February 5, 2011 Leave a comment
As you may recall, I recently made several abortive attempts to go to church. Well, I’m glad to announce I finally made it happen. Actually, I made it happen weeks ago, but I was hoping to do a little compare and contrast by also going to a Buddhist temple. However, my attempts to get to temple have been abortive thus far. So for now, my experience in the pew.
I rose early on the morning of Sunday, January 9th and put on my dressiest sweater–the gray one with the decorative buttons on the cuffs and a scoop neck–and a pair of jeans. Back when my church family was 99% of my social circle, looking good at services was as important to me as it might be for a normal girl to look good at the club. This was my dating pool and I dressed to impress. I don’t have that in me anymore. Now I sometimes dress up for my writing group–the only consistent place I see any single men. Sigh.
So off I went. I was almost late and just sort of beat the procession of choristers and the priest in the door. I froze for a second until one of the ushers helpfully told me to just go ahead and not to worry. I got a program from said usher and found a seat near the back of the sanctuary. Once I settled in, I took a good look around.
I’d decided to attend the Anglican church around the corner from my apartment and I wasn’t disappointed by the actual space. I know nothing about architecture so it’d be a joke for me to try to tell you about it, and truthfully it’s probably not so different from any other Catholic or Anglican church–but it was beautiful. They say that churches are designed to elicit a desire to worship in the people who enter; this space succeeded in this. The stained glass windows at the front of the sanctuary caught the sunlight just right and made it seem like God was specifically sending those rays into this particular church.
Most of the 20-odd people there were sitting far apart, each seemingly attending their own private service. I wondered then if they were all strangers, but later on I would see them greet each other. That was interesting to me–this ability to be separate, yet together. In hindsight, I liked that: people could actually have a private worship experience, but still enjoy each other socially later.
The bulk of the of the service isn’t really worth writing home or blogging about. I will say this though–you needed a play book to get through it. Without the program the usher handed me when I walked in, I would never have known what was going on. And the Book of Common Prayer was the actual play book of the service. For a while I thought everyone just knew by heart all the responses to the calls made by the various people at the front. After a while I figured out that they were all reading from the prayer book. In addition to spoken call and response, there was sung call and response and I actually found it really amusing and kind of awful. It was mostly sung on one note and it was awkward syllabically to say the least. I assume that it works better in Latin than it does in English. Perhaps we shouldn’t have made words of worship accessible to the masses.
The sermon was blessedly short. During my years in the fundy church I came to expect 45-minute, 3-point sermons with funny story intros and desperate wrap-ups. But having been away from that sort of overkill for so long, I have no more tolerance for it. So when the sermon turned out to be a 10-minute defense of Christianity, I was relieved, if a bit confused. I couldn’t really figure out who the audience was for this sermon. Never have I seen such an example of preaching to the choir. There were mentions of Richard Dawkins (author of “The God Delusion”) and Bart Ehrman (author of many books including “Lost Christianities”) and I thought it was odd to hear their names in such a short talk. I was left with the impression that someone in the congregation had read a work by one of these two authors and questioned the priest at length or something. The funny thing was that hearing the priest try to mount such a defense of Christianity only inspired me to want to argue with him. That was when I realized that church was probably not going to be for me. At least not this one.
The service ended and there was an organ postlude. I am accustomed to these and in the church I grew up in, this was supposed to be the time during which you reflected and I guess got in your last minute prayers before you started your week of sinning. The organist played a beautiful piece by Bach and it dawned on me that it was the only moment during the whole service that I felt anything close to a sense of the divine. It was the only thing that brought me a measure of peace and tranquility. Everyone clapped when it was done and my sense of peace and calm immediately went the way of the dodo.
Before I could make a quick getaway, the priest found me and made sure to introduce himself. I suppose I couldn’t have been hard to miss. A new face and an ethnic minority at that. He made the usual overtures–did I want to stay for tea and coffee, no I have to run (lie), could they put me on the mailing list, I’ll think about it (lie). He wasn’t pushy in the least but there was such an earnestness about the request that it was hard to tell him outright that I wasn’t interested in being a member of any sort or of even socializing with the people around me. I was a bit dismayed that I couldn’t seem to escape the evangelistic element of Christianity, even in a denomination I wouldn’t characterize as particularly evangelistic.
Reflecting on the part of the service that left me feeling the most warm and fuzzy, I’m thinking that maybe I need to just go to performances of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra a lot more. As for conventional church services, I’m glad I gave it a try, but I don’t see myself going back.