The blog

The blog—informal opinions and chat about the parish

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What to wear? What to wear?

As I look back over the last couple of blog items, I realize that I'm frequently writing about clothing. Orange to protest gun violence. Red for Pentecost. And when I first walked into an Episcopal church, clothing was one of the first things that caught my eye: all the different robes and colors.

Robin Williams famously commented that one of the ten best reasons to be an Episcopalian is that the church year is color-coded. (We're currently in the beginning of the long teaching cycle of the Ordinary season, so the color is green.)

One of my Facebook friends posted a picture of a church notice (probably fictional) that had a list of things one couldn't wear: No sandals, no shorts, no athletic wear, no earrings on men, etc. The Facebook post says, "Join us for our opening hymn, 'Just as I am.'" That item might be fictional, but I know of two different churches in town that turned away teenage visitors who were wearing T-shirts with rock band names. (What a great message to send to kids who are interested in learning about Jesus!)

On any given Sunday at St. Matthew's, you'll see a lot of people who are dressed up. Women no longer wear hats and gloves (that was part of my childhood culture), but you'll normally see me in a dress shirt and jacket. You'll also see Bob in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and sandals. Lots of T-shirts in the summer. (We're not air-conditioned.)

So what?

One of the interesting things about the Episcopal Church is that we're very reluctant to tell you what to do, especially on what we'd call "peripheral" items. (T-shirt or tie? Long hair or short? Beard or not?) We tend to be very minimal in life-style rules, even rules that some would call "essential" to the matter of being a "respectable Christian" because those rules distract a person from the essential material of following Christ and doing good to our neighbor. What did Jesus say about smoking? About being gay? About transgendered people using public restrooms? Nothing? Really? Maybe those concerns aren't part of the core Christian message after all.

That's why I can wear my tie and jacket while Bob wears his Hawaiian shirt, and we never really ask whether our clothing says anything about our faith.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Wear Orange on June 5

I have a lot of experience with guns:
  • Years ago, a man with a gun forced his way into our house and robbed us at gunpoint.
  • When I lived in the West End of St. Louis, we had a pretty standard strategy when rival gangs would have a shoot-out on our street. It didn't include calling the police. They didn't like to show up until things had cooled down.
  • Early in my teaching career, I assigned a paper on the topic "A day I would like to change" and a student wrote about the time he found a gun in his father's bureau and accidentally shot his brother.
  • Another of my students commented that he came from New Jersey, so several of his friends had been shot to death.
  • Yet another of my students had to drop out of school to take care of his family after his brother had been shot dead.
  • My wife was nearly killed because the neighbors were using a field for target practice and had not mentioned it to anyone.
  • One of my childhood friends tried (unsuccessfully) to shoot himself to death with a rifle.
I don't have a lot of warm, happy, fuzzy memories that are connected with guns.

Unfortunately, my experience is far too normal in the USA. Most of us can name friends or family who have been victims of gun violence, and too often it is the simple, sad story of a child who finds a gun and is playing with it when the gun goes off. (American children are nine times more likely to be victims of this sort of accident than children from anywhere else in the world.)

Because of this, I really applaud the recent Episcopal initiative Bishops United Against Gun Violence. Just wearing orange to church on June 5 will not solve anything, but it's a beginning. We begin by raising the awareness of our friends and neighbors.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Why Wear Red for Pentecost?

The post below is copied from the website of The Episcopal Church of the Advocate in Chapel Hill, NC. It's a good post, and I didn't think I could improve on it, so here it is in its entirety:

This Sunday is the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost is the is the day on which we remember the story given to us in the second chapter of the Book of Acts.
The story goes:
  • 40 days after the resurrection (which we celebrate at Easter) Jesus ascends into heaven (which we celebrate on Ascension Day)
  • But before he ascends, Jesus promises that he will not leave us “comfortless”, but will send the Holy Spirit to strengthen and to guide us, to guide the church.
  • Ten days later, on the Day of Pentecost, Holy Spirit descended on the people gathered. (note: Pentecost is an ancient Jewish festival of the harvest, the name of which translates from the Hebrew as The Festival of Weeks. This festival is referred to in Exodus chapters 23 ad 34, and in Deuteronomy chapter 16)
In the Book of Acts, the story is told:
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
So… on The Day of Pentecost in the church year, fifty days of Easter and ten days after the Ascension, the clergy wear RED vestments to signify the work of the Spirit. It is also a custom in many churches for the people in the congregation to wear RED on the Day of Pentecost as well. We wear RED to remind us of the fire of the Spirt.

In addition, a congregation with many dressed in RED is colorful.

And perhaps most of all, it is fun.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Is there any point to Morning Prayer?

Last Sunday, Rev. Kay took a bit of a vacation, so we had a Morning Prayer service instead of Eucharist. It went well, in spite of the usual small confusions that occur when we are doing a liturgy that's unfamiliar. And, as predicted, attendance was down because it was "just" Morning Prayer and not the "real thing." Why bother to show up if you're not getting Communion?

Why go to church at all?

When you think about it, there are several distinct reasons a person might go to church:
  1. Turns you into a better person
  2. Provides religious-themed entertainment (music and visual, and sometimes dramatic)
  3. "Gasses you up" for the week—in the sense of a car going to a gas station
  4. Gives you a chance to be with other members of the Body
  5. A time to give glory and praise to God, no matter whether you are really feeling much benefit
All of these are actually legitimate reasons to show up, though #1 sounds like something a parent would do to a disobedient child, and the first three are mainly focused on giving benefit to the church-goer. That seems somewhat selfish, and it's likely to lead to the comment that "I don't feel like I need church this week."

And that leads to the question whether the point of attending church is primarily to get something for yourself. Some church bodies seem to lean hard on this idea and emphasize the entertainment value of Sunday, with bands and theater-quality production. (I used to be part of one which had an entire sound booth, complete with a multi-thousand dollar sound mixing board, several computers, and one guy whose job was to get the sound mix just right.)

What, no sacrament?

Recently, one of our political candidates famously commented about Holy Eucharist “When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed.” “I think in terms of ‘Let’s go on and let’s make it right.’”

We can object to the trivialization of Eucharist in this statement (I certainly do), but at its core, this statement says something good. Eucharist was provided, as the Prayer Book says, to be spiritual food and drink for the believer, but for a long time, Morning Prayer was the most typical Episcopal Sunday, with Eucharist only being celebrated once or twice a month. We get into trouble, mentally and spiritually, when we start thinking of Eucharist as if it were an insulin shot. Quick and easy, get it over with and get on with life, have to have it on schedule or I get sick.

Reasons #4 and #5 are actually pretty good reasons to go to church, once you get past asking what's in it for yourself. And the basic idea of church is that we are there for and with other believers. The main question should not be whether we received a decent product this week.

A pressing problem

Many tiny churches, for example our neighbor church in Shelby, go through times when they don't have a priest every week. The Diocese does its best, and the result is usually a visit from a priest a couple of times a month and lay-led Morning Prayer the other mornings. If that isn't "really church," we have to ditch Christ's words as reported in Matthew 18:20 "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Note that he didn't say, "when two dozen are gathered and a priest is there to provide a sacrament.")

This will become an issue for St. Matthew's next year. Rev. Kay is planning on taking a sabbatical, and we will probably have visits by several different priests, but often Sunday will be lay-led Morning Prayer.

Will that be "real church"? What if you don't get your "little wine and little cracker"? Is it still worth going?

Yes, if Jesus is there. And he will be.