Church #8, part 9

Ahh, 39 articles, your time is almost up. We are currently at 29, 30, and 31. So we actually heard 29 last week, I just did my notes on post-its and lost that one. What I remember after reading it again is the long subtitle which pretty much says it all already: Of the wicked which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord’s Supper. It means that if you aren’t right with God, eating communion won’t be true communion for you. It continues on the theme of not treating the bread as a talisman. You can’t eat it and expect it will magically make you holy. If you are an evil person doing evil things, putting the communion wafer in your mouth is an empty sign and means nothing.

The next articles are straightforward enough. Article 30 says its ok and also good to take both the bread and the wine. Article 31 says that Jesus was the atonement sacrifice for our sins and we need no other. In my experience of churches, both these things are widespread and well known. I don’t really find many places arguing against either of those. Except of course that many churches use grape juice in place of wine. So far I have seen only Catholics and Episcopals use wine. But I may have missed some with the communion once a month tradition that many churches go by. Any of the pastors and knowledgeable people with further info on wine vs. juice, feel free to chime in here.

Thoughts on Gnostics, martyrdom, etc

So, a friend of mine loaned me a book called The Gnostic Gospels. The gnostic gospels are a set of writings about Jesus and early Christianity, but they were not placed in the canon of the new testament. For one reason or another it was decided they did not jive with Christian belief and should not be considered true gospels. This type of writing is called gnostic from the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge, because many of them deal with obtaining inner knowledge or enlightenment.

One of the chapters in this book deals with the death of Jesus and what it signified for early Christians who themselves suffered torture and death. Back in the day, you could be executed for admitting you were a Christian. Mostly this was about worshipping the wrong God, but also about rumors that Christians drank human blood, did magic, and committed sexual atrocities- same as the other weirdo fringe groups. Well anyway, it was pretty darn dangerous to be a Christian and talk about it. The early version of the church we know today, put forth writings to encourage Christians. They said being killed for confessing Christ was actually a good thing because it was a way of becoming pure and attaining God. It mirrored the very death of Jesus. Gnostics felt a bit differently. They saw Jesus’ death as split between the suffering of his body and the triumph of his spirit. Gnostic writing talks about confessing Christ through one’s actions. Confession aloud is of lesser importance because it is only words and therefore shallow.

So Christians had the issue of persecution and torture, and they were split into disagreeing factions on how best to address this. Gnostics never came right out and said to lie. But they did seem to favor an approach that let them keep quiet and avoid death when possible. The predecessor group to the modern church said that being martyred was good, even glorious and led the way to God. And martyrdom was becoming a way to gain more believers to the church, as many wondered what these Christians had that let them face death willingly.

It kinda struck me that this disagreement is a bit like some of the early ideas surrounding the civil rights movement and work towards black equality/advancement. There was a school of thought following Booker T Washington, advocating that blacks show through actions that they are intelligent and model citizens. Confrontation was to be avoided when possible. On the other hand, W E B Dubois led a more direct approach which involved being vocal- the type of thing likely to incite violence.

The reasons for Christians to speak out and incur violence were different than the aims of the civil rights movement though. The Gnostic Gospels points out that Christians were not after recognition to drive acceptance. They were after a closeness to God which probably did drive both recognition and eventual acceptance of Christians.

All of this makes me wonder about my own world. I have no point of reference for expecting violence or death for being myself. If I was in a different time or place and had a reason to fear torture, what would I do? Would it be more important to keep quiet and live, passing on my ideas as secrets? Or should I speak out who I am and take the consequences? I don’t think I will ever have to decide. But I do wonder.

Church #8, part 8

So I only managed to get in the 39 articles visit this week. I have to admit this week they felt strikingly uninteresting. 27 is about baptism, how it is symbolic new birth, and how it’s fine to do on infants. Further explanation elaborates that infant baptism grafts a child to the church so as to make it hard for them to leave. Where an adult can resist, a baby cannot. This seems odd to me because I thought God was about giving humans free will and letting them decide stuff for themselves. Do we really need to forcibly bond a baby to the church so they can’t escape? If God is good, babies will grow up and choose to love him for that reason.

