Comments 10

  1. Neal, thanks so much for this honest, real look at church and what (who?) it’s for. And I’m right there with you, brother, in the typical Sunday morning fight…ugh.

    I think this is as much for church leaders as it is for parishioners in the pews (or folding chairs, or what have you.) How do we make sure that all are welcome, that all are free to come as they are–as they really are–to join in corporate worship?

    1. Thanks Dave.

      I’m not sure if it’s any more up to church leaders than it is up to parishioners. The leaders can set a tone, I suppose, and set up liturgy and other things to be more or less inviting, certainly–but parishioners have to be arms of welcome.

  2. Ease up on yourself man. It’s no sin to get a little hot herding kids in the morning. I think lots of people doing that think they are being hypocrites because they’re stressed, upset, maybe angry. Who said the goal is to get to church early enough to get a good seat and look like a calm, collected, happy family? If there’s any sin to detect at work in this scene it is fear of the superficial judgments of others, the actual judgments of others, and the inability of congregations to talk about it.

    There are lots of ways to do church, and historically most of the ways it’s been done have tolerated a lot of messiness, chaos, and movement compared to what we’re used to. St. Augustine preached in a way that expected people to talk back, kind of like American pentecostal ad charismatic traditions. A lot of Orthodox churches still don’t have pews or seats of any kind — as C. S. Lewis observed “Some stood, some knelt, some sat, some walked. . . . And the beauty of it was that nobody took the slightest notice of what anyone else was doing.” In Jewish worship, the people may go at their own pace through set prayers, and those who arrive late — not really a terrible thing — start at the beginning on their own. You could call this a cacophony of individualism, but it is every individual focused on God, as individuals together. I’ve seen big, boisterous Catholic parishes do mass with people coming and going all throughout. Some say the traditional liturgies intended to be an image of heaven with constant activity. The rituals of worship — like the law and legal proceedings — operate with or without us, whether we are competent or not, whether the kids are bad or not. So why not relax a little? 🙂

  3. Thanks Arne. I’ll try to chill 🙂

    The churches you describe sound very interesting. I think I’d love to attend one and be part of that. I’m guessing I’d find it somewhat chaotic–but that might be liberating, also. What sounds great to me about what you describe, though, is that everyone is welcome and no one gets looked at with a sideways glance. That’s so rare in churches nowadays, it seems to me. How do we get some of that back? How can we recover some of that “everyone is welcome, come as you are” mentality?

  4. I resonate with what Arne says about our perception of others’ judging glares. I know there are times, particularly when I sit near the front of church, when I feel like there are eyes on me and what I do, even though I know that’s probably not true. I know my wife stresses about that from time to time when she plays piano, assuming she’s being judged for every little flub and mistake when, in reality, even those of us who know the music well enough to notice often don’t. Often our perceived judgment can be a reflection of our own self-judgment.

    I also resonate with the notion that it’s about more than the tone set by the church leadership. The spirit of the congregation has a huge impact on how things are perceived. We can all be in suits and ties with perfectly behaved children, but how do those folks respond when a kid does cry or if someone shows up in jeans and a t-shirt?

    I don’t think it’s that we pretend not to be sinners if we put on our Sunday best and try to dutifully behave through the service, although I suppose that’s possible for some. In my case, I think the philosophy is that we’re being invited to a great wedding feast, as the preached Word is counted true food for our souls, and how many of us wouldn’t put on our best clothes and try to behave at an earthly wedding? The wonderful truth is not that we pretend not to be sinners, but that, through the mystery of Christ, we are not counted as such, so when our neighbors have crying kids or their attempts to put their best foot forward slip a little and expose how little they have it together, we can graciously smile and move on. After all, that may well be us next week.

  5. This is exactly what makes mainstream participation impossible – for the saints! The church welcomes all the worst hypocrites and closet cases and murderers and liars and cheats and often lets them set the agenda. But how does it treat its saints? In my experience, church is no place for saints, who are easily marginalized by the confederacy of sinners looking to point the finger at anybody but themselves.

    1. Well the true saints don’t really need the church. The church is a hospital for sinners that might ideally be run by saints, but that’s a rarity. It’s good if the sinners know who they are and cooperate with a program of treatment, but you seem to describe a situation where the inmates have taken over the asylum. It fails the other way too — even beloved pastors who are true spiritual elites get pulled into the web of dependence. Those who chronically need saving corrupt others into believing it is their task to save them and no one else can. People like being sinners; they dignify it and normalize it if they can. Everyone gets pulled down in the mud. If you want to avoid germs, stay away from doctors and hospitals.

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