A Catholic friend on Facebook asked her Protestant friends to answer in one sentence what is keeping them (or would keep them) from becoming Catholic.
I answered in one word (which we'll get to later), but here's the rest of the essay.
I'm in the Episcopalian Church. Am I Episcopalian? Am I Protestant?
I will say that I'm an Episcopalian choir member. That is familiar to me! On the rare occasions that I do things outside of choir in the church, there are so many things that seem unfamiliar to me, or that I just don't share in. I'd say that, cuturally, I'm not really Episcopalian. I don't know the dance steps, and I get them all wrong.
Of course, you could say that, culturally, I'm Lutheran since I grew up in the Lutheran Church, but I haven't regularly gone since high school so I'm not really Lutheran. I'm in the Episcopalian Church so I can't be Catholic, but the American Catholic Church culture is far more familiar to me since I was in it for 20 years.
For me, it's not just what would keep me from joining the Catholic Church, it's what would keep me from returning.
It's a timely question in a way. A few months ago, we went to daughter's Catholic church in Asheville. In some ways, it felt like coming home. Even though we'd never been at this parish before, it felt familiar in a way that our Episcopalian church - outside of choir - has never felt familiar.
Her church was also very warm and welcoming. Everyone around us shook our hands at the Sign of Peace - even those that were separated by a pew or two. The priest came up and talked to me afterwards!* It was the longest conversation I've had with a priest in over twenty years!
There was a part of me that felt... alive just as a member of the congregation in a way that I don't normally feel outside of choir (of course, choir is far better yet).
There are things I miss. I miss the ease of volunteering for ministries (in the Catholic Church, there aren't all that many volunteers so ministries are almost never closed). I miss the... feel, for lack of a better word, of a community oriented Catholic parish like daughter's. I do know the steps there. They may not always be natural to me, but at least I know what they are. I miss the more concrete homilies. I miss Father C's focus on God's Love.
I miss regular Daily Mass. Daily Services at the Episcopalian church wander all over the schedule so I never know how to try to fit them in from one month to the next.
But I wouldn't go back at this point - not for a long time. Why?
First: The music.
The most common current American Catholic church music is referred to as "Folk music." I'm very familiar with folk music, having steeped myself in it for thirty years. What most of the Catholic churches use use is folk/pop - most often sounding like the songs are 60's and 70's vintage. There was one new song that we sang at Mass once which was soooo 1970's Barry Manilow that I looked to the end to see if the music had his trademark upwards modulation. It didn't - until the choir sang the chorus an additional time at the end and modulated upwards. I couldn't keep from laughing. Dear husband and I looked at each other, and I burst out (quietly) with You know I can't smile without you.
Not to say that it's all bad. There are a number of Catholic "folk" hymns that I like, but there are so many bad ones. Also, for some reason, Catholics can't sing entire hymns. They only sing selected verses ("But the hymn is only three verses long! Why do we have to skip one?!"(Actual family quote)).
Classical musicians, or Catholics who like classical music, or those who even just want to improve the music that is there, are told to "offer it up."** Now, I consider that offering up is a very important part of my prayer life, but, in this situation, it's just an admonishment to put up with it. Catholic musicians can get very self-righteous about the "folk" music. No, my dislike of Catholic "folk" music doesn't mean that I dislike folk music - which I love. It doesn't even mean that I dislike 70's pop music. I just dislike bad music. It's a shame you have to fill your Church with it.
I did offer it up - for 20 years of lousy music. There was one church where we joked about the cantata for choir versus cantor - which was basically how the music went. That was also where I didn't volunteer to play the flute because I wouldn't know which of the four out-of-tune guitarists to try to tune with.
In the Episcopalian church, I was so happy to find that there are numerous other hymns to sing in Advent besides Pre-e-e-pare ye the Way of the Lord. As much as I love Pippin and Wicked (written by the same songwriter), I would be so happy to never hear that hymn again because of its Catholic Advent overuse. It's okay the first 500 times through, but after that...
[Although, if we could sing it while splashing around in a fountain, as they do in the linked video, it would be more enjoyable, although cold in December.]
I figure I'll spend twenty years enjoying and singing beautiful church music, then, maybe, I'll reconsider. After 20 years of wandering in the musical desert, I'm enjoying the oasis.
Also, I have no interest in leaving my current church. I love singing in the choir. Everybody is friendly, the music is wonderful, and the choir director is fantastic (he's also a composer and we get to sing his compositions!). Even when older son graduates and if moves off, I'll still stay in choir.
Second: I wouldn't return to the Catholic Church in the next five to nine years because, although he was baptized in the Catholic Church by Father C, for the last nine years, younger son, has grown up in the Episcopalian church. Now, culturally, he's less Episcopalian than I am. He has no interest in learning the steps of the social dance. However, when I mentioned this post to him, he said that he wouldn't want to join a Church where women couldn't be priests, and he remembers enough of the Catholic music (and has heard it recently) that he far prefers Episcopalian music.
I was actually quite surprised at how strongly he felt about the music, but he's spent a lot of time in the choir room!
In the Catholic Church, he can't, and wouldn't, be able to receive Communion until he went through a year-long class.
Which brings me to the unpleasant subject of...
I went through Confirmation classes in the Lutheran Church. I went through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) when I joined the Catholic Church. I went through Baptism preparation for three children (although by the third, the Director of Religious Education jokingly asked if we wanted to help teach). I sat through the parents' parts of older son's First Communion/First Reconciliation classes (and listened to his complaints about the kids's parts). Daughter had the same classes in a different parish. I went through JIF (Journey in Faith) when we joined the Episcopalian church, and older son went through the teen Confirmation version.
For the first part of the session, teens and adults were together. Older son only had to poke me to wake me up once.
I don't think I have the patience for another round of Sacramental Prep. The only ones that I found useful were RCIA when I joined the Catholic Church, and daughter's First Communion/First Reconciliation class. They were the ones that, not only had a good deal of concrete information, they also had enough interaction to get questions answered.*** I don't find that the Preparation classes usually go in depth enough for me - or for my kids. Older son was patient with the confirmation class that didn't have time for teens to question, but I knew that daughter wouldn't have any patience with that. She decided that she would join a church as an adult.
Younger son is even more critical of classes than daughter and I are. I didn't think that was possible!
Third: At this point, I'm at home when I go to choir and when I sing in the choir on Sundays. I finished the second half of this post after getting home from choir. I'll miss everyone in the choir in a few weeks as it ends for the summer, and I'll look forward to seeing them all again in the fall. As much as I enjoyed visiting daughter's Catholic parish, I have no drive to leave the Episcopalian Church or to return to the Catholic Church myself. I've gotten to like the familiar rhythms of the Episcopalian church. I love the beauty of the services. It's not just the big things - I'd miss the trees I see out the window opposite the choir section. Older son, younger son, and I all agree that it would be so difficult to lose the beautiful Episcopalian music. The two of them are so firm on the subject that, if I ever returned, it would be solo, and I don't want that.
* I'm used to priests talking to dear husband, but he was in the restroom. The priest was actually talking to me!
** For those of you non-Catholics, this means offering up your sufferings as a prayer.
*** For me, both information and interaction are necessary for a good Sacramental Prep. class. Older son's First Communion class was very interactive, but had very little that was concrete beyond "God loves flowers." JIF had lots of information, and a wonderful small group section, but there was never any time to get questions answered (We came up with LOTS of questions in our small group).