The next article (28) reiterates a lot of what we heard last Sunday. It’s not called transubstantiation which converts the bread into Jesus’ body. It’s faith. And we don’t understand it. This article also prohibits adoring the communion wafer and carrying it in your pocket like a lucky charm. Not that I was gonna. I eat my lucky charms with milk. Next week I seriously need to get in another actual church service.

Church #8, part 7

This talk we learned about articles 25 and 26. Article 25 lists some sacraments Episcopalians hold useful, naming two of them ‘great sacraments’- the sacraments of baptism and communion. What’s so great about them you ask? Well Jesus expressly said to do them. Jesus told his disciples to break bread and share wine “in memory of me”. After he comes back from the dead and visits the disciples He instructs them to go and baptize all nations. This short speech is found at the tail end of Matthew.
Article 26 is kind of an interesting one. It details the fact that communion is still a sacrament even if the priest serving it is evil or has done wrong. This means a person taking communion need never worry their priest has sinned and somehow invalidated their receipt of the body and blood. The priest should see to his own sins, but they are not passed to the bread and wine. Communion still counts for the churchgoer. I think this could be read as stating anyone can give communion. I wonder, what other things it is ok for anyone to do in the Episcopal church? Presumably a priest still has to apply the blessing or invocation that makes bread and wine into body and blood. Maybe? We learned in relation to these articles that the bread and wine becoming body and blood is a mystery. This is contrasted with the Catholic church which refers to the process as transubstantiation. This seems to me like splitting hairs, but hey, use whatever word you like best.

Future Project Ideas

So this week I seem to have some kind of low grade infection; I’m insanely tired and have low appetite. Consequently, my day off yesterday was just me vegging in front of the TV trying to be interested in food. I wound up seeing a series of programs on NatGeo (hip new name for National Geographic) which were about religion. Specifically about isolationist type groups like the Amish and Hasidic Jews. We have no Amish near us, but we have a group called the Bruderhof. I hear they allow visitors sometimes and I’d like to visit them for my project. At some point in the future it would also be good to get an Amish view and later, after an extensive spectrum of Christianity, I want to check out Albany’s variety of Judaism.
For this week’s post, I’ve done another St Stephen’s visit. It will be coming as soon as I can organize my notes and copy them into blog form.

Church #10, Delmar Reformed Church Part 2!

Date: 5/6/12

Church: Delmar Reformed Church

Pastor: Dirk Gieser on sermon, David Corlett did some of the other parts of service

Time Spent: 9:30am-11:00am

Overall Impression: pretty much as before- nice people, nice place

Type: Reformed Church in America

Format: Traditional worship: announcements, unison words, hymn, unison prayer, children’s time, more unison prayer, scripture, sermon, doxology!, hymn, communion, hymn and closing

Thoughts: Second half of my planned visit to this church was totally worth it. The service felt like what would happen if you took a 1:1 mix of all the good parts of Methodist and Roman Catholic churches. The traditional space is very formal with lovely stained glass windows. The service was easy to follow, owing to the neatly printed outline in the service handout. If anything I actually found the traditional format more likable than the contemporary. It’s not like people were either stuffy or unfriendly at the traditional worship. I showed up in a clean but rather large tee-shirt and jeans with a rip in the knee, but no one frowned at me. The woman on my right briefly engaged me in conversation after service and would have talked longer, I think, if I hadn’t spied another person I knew from my camp counselor days. We also had the following exchange during service. She set a leathery covered folder on my stuff. I realized I must somehow not have given her enough space so I politely moved my coat and bag. Then she smiled and whispered “No, it’s for you to put your name in -only if you want to.” It was a folder with the attendance and it wasn’t to single me out as a newbie. I noticed her name and another were marked as regular attendees. So I put my name in and handed it to my other side. The lady on my other side also smiled at me and whispered that I could give it back to the first woman if I was done. This simple exchange made me very happy, because it demonstrated politeness and zero amount of pushiness. If all Reformed churches are as nice as this one and church #4, it will be my new favorite denomination.

