In some ways I am old-fashioned. I think the point of church is to get together with other people to worship God. Sometimes that results in people’s lives being changed; other times it doesn’t. Sometimes the people who come together to worship are motivated to work together outside the church doors for the benefit of the world; other times they aren’t. I think it is still worthwhile for them to assemble to worship.
This is an old-fashioned idea. It dates from a time that took seriously the idea that people were souls as well as bodies, and that care of souls was the primary role of the church. In our modern and post-modern eras, we tend to be materialist. We are a culture of valuing measurable results. So church tends to be valued for the measurable difference it makes in peoples’ lives and the world. By whether it creates people lobbying their elected representatives. Or drilling wells in Africa. Or converting people from one faith to another. The desired results vary with the socio-political location and beliefs of the Christian reading-and-quoting circle. But what they have in common is wanting tangible, material, results by which to measure the value of this thing we call religion.
It is the same culture that turns children’s play into Little League. That straps FitBits on us and turns a stroll in the park into a quantifiable movement towards a fitness goal.
But what if worship is sacred play? What if we need a time and space in which to just “be” in the conscious presence of God? Where else in our life and week are we valued for just being who we are, and not for what we can produce or do? If the church is not that time and space, if we do not protect this activity of worship as having value in and of itself, I think we will have lost something precious – maybe something our souls need.
So I continue in this foolish and old-fashioned activity of worship. Of welcoming people who aren’t going to agree on any common cause for change in the world. Of gathering around an altar that I believe connects us with God. And of that being enough. Of believing that the point of church is to gather with other humans to worship God.
We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, widowed, gay, confused, filthy rich, comfortable, or dirt poor.
We extend a special welcome to wailing babies and excited toddlers.
We welcome you whether you can sing like Frank Sinatra or can’t carry a tune in a bucket. You’re welcome here whether you are “just visiting,” just woken up, or just got out of prison. We don’t care whether you are a cradle Episcopalian or the closest you have come to inside a church is when you saw “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome gym rats, walker users, vegan men, steak-eating women, latte aficionados, and tea drinkers. We welcome people in recovery and people on their way to the bottom. We welcome you if you are down in the dumps, having problems, or are just fine without religion. (We have problems with some of what religion does too.)
We offer a welcome those who want to be here more but their health won’t let them and those who want to be here less but their mothers won’t let them.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced, both, or neither. Who buy their clothes on 23rd Avenue, at Walmart, or at Goodwill. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throat as kids, or got lost and ended up here by mistake. We welcome pilgrims, tourists, seekers, doubters . . . and you!
With thanks to Coventry Cathedral.
“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four colly birds, three French hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree.”
The anonymous author of this song did not make up the idea of twelve days of Christmas. In the church calendar, the season of Christmas lasts twelve days, until the Day of Epiphany. So if you visit Christ Church this Sunday you will find us still singing Christmas hymns. (With also a hymn for the Holy Name of Jesus, since Sunday is also the feast of the Holy Name, aka the Circumcision of Jesus.) And you can still enjoy the lovely decorations the Altar Guild put up for Christmas.
Church on Christmas Day seems to be primarily an adult thing, so on this next Sunday after Christmas, I am going to be prepared to preach the Nativity story for children. We preachers tend to assume that people of all ages know the basic story, and that they want to hear some new angle on it. But for young children, that isn’t true. And in Oregon, where only a minority of the culturally Christian attend church on any regular basis, it may not even be true for many adults. So I will be talking about Jesus’ naming and circumcision, but in the context of the bigger story of this baby born over 2000 years ago who we believe was even more special than other babies.