Anyway, I went to church this morning at Clarendon Hill Presbyterian.
I wasn't particularly impressed by the service, but the pastor won me during our Coffee Hour conversation talking about how a lot of the congregants are into intellectual discussion/engagement, though he said it would come up more in informal conversations, that they don't have a whole lot of actual programs. However, tonight there was a potluck and Advent readings discussion (which of course I came back for).
That said, I feel uncomfortable being courted. Clarification: on an interpersonal level, I adore being wanted/thought of/etc.; the problematic comes when I'm a warm body/demographic. (See also my experience at Emmanuel Episcopal. During the pastoral receiving line after the service today, the pastor [Karl] asked me if I'd filled out a visitor card. I said no. He asked if I wanted to and a bit uncomfortably I said not really. He said that was okay and asked if I was staying -- for Coffee Hour. I said I always stayed for free food :) )
The only time I saw a spread like this (although it was more real food than sweets, but similar quantity of food) was at St. George Orthodox. I was impressed. (And ate enough that I wasn't hungry again until like 4pm.)
I hung around, considering eavesdropping on the conversations going on between other visitors and regulars, and soon various people chatted me up.
Karl talked to me later on. I said I've been church-hopping and he asked what my church background was. I explained. He said Presbyterian is actually similar in that "Presbyterian" means governed by presbyteries and that they don't have much in the way of well-defined theology or liturgy. (I of course wondered what rilkeanheart would have to say on the matter.) He said they're ["they" being this particular congregation] thinking of dropping the word "Presbyterian" from their name altogether.
A lot of their congregants used to live in the area but no longer do, and they have a high turnover rate 'cause they'll get people who are in the area for school and then move away (esp. because of the high housing costs). So as a neighborhood person with a local job of course I'm a desirable commodity. And I agree with the pastor that it sounds like a congregation that could be a good fit for me. He did say this congregation is big on social justice. Given the area, I'm unsurprised, though of course this always makes me edgy.
This of course got me thinking about how I fell into CAUMC. Both churches I attended as part of a vague church-hopping scheme because I hadn't been to services in their denomination before. This makes me wonder if Sarah and I had gone to Clarendon Hill that Sunday in August if that's where I would be regularly involved now. Though I know I hit CAUMC at a good moment and am hitting Clarendon Hill at a good moment.
Of course, I'm basically just going to small group at CAUMC -- sleeping in or church-hopping on Sunday mornings. I liked attending First Cong. in Norwood and going to Thursday evening prayer services at Emmanuel Lutheran. During college, I liked attending First Churches, and they also did great Lenten book studies. I feel a little guilty using some of a church's services and not attending on Sundays.
Karl said one needs to visit any given church for a number of weeks, get a more "longitudinal" survey. Intellectually I know this is true, but it's really easy to just try out denominations/congregations for the "experience" -- I suspect in part because I don't want to really commit to this faith/Christianity thing, want to keep it a strictly academic endeavor (though of course I would also like to have an actual decision as to whether I believe or not).
I recalled how I fell into First Churches (and also CAUMC, though as I said, I'm only sort of part of the community there) and how despite what I just said, it's so easy for me to fall into a community and I really do want to keep my options open, to explore a lot of things.
He said they do a monthly book study -- meet on the third Wednesday of each month -- and this month they're doing Madeleine L'Engle's The Glorious Impossible (illustrated with frescoes from the Scrovegni chapel by Giotto).
This guy was talking to him about the electric candles he bought for the windows -- about how they're on a timer and cost and battery life and everything, a spreadsheet was mentioned. I learned that his name is Mike, and I totally liked him right off the bat. We got to chatting and he mentioned, "My partner and I live in West Medford." Damn, not only are you very taken, but you're probably gay. ::sighs::
And the obligatory writeup of the service itself:
The choir was six people and a pianist; the additional congregation was about twice that number.
Introit: "Come build a land where sisters and brothers, anointed by God may then create peace; where justice shall roll down like waters, and peace like an ever flowing stream."
I liked this song a lot. (Google tells me it's "We'll build a land" by Barbara Zanotti, adapted from Amos. Best link is a xanga, of all places.)