The sermon was another about marriage; this time utilizing the first letter to the Corinthians. Paul (the letter author) talks about coming to the church and whether it is best to be single. Paul seems to like being single because a marriage is “impending distress”, but he says it’s fine to be married or single or even widowed. Come as you are and God will be cool with that. Now this Sunday an interesting thing happened. My blog was quoted. You may remember that I wrote about the first visit to Delmar Reformed and the sermon used Ephesians and a verse describing men and women and what they ought to bring to a marriage. Women were told to respect and men were told to love- this from the bible. Additionally Pastor Dirk made it clear women should also love and men should also respect. I pointed out that Paul might not have been forward thinking enough to state his sentiment with the equality it needed. This week Pastor Dirk noted my observation and then pointed out that in the following verse from Corinthians, our writer Paul actually gives men and women identical treatment:

For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does.

So husbands and wives can both say to each other “your bod is mine!” Is it just me or does Paul write kinda hot for a single guy?

A couple of additional points I left out regarding the service; 1) The only thing missing was the greeting of your neighbor. I am used to this in most churches, although it’s not like much was lost here. 2) It was a communion week. In this church you don’t have to go up front- they actually serve you at your seat! 3) Did I mention I love the doxology? I wish it could be my ringtone.

Overall Feelings: Now that I can accurately compare the two styles, I think the traditional version is plenty accessible that they don’t need a contemporary worship. The sermon style certainly felt the same. No one really minded my relaxed outfit at the traditional. And there were a couple things done better at the traditional. I felt better following a modestly detailed outline that the traditional service provided vs. the loosely written contemporary one. It’s also easier for me (coming from a musical background) to read music from a hymnal than guess at a melody line with words on a screen. But my advice is to go with what the congregation likes. Catering to the visitor over the regular is not a good idea. (go read my post about OldChurch) All in all I still really like this place.

Church #10, Delmar Reformed Church

Date: 4/15/12

Church: Delmar Reformed Church

Pastor: Reverend Dirk Gieser

Time Spent: 11:15am-12:30pm

Overall Impression: Kinda fun

Type: Reformed Church in America

Format: Contemporary worship: singing to words on a screen, children’s time, sermon (bible verse imbedded), song and closing

Thoughts: The place is extremely wide with several entrances, so I asked a couple exiting about where to enter. I was brought in and introduced to an usher and shown the contemporary worship space. There is also a sanctuary with traditional pews and altar which houses the traditional worship at 9:30am. The usher seemed keen on introducing me to some other people, to which I smiled but worried inwardly. The first two people I met were really talking to me a lot and that usually means everyone will try to welcome me. Actually only one other person engaged me for any length of time, and I think he chose to do so rather than being prompted to. That ended up being cool as we talked after the service. We had some things in common, we were similar in age, and he didn’t come off as trying to sell me on the place. That all happened after the service though. At the beginning I was still dubious. The contemporary worship was arranged physically like others I’ve seen; the band at the front with some guitars, a singer, and words on a screen behind them. But it was tamer than a lot of places might do. No one put their hands in the air, or shouted ‘yes Jesus!’ or danced much. Actually there were a couple of kids dancing. But, mostly people just stood there singing quietly. I assume that means the shouting and hands up stuff is not usual for Reformers (Reformists? Reformites?) and they were just doing like they always do. There weren’t too many people in attendance. Maybe there were 30ish? I really expected more because again, the outside looks huge. But no one seemed bothered by the turnout so, on we went!

