Thursday, May 18, 2006

We must all hang together or ...

I recently had the opportunity to compare three very different styles of church in the space of a week. First there was the enthusiastic, drum-driven Sunday evening Mass at the local Catholic mega-church, then the companionable and rather intimate Tuesday afternoon Eucharist in the university chapel, and finally a Sunday morning with the Rite II crowd at the tiny Episcopal church up the road.

The Sunday evening Mass was crowded, and loud. The crowd swayed in time with the music (though I noticed that hardly anyone in the pews actually sang). It really did remind me of a huge, non-denominational Christian worship service in a hockey arena that I once saw on TV. Of course there would be no mistaking the university chapel for anything but a church, but the Eucharist there had its loud moments, too, thanks to the appearance of two small children who had their own ideas about how best to give praise. There were no children at all on Sunday morning and that felt odd, though the ten o'clockers were noticeably younger than the white-haired crowd that populates the early service at this same church. By and large this seems to be a fairly liberal church congregation, and we were well into the hour before I managed to figure out why it felt so very old-fashioned. The church is quite small and the altar stands against the front wall, with the priest facing away from the congregation. I can't even remember how many years it's been since I prayed to a priest's back that way.

I came away from all of this thinking how curious it is, really, that we humans should feel drawn this way to public worship. Certainly it's related to the impulse toward God, but it's not exactly the same. What is it we hope to take from our fellows at prayer? A turn at riding along in their slipstream? Affirmation that we aren't crazy for believing that there's a deeper reality beyond the bricks and mortar world that's most obvious to us? Or is there something that just doesn't happen until we’re all there together?

I don't know the answers, but it did occur to me as I took a deep breath and marched myself into the third church where I wasn't completely at home in such a short time that life would be a lot simpler without it ...

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