an awesome post!! So much to say, but so little time!

I did go with my family. In fact, my mother's (Catholic) brothers and sisters were in town so I went with a ton of family, and they were a big help with my one-year-old son.

Great that you had someone to help!

Hmmmm....1 year old son, 2 year old daughter I guess I wasn't THAT far off (end sarcasm).

Over some canned beatbox and synthesizer the choir led the congregation in a song that had lyrics like, "God is so awesome, His glory makes me soar on eagle's wings." I noticed that they were copyright 2002. I felt like I was at a John Tesh concert. I leaned over to my husband and whispered, "I think we're Orthodox."

Ugh! Exactly what I most feared! I am so fortunate to live in a diocese which is mostly by the book (with a few exceptions) so have never experienced something like this. I can imagine how it would make a 'seasoned' Catholic feel, but am so impressed that you are able to see past this and not be dissuaded. You really are amazing.

One technicality to point out. You probably mean little-o orthodox (meaning orthodox/traditional in belief and temperament). Big-O orthodox usually refers to being Eastern/Russian Orthodox. Just an FYI.

- Another thing I noticed about the other people was how casually they dressed. Much to my chagrin my aunts and uncles wore jeans. Sometimes I think I am misunderstanding the concept of God, because I can't imagine believing in God and wearing jeans to his house of worship. If I were going to the Queen's house I wouldn't do that, and God is certainly more worthy of respect than the Queen. I don't mean to insult anyone who dresses casually at church, I just don't understand it. Clearly I'm just missing something.

First, it's not you who are missing anything, it's the folks who take it in such a ho-hum manner that are. In any event, try not to sweat this too much. While I agree with you on the dress (and me and mine always dress up at least moderately nicely (i.e. No jeans, etc.), even at the most orthodox (little-o) Catholic parish, many if not most will be in somewhat casual dress.

The fact is that at any Catholic church, many of the folks attending are there as much (if not more) for cultural reasons (i.e. their parents, and grandparents were Catholic, so they are too) rather than because they take it seriously. But don't be too tough on them. Many of them one day will have a 'conversion' of their own of sorts and be drawn more deeply in and begin to realize what they are really doing and how important it is. Many folks are just so comfortable there because they've spent their whole lives going, and they forget (if they ever were told) that what they are doing is so special.

Also, for many years in the 60's, 70's and 80's, the catecesis of Catholics in the U.S. Was extremely poor. This has only just recently (after 3 decades of JPII slowly forcing change) begun to improve. One of the effects of this is that many folks calling themselves Catholic, and attending church in the U.S. Don't know their faith all that well because they weren't taught it. They also have rarely if ever heard anyone in the last few decades suggest that maybe they should be a bit more reverent, and dress more apppropriately for mass. The point is that most of them are not doing anything intentionally disrespectul, but are innocently dressing that way because they've not been taught or told differently.

Finally, I always assume that God is glad that they at least find it important enough to be there each week (many folks calling themselves Catholic don't even bother with that). Remember that while its' nice to show God the kind or reverence of which you speak, the interior disposition of a person is not to be judged by externals and is far more important.

After all, it's entirely likely that the VAST majority of the thousands sitting in the grass at the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 were poor, smelly, dirty, and raggedly dressed. There's no evidence Jesus thought them unworthy of the feeding because of that. :-)

And remember that the Church is a hospital for sinners (and that includes ALL of us).

- As I scanned the program I saw a notice at the top of one of the pages. It was from a nun who has been part of this church and is now leaving. Her tone was, frankly, pissy as she explained that had she been born "Ray" instead of "Rhea" she could be a Catholic priest but, since she cannot, she is leaving the Church to join the Celtic Church where she will be a priest. I found the one-sided nature of this note to be unnecessary and divisive and was surprised that this church's leaders agreed to include it in their program. As a non-Catholic it gave me the impression that there is not unity within the church and that there are large, unresolved issues. I worried for the Church that there may have been other non-Catholics there who were left with the same impression.

How awful! I am so sorry that this was part of your first experience. Again, living in a generally excellent diocese, I have been so fortunate to not experience anything this horrid (though we all have our stories). I am so happy the bishop's response was so strong and clear.

As far as unity and unresolved issues, that's a yes and no. Their really isn't much in this regards that hasn't been resolved and the Vatican and bishops are largely pretty clear in the church's teaching. The problem is that the American church is not fully unified in the sense that there are still a lot of people who aren't willing to accept what's being taught.

The Protestant mindset of America and it's hyper individualism has unfortunately rubbed off on many, and causes them to continue to fight for their 'cause' in hopes that they can get things changed. They simply aren't willing to listen to the voice of the church and what it teaches. They are basically really Protestant in their hearts (i.e. they are protesting), but often the cultural ties too the church cause them to keep coming and calling themselves Catholic instead of finding a group that agrees with them.

next Sunday I am going to the other big Catholic church in town. This one has a wonderful reputation and I've heard nothing but good things about it. I'm optimistic but think that this one probably won't be it either -- my husband and I drove by it one time and I saw many, many people wearing jeans and shorts. I had no idea that people dress like that to go to church! I fear that jeans and shorts might indicate another "modern" church with Muzak and disgruntled nuns, but we'll see. I'll give it a try.

It may, but I doubt it if you've heard other good things. Again, the dress of the parishioners may be bothersome, but it's not a reliable way to judge the orthodoxy of the parish (though it *may* be an indicator).

P.S. Please, I beg you to tell me just the state and the name of the church. That's all I'd need, and I can probably find out for you in a matter of minutes. :-)

It is so refreshing to see a church that is willing to lead and make clear calls on things. So many modern churches have fallen into the "I'm-OK-you're-OK" good-vibe-fest mentality and are no longer willing to boldly say what they believe is right and wrong.

More and more, I think this is the church for me.


What an awesome response! I wonder if, since you've already emailed him once, maybe you'd feel bold enough to do so again. You could tell him the basics of your situation and ask for his guidance in finding the type of parish you are seeking. He sounds like the kind of bishop who'd be willing to help (as the shepherd of the diocese, that's his duty after all).

 
At November 11, 2005 10:33 PM, Blogger Colleen said...

Great post, Jennifer. Just fascinating too. I am completely with you on the matter of dress. That is one place where us evangelicals and former evangelicals have the Catholics beat. We still dress to the nines for church. I was every bit as shocked as you by the way people dressed, when I first started going to Mass.

Music! It is so terrible in the Catholic Church in general. Just be thankful that they didn't bring out guitars.

It is so famously bad that there is a book, a few years old now, called "Why Catholics Can't Sing" (or maybe "don't" ). It was a serious examination (scholarly even) of the role of music in Catholic worship and how it got into the state it is in.

I have noticed that even in Churches that have good music, most people don't take part. Maybe SteveG can speak to why that might be.

But, I have come to appreciate that those are not the most important things, at all. Once you get into the worship, the ministry, and the intellectual life of the church, you will see just how little these other things matter.

 
At August 31, 2009 9:03 PM, Blogger V said...

I love that kind of music and usually dress comfy, but not trashy or smelly.

Sometimes when we dress to the nines, we dress to impress... our friends. (Do I look good?)
God is impressed with what is inside, not outside.

 

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