If you’ve read the faith posts on this blog at all, you know about our strange “two church” situation (if you don’t know and are interested, you can read Faith Journey). I often have a hard time dealing with this situation. It’s our reality right now, but not one that I would have chosen, and, quite frankly, it seems weird (“But you are weird, Mommy,” as my children would say).
If I had written this last week, it would have been entitled “The Curse of Two Churches,” and, in fact, I did write something called “Church Attendance and Guilt” last week, but though it was too cranky to post (cranky and interestingly tart is fine, merely cranky, well…). Going back and forth between churches makes it seem, at both churches, like I’m absent half the time – which I am, but I’m still attending church somewhere. And, it shouldn’t matter what random other people think anyway – those who know me well know what’s going on.
Today, though, I was able to look at it differently – about the blessing of having two good churches to attend, each with different strengths. There are things that each church does differently, and I like both ways.
For instance, the Lord’s Prayer. At the Catholic church, everyone in the congregation holds hands during the Lord’s Prayer, and we all raise our hands together for the last two lines. It’s a very community-ish sort of thing to do, and I like it. When I’m there with my family, I just grab the children’s hands and pray. Lately, though, when I’m there by myself, it’s more complicated – and maybe only introverts notice this sort of thing. You sort of put your hands out – but not too definitely because some people don’t want to hold hands. Then – do you put your hand palm up or palm down? And you don’t want to hold hands too loosely, seeming like you’d rather not, but you don’t want to hold hands too tightly, appearing too familiar. By the time I’ve settled in, we’re halfway through the prayer - to “Give us this day…”
The Lord's Prayer at the Episcopalian church is much simpler. You just pray. No hand holding. Though I usually enjoy the community aspect of the hand holding in the Catholic church, today I enjoyed the lack of hand holding: “Hey, I can really concentrate without worrying about my hands or what I’m doing – oops, I’m not concentrating!” (And so I still really started paying attention around “Give us this day…” Oh well!).
The Episcopalian church also has more latitude for how you worship. Some people come in and genuflect, cross themselves during prayers or kneel during the Eucharistic prayer. And some don’t. And that seems fine to everyone. I love genuflecting, crossing and kneeling so I do all of them. Some of these, however, are things that the Catholic Church has gotten rid of. Genuflecting, when entering the pew, has been replaced by a profound bow – from the waist. I’m fine with that – especially since I still get to genuflect at the Episcopalian church.
Kneeling has also been replaced by standing for all the prayers at the Catholic church – again, I’m fine with that, but also appreciate the chance to kneel in corporate prayer (of course you can always kneel in prayer at home) at the Episcopalian service. I also love kneeling to receive the Eucharist – the usual practice in our Episcopalian church, but one I haven’t seen in any Catholic church for many years. On the other hand, kneeling for Communion takes longer so, although the Catholic church can finish communion in one hymn, today, at the Episcopalian church, with a congregation about the same size, it took four hymns to finish Communion. But I like singing so I was happy.
I was enjoying these things today, but also noticing that this latitude in worship at the Episcopalian church makes it seem more individualistic – with everybody doing their own thing - than the more community-seeming worship at the Catholic church where everyone stands, sits and bows together. Not that the Episcopalian church is less community oriented altogether – they have a very involved program of Christian education, social activities and outreach. Having been in both churches, I’d say that the Episcopalians, on average, probably spend more time at church during the rest of the week (this seems to be a common Protestant/Catholic difference). But the community feel of the Service and the Mass are different.
So, I find things to enjoy at both churches. A few weeks ago, I enjoyed singing “Here I Am, Lord” with drums and electric guitar at the Catholic church. Today, I enjoyed the more formal music and singing “Thou Whose Almighty Word” with the organ at the Episcopalian church. In fact, listening to the organ is one of the things I enjoy most in the Episcopalian worship (which, since I like most of it, is high praise indeed!), and we’ve taken to trying to stay around to listen to the organ voluntary after the service rather than rushing out.
I’ve been frustrated at not having our church situation worked out in some simple way, but today I realized that when (and if) we do settle in at only one church, I’m going to miss whatever I’ve left.
I’ll end with a favorite verse:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8, New King James Version)