My response to a friend’s post on changes in Church
Fran-ela, the beloved, is always pointing out some good stuff to read, and today, she pointed out a post by a blogger named Kelly who is on my blog roll as well at Not a Virgin, But Occasionally a Martyr. Her post is entitled, This Day Will Not Come Again, and in it, she speaks of a floating, disconnected feeling from her church. Services have been missed, holy day services held at inconvenient times, off-putting Latin has been inserted into the service, and other impending liturgical prayer changes are anticipated in trepidation.
Last night, I was at a friends’ house for a mile-stone celebration. Over coffee and cake we talked about a host of secular and religious issues all of which seem to stem from facing change. I work at a public college – she works for a church, and we discussed how resistant people are in general, and congregations are in particular, to change. They don’t want to “do” anything – they don’t want to minister actively, they don’t want to grow, they don’t want congregational makeup to change, they don’t want the prayers to change, the candles to move, the hymns to deviate. They just want the church of their childhood to remain as a fixed mausoleum that provides them continuity, and stability and comfort – a place that is as you always expect it to be.
I’ve been in a prolonged emotional and spiritual dark night of the soul. I don’t know how to communicate what I am experiencing properly, and so I often begin posts and discard them in frustration or apathy or sadness. I haven’t written much on where I am spiritually in a while – because at the moment, I don’t know where that is. The church is a very human enterprise, from start to finish, and it’s often very frustrating to me. Dealing with what often feel like petty and narrow-minded concerns, expressed by people who proclaim to be “Christian” eats at you slowly. At one time, I imagined I might be called to be a priest – that perhaps in that capacity I could do something that would make a difference – but I see the collar now as something that constrains. Parish priests are in the worst form of middle-management known to man. Caught between the will of their parishoners and their bishops, they are often damned if they do and damned it they don’t – unable to respond authentically to God’s call in their lives, because they are too damn busy “administrating” this unwieldy and often un-Godly edifice known as the church.
It’s enough to make me despair, for the church, specifically, and humanity more broadly – myself at the head of that list.
With those thoughts in mind, below is my response to Kelly’s post:
My dad stopped attending mass when they stopped saying it in Latin, because to him, it wasn’t really church anymore.
I grew up in a Vatican II church, and so, have NO experience with the mass in Latin. Folk masses were the substance of my childhood church experience.
Of course, the last supper was not said in Latin, or for that matter English, but in Aramaic – the vernacular of Christ and his disciples. I suppose, in the sense of tradition and authenticity of experience, that makes a rather pointed argument for mass in the vernacular.
There is a very fine line between preserving things for the sake of preserving them – because they give us comfort in their predictability, cocooning us in their familiarity, and making changes to make things more theologically or historically authentic. In my mind, the Roman Catholic church has always been a rather poor custodian of authenticity, particularly after it became a state religion. I mean, Jesus and his friends had dinner together as a group of friends – no one wore vestments or said canned prayers. They were just together, gathered in love for one another, and listening to their beloved teacher. No incense – no hymns – no procession. Don’t get me wrong – I experience all of those aforementioned practices as actions that elevate the common to the holy – that create a separate, sacred space – but that’s not what Christ did at the last supper, for which Eurcharist is to be an anamnesis.
All that being said, I totally understand what you mean about the cadence and rhythm of a completely familiar liturgy, with prayers and responses ingrained into your being, like breath. I’ve been an Episcopalian now for almost four years, and the cadence isn’t there in their services. Sometimes, I really miss it.
I am always torn between wanting the church as comfort and wanting it to be a living thing, which is active and relevant and growing – all of which necessitates change. It’s one of my personal conundrums.
Anyway…that’s sort of where I am spiritually – torn between remaining a part of something, which is difficult and my desire to fade away, and give it up to people who are more worthy of the challenge than I. More and more I have doubt as to what it all means, and whether or not this enterprise called church holds meaningful value, if the cost is so high for some and if all the current members really want is for it to remain a memorial to the church as it was back in Mayberry – a land so beloved and also non-existent – because my Mayberry is far away from my mother’s or my grandmother’s or her grandmother’s. It’s a fairytale – an elusive place like Atlantis – where everything is fine and figured out and marvelous – but there is utterly no proof it ever existed anywhere but in our own minds.