Call to Worship (Psalm 9:9-10):
One: God is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
All: Those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O God, have not forsaken those who seek you.
Opening Unison Prayer (James Kirk):
God of enduring compassion and mercy, your dominion is unending, your judgment forthright. We live by your grace, assured of your love. We praise you for Jesus, who taught us how to honor you; we are awed by your Spirit, who guides and sustains us. We come into your presence to learn your will for us, to worship and adore you as we abide in your realm.
Hymn: "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing"
This was the one hymn during the service that I recognized. They use a black hymnal -- The New Century Hymnal. It gives a mini hymnology with each hymn.
Unison Prayer of Confession (Lavon Bayler):
Almighty God, whose reign we have denied and whose purposes we have opposed, we pray for forgiveness and healing. We confess that self-concern rather than your will, has motivated us. We have claimed to follow Jesus, but your discipleship has been halfhearted, and our worship has been empty of passion and expectation. Turn us around and claim us for your own purposes. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Words of Assurance:
This wasn't printed in the bulletin, but bits of it really struck me.
God is Great. God is Good. [...] God's love is greater than anything we can do to reject, deny, undermine, it. [...] Open your hearts. [...] Find in that love: forgiveness, renewal, joy, rest, power to become a new creation.
The words to the Gloria were printed in the bulletin and I wasn't thrilled with the gender neutralization but I ended up not singing it at all because it was very up-tempo and I couldn't really follow it.
(Words: "Glory to God the Creator, and to the Christ, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.")
Passing of the Peace of Christ
As per usual, I shook hands with like half the congregation. I continue to be jarred by people saying "Good morning" rather than some variant on "Peace be with you" (because). This morning, there were even people who would shake my hand but still be in conversation with someone else.
Time With Our Young People
Interesting phrasing for what is essentially The Children's Message/Sermon.
John 18: 33-37
Karl said he used the Revised English Version because he liked the " 'king' is your word" bit. This version also had Jesus saying that the task he came/was born for was to "bear witness to the truth," which I liked. However, it also has the phraseology of Jesus being handed over to the "clutches" of the Jews, which really rubbed me the wrong way -- especially having recently reread an anthology by Jewish writers.
Sermon: " 'King' Is Your Word"
Karl talked about how Jesus rejects the title of King and his main message was that while playing with words can be good and useful that's not where it's at ultimately.
I thought of the "King of Kings" and "Lord of Lords" banners at UCN in recent years (plus of course Handel's Messiah -- which I think I'm remembering from Smith Vespers).
During Coffee Hour when I was talking with him, I talked about being really academically oriented, more interested in a church's Bible Study than their Sunday worship. He asked my thoughts on the morning's service/sermon. I said that one of my big frustrations with people who claim to be Christian is their often failure to act in a Christlike fashion (or even aim to do so) and that I think it's core that we try to live our lives in love, to root our actions in that, so I was definitely a fan of that part of his sermon, but that of course the de-emphasis on words wasn't my favorite thing ever.
I said that it's a little bit iffy since John opens with talk of Jesus being the Word embodied. He said there were other words that could have been used in the translation. I was willing to cede that, though on reflection, I still think truth and words are closely related in the Bible (both testaments), and also thinking about how Creation was by word: "Let there be [x]" which I've heard the original Hebrew it's just one word [x], kind of like "Behold" or something.
Hymn: "I Sing the Praise of Love Almighty"
Prayers of the People and The Prayer of Christ
"Our Father, who art in heaven [...] debts [...] For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen."
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise God all creatures here below
Praise God above you heavenly hosts
Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost.
This is the gender-neutralization I got used to at First Churches.
Prayer of Dedication (BCO, 1972, adapted):
Holy God, we ask you to see in these our gifts the sincerity of our consecration to your service. Grant that now and at all times our gratitude to you may be as great as your need of your mercy. Amen.
I always get uncomfortable around the idea of giving money (to a church) as evidence of, well, anything.
Hymn: "Christians, Rise and Act Your Creed"
In his Benediction, Karl emphasized "This is
a</em> day the Lord has made," which was interesting, though I didn't quite get the point.
