Monday, March 7, 2011

Plain clothes clergy member

Cartoon courtesy of Dave Walker who is also taking notes for use at
I have more to say about preaching, but I find I have things to say about church generally, so I'm thinking Monday will be church day here at The Infusion. It will be a mix of things, but in my new and peculiar role of a priest in the pews, I thought I'd try to report regularly on what I see there.

Personally, I'm in a very unsettled place church-wise. I don't have a regular place of worship. I haven't found a church I really want to attend. I find myself twitchy during services and tend to come home grumpy. And all of those factors mean I don't go every Sunday, that's for sure. It's a good thing I have Saint Laika's which is what I consider my home congregation for now. I go there almost every day.

Yesterday, I went to a church where there was a baptism. When I arrived, the usher greeted me with the news that "We've run out of bulletins, but I can give you the baptism leaflet." Well, fine. I can manage.

Except it turns out that everyone was supposed to get both a bulletin AND a baptism leaflet. In front of me were two men, sitting separately, who had received just the bulletin. When it was announced for people to turn to the baptism leaflet, one looked madly through the pile of pages for such a thing while the other went to the back and got a copy.

Here's what's distressing: the man who got a copy did not share with the man who didn't have one--and was clearly a visitor who did not know what was happening. I tapped him on the shoulder and gave him my copy.

At the passing of the peace, the stranger said to me, "Is the service over?" Just the intermission, I told him. Time for announcements. Turns out the man next to the stranger, the one who hadn't shared his bulletin, was the senior warden.

And then...Eucharistic Prayer C which is the prayer that requires lots of congregational responses. This poor man flipped back and forth: was it in the bulletin, the baptism leaflet, the readings? I gave him a copy of the prayer book and pointed out where we were.

What was particularly heartbreaking was that this church had obviously taken some trouble to make the service visitor-friendly. They had a person in the front whose job was to announce the hymn numbers and to invite people to stand, which I thought was a very nice touch. And the rector extended an invitation at communion which explained the process of receiving the elements. Also lovely.

But it was hampered by the paperwork. I know it's a pain, but when you know you're going to have visitors, making an all-in-one bulletin is the gracious thing to do. Yes, it's more expensive. Yes, it takes more time. However, the church is not supposed to exist for the church's convenience, but for those who are not-church.

People aren't mean; we just get stuck in our patterns.  The problem is I think we forget our fundamental reason to be as we look for our comfortable weekly rituals. How do we keep our fundamental principles always in front of us in everything we do?


it's margaret said...

yeppa --and it's just not green to make so many bulletins....

I watched a member of the exec. comm. at the church I serve totally ignore a struggling visitor this weekend.... made me very sad.

Anonymous said...

Every clergy person should spend some time, without a collar, in the pew. I've been home with my kids and it has been both illuminating and sad. The visitor is truly invisible in many parishes. Just recently I saw someone one day with a collar and one day without and he said, "I didn't know that was you yesterday". Amazing.