The sermon was about marriage and Ephesians 5:33. That’s the verse the no one I know likes, but it still turned out to be a really worthwhile sermon with some good points. Here are the ones I remember. Actually the verse first:

“Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband”

Remember that nonsense? It makes it sound like the wife and husband are held to different standards. I liked how it was addressed though. Men and women are different. They have different hormones going on, their brains actually seem to have different strengths and weaknesses when compared, things have different types of importance to women vs men. I can relate to a story the pastor told- If a man says, “I have nothing to wear!” what does he mean? Probably, most of his clothes are in the laundry. If a woman says the same words, she’ll often mean that she has nothing new in her closet. These don’t fit everyone of course, but it illustrates that the sexes think of things differently. The pastor said (and he was basing this on a relationship book called Love and Respect) that women tend to seek love and men tend to seek respect. Breakups can ensue if either partner doesn’t feel they are getting what they are after. So it might be helpful to know which one is more important to you- if you fit the majority or not. The bible verse seems to have been written for the majority. It’s telling us to give the other person what they want. And it’s pretty old as documents go, so maybe they weren’t progressive enough to think of writing it the other way too. Pastor Dirk clearly thinks love and respect should extend both ways, and in fact that it’s necessary for a solid marriage. I’m going to tack this on the end, but he gave us a statistic that I think is very strange. I’m not sure how to interpret it. A study asking about marriage had 40% of people saying they thought it was becoming obsolete. 95% of the VERY SAME PEOPLE said they wanted a marriage. I am confused by this, but it also sounds like the people in the study were fairly confused too, so I’m not worried about it.

Overall Feelings: I’m still trying to decide if I like the casual formula as they have it. I haven’t seen the traditional service (yet), so I will hold off comparing the two until I can get back there to see the other half of it- so to speak. As a stand alone the service turned out to be alright. Also really good talks after service. The people there seem very real.

Next stop

This weekend I will be out of town doing something possibly blogworthy. Maybe I will post about it next week. Haven’t decided yet what my next stop after that will be. These last couple churches have several varieties of service and it’s derailing my plan a bit because now I’m not sure whether to revisit. Also, the 39 series is still really pulling me in and I wonder if I should take a Sunday or two and just do the 39 and go home after. It might be a nice break to do that. Especially if I have to work the Sunday afternoon. Well, I’ll let you know.

Next stop

This weekend I will be out of town doing something possibly blogworthy. Maybe I will post about it next week. Haven’t decided yet what my next stop after that will be. These last couple churches have several varieties of service and it’s derailing my plan a bit because now I’m not sure whether to revisit. Also, the 39 series is still really pulling me in and I wonder if I should take a Sunday or two and just do the 39 and go home after. It might be a nice break to do that. Especially if I have to work the Sunday afternoon. Well, I’ll let you know.

Church #8 part 6

Today the articles continue with number 22. Anyone not familiar with this; it is a lecture/talk series about the 39 articles of religion of the Episcopal church. 22 is pretty straightforward. The Anglican church does not believe in purgatory, indulgences, or prayer to saints. That is to say they are ok with asking saints to pray (St Veronica pray for me-) but not with praying to saints (St Veronica please give me-). We talked in a zig zag about related stuff and heard a bit from a visiting priest about formalities which priests must affirm as they are ordained and promoted. The visiting priest stated that he’d always heard Episcopalians (that is American versions of Anglicans) did not really believe in the 39 articles. He also said that some of the decision makers in Ireland wanted to relegate the 39 to a historical document. I can’t say I blame them. It feels a bit out of date at times, to downright ridiculous at other times. That whole mess with article 13… I’d toss that one, or at least revamp it. We also got to hear about the medieval Roman Catholic Church some more, because the article is in direct contrast to what they were teaching at the time. Kind of an interesting side note came up: Catholic teaching no longer includes limbo, which was a permanent home for the souls of unbaptized babies. It was not hell, but not heaven, and it was sort of a neutral place for babies who couldn’t possibly have sinned yet, but couldn’t have had baptism either. Currently the Catholic Church seems to hold tentatively the view that they probably go to heaven. Father Egan brings up an interesting point regarding this. He says that if these babies go to heaven, they couldn’t have had original sin. Does this negate the Catholic teaching of original sin? Without a Catholic priest handy to ask, I’m not really sure. But it really makes me realize how easy it might be to fight about this kind of thing if one is very enmeshed in it. I’m really happy that I live in a place where people don’t hurt each other over such disagreements. As for me, I don’t need to know where babies go, or whether purgatory is a real thing. Once I’m dead I’ll find out, and in the meantime it makes no sense to get worked up over it.