Response: "Praise to the Living God" (verse 4)
I forgot about this icon until I was looking back at my advent daily readings 2005 tag.
I think I am going to do Joy Sadhana this Advent.
I went to the potluck/discussion and wasn't especially impressed.
We started off with selecting hymns for the Advent season (since apparently the new black hymnal is crap for that) and it was so not done in the way I would have done it and just frustrated me so much. An assortment of older hymnals (whatever they had) were passed around, and people flipped through, but instead of writing down the titles of people's suggestions, Karl wrote down the hymnal and number because while the congregation generally does inclusive language, some people get really uncomfortable around messing with the Christmas carols, so they're gonna do the traditional versions. [I would have just taken title suggestions and Googled for the preferred lyrics, or gone through the hymnals myself later. This just seemed so inefficient, plus I'm a control-freak.]
I had been expecting handouts or something of the Advent readings, but instead we got photocopies of a calendar page that had all the lectionary readings and we flipped through Bibles -- first all the Gospel readings and then the OT readings (just the first one listed for each day). And people read aloud, and most weren't very good at it, which is one of those things that triggers my I-hate-people superiority-complex thing. This jumping around also made it hard for me to hold the texts in my head to comment on later.
The Gospel reading for the first Sunday (the Sunday of Hope) is apocalyptic, which I have no memory of, even from last year when I was actually observing Advent. This year it's Luke 21:25-36. [Though looking back, Emmanuel Lutheran had the parallel story in Mark 13:24-37 last year.] Gusti (the seminary intern from Harvard) said she was struck by the theme of judgment in so many of the readings, and Mike commented that it's the Old Testament passages that are really uplifting -- all about renewal, etc. -- which isn't usually the case.
We talked about Luke 3:1-6, 7-18. I summarized John the Baptist there as "You suck. Be nice. Christ is better than I am." Gusti pointed out that the tax collectors and soldiers are seeking the way to salvation. Karl pointed out that John doesn't tell them to stop being tax collectors or soldiers, and I thought of Yoder. Gusti also mentioned that John rebukes them for running away from the wrath they imagine.
Near the end of the evening, Gusti asked if there was stuff people felt like really should be included in the messages (sermons) during Advent, etc. Someone mentioned the message counter to the one we get from society. I said that I feel like regardless of how conservative a church I attend during Advent I hear the anti-consumerist message -- but that there's often in the very same service "And the church fair... and Santa will be there...." Mike said something good about that that I now can't remember.
Katherine (sp?) said it's so hard to have hope -- that the world encourages us to hope for material things, and most of us are pretty comfortable on that end (plus, as Mike pointed out, the readings are often quite challenging to those who have much worldly goods), and that the stuff the Bible tells us to hope for is cosmic and it's hard to have hope when we see that the world is in such bad shape.
Karl said we have the script down for Lent but not for Advent.
I said that I grew up very low church and didn't observe Lent, thought it was something only Catholics did, and that Lent is hard for me, because I live in great comfort and the idea of giving something up and walking with Christ through the desert days is a challenge, and maybe Lent is easier because the world is mopey during Lent, sick of the winter, whereas during Advent the world is caught up in the shopping rush, but that for me Advent is easy, because we are preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ, but we know that Christ has come, and Christ is awesome, so I'm not used to thinking of Advent as a season of hope, but more about pulling myself out of the hustle and bustle of the world and putting myself in the mindset of before Christ came, and thinking about light in the darkness, and I love the winter anyway with the cold and snow, and it's this season if such joy for me, and I finished with saying that it's really interesting to hear how other people experience the season in such different ways from me, and that what she had said made a lot of sense.
Sunday 1: Jer. 33:14-16, Ps. 35:1-10, 1 Thess. 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
Sunday 2: Mal. 3:1-4, Luke 1:68-79; Phil. 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6
Sunday 3: Zeph. 3:14-20; Isa. 12:2-6; Phil. 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18
Sunday 4: Mic. 5:2-5a; Luke 1:47-55 or Ps. 80:1-7, Heb. 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)
Christmas Eve: Isa. 9:2-7; Ps. 96; Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)