Friday, September 21, 2007

I'd forgotten

Occasionally it's really good to dive back in to the CofC world I grew up in...the world of cushiony pews and crowds of people and large carpeted lobbies and institutionalized quirks. It's been a long time since I'd attended a large, mainstream CofC and I'd forgotten some of the charming idiosyncrasies common to our gatherings. The hearty round of hacking coughs after the miked "Amen." The way people dress for each other. The agonizing greet-your-neighbor session that is the CofC version of passing the peace. The peculiar musical aesthetic of hearing the melody line of every song an octave below what's written. The way the men line solemnly up at the front of the church for the Communion trays and then troop out symmetrically down the aisles and weave in and out in this complicated-looking sort of symbiotic dance (ahem, choreography) with each other, and how Communion trays simultaneously and mysteriously appear from the back of the auditorium to speed the process (can't spend too much time communing with God and each other, it's boring, there's nothing happening up front).* The screens at the front of the auditorium with the fun graphics...


During the service at the church I went to a couple Sundays ago, they apparently regularly take time to recognize specific ministries of the church and thank the people who serve in them. That Sunday it was the coffee and donut ministry (an all-around important service, I say, with great great sincerity. I'm thrilled that CCfB is now initiating a coffee and bagel table and hey, thanks to Cara, Ashlea and Regina for doing this!!!). So anyway, up on the screens in front there was a large graphic to announce the name of the ministry, show some pix of people, etc., and to the right there was a graphic of a white church with a steeple in front. As the thank-you progressed, a large donut hurtled down from the "sky" and ringed the steeple (visualize this, people! Come on!) and stayed there for the remainder of the announcement...and no one laughed.

A thought: perhaps now that we too have a screen, CCfB can borrow this graphic when it's time to publicly thank our bagel and coffee people?

A final note. I enjoyed the sermon, although it was definitely a message for a large suburban CofC. The main theme, that the US is now a "mission area," based on the observation that church involvement in the US is declining while it is growing exponentially in areas such as Central and South America, Africa, and China is probably indisputable. But what I wish I had heard more of is, what kind of a mission area is the US? Is it a mission area of unchurched people totally ignorant of Christianity? Hardly. If the US is a mission area it is one unlike our usual conception of the term; it is a mission area comprised of people who are so Christianized that they've forgotten what that means, and who didn't notice when their religion got coopted and politicized and economized out of existence. So maybe we're in the middle of a mission area, sure. But it's a mission that requires a kind of Christian message we've never preached before--here or China or anywhere else.

*I did however have a nice thought about the lateral passing of Communion trays between laypersons. It has the potential to embody an implicit message of equality and fellowship between brothers and sisters in Christ. If, say, we repeated the words of institution to each other as we handed on the tray, perhaps even broke the bread for someone else rather than ourselves, rather than taking the tray while avoiding eye contact, breaking the tiniest possible crumb and munching it in imagined total solitude.

5 comments:

Scott said...

That first paragraph is a great argument for the Disciples. As a minister who, as of last night, is unemployed I could use a break from the CofC world I grew up in.

krister said...

I enjoyed this post; I often whisper to my wife when passing the trays, "The body of Christ broken for you...the blood of Christ shed for you," but it can get a little awkward depending on who we're sitting by and how close together we are in those comfortable pews.

On a separate note, I'm interested to hear more about the type of gospel you're talking about because my instincts tell me the same thing, that we have been Constantinianized (if I can make up a word) to the point of religous indifference. This is why I love Tillich's idea of forms and dynamics, of the need for this particular form to die in order for the Christ/New Being to be revealed (though I've forgotten much of what I read from his Systematics I recall that this idea presents some Christological difficulties). I'm not sure what the church will look like 100 years from now, but I sure hope it doesn't resemble the present state of much of United Statesian (I hate to lump Mexico and Canada into the catch all phrase "North American") Christianity.

JTB said...

Ah, Krister, as always you imagine there was something deep behind these posts...when really I was just babbling. I guess what I had in mind was some mixture of the ACY Lectureship Micah theme cross-pollinated by my reading of Meeks' God the Economist for the class here at GTS that I'm auditing. But really all I wanted to say was that our concept of "mission" generally includes some vision of taking the gospel to some population that is totally ignorant of it, and that is far from the case in our culture. So to think of America as mission area in that sense misunderstands the task. I think it's much closer to the situation that, say, Jeremiah faced with competing against false prophets speaking nice oracles of hope and prosperity and comfort. There are some taken for granted assumptions in American Christianity that, were we to seriously undertake mission in this context, I think we need to explicitly challenge, such as, for example, "the free market is the best way to organize everything, including our health care" (see my new link to US Health Care blog for informed discussion on this).

I'm not real satisfied with this comment but I'm super-tired and also need to get on with dissertating so here it stands. At least this is my blog so if I wanna be slap-dash and incoherent, I can!

nathansethjones said...

I laughed out loud at the part about the donut ringing the steeple. I imagine no one laughed during the service, as they were ashamed of the sexual innuendos running through their minds. Come on people. Lighten up just a wee. :)

And I can't wait to be a part of "thank the ministry" day at CCfB. I bet we could rival the ringing donut.

Hilary said...

Tears in my eyes I'm giggling so at the steeple donut image that no one laughed at. I didn't even think of the sexual innuendos (thank you Nate). But seriously.