Well, it’s been a few weeks, I’ve been enjoying my summer, and a little break from posting on the blog, but now I’m back at it.
Yesterday morning, my girlfriend and I went up to Shoreline, just north of Seattle, to visit a Catholic church. I’ve already done a Catholic church, but that one was only a Thursday morning mass, not the full show, and so I’ve been wanting to go to another Catholic church for a while. This one is near a friend’s house, and we were invited up to breakfast after the service, and so it was a good excuse to make the trip. Not that the trip was very far. Shoreline is the city immediately north of Seattle, and we live in the northern part of the city, so it was actually fairly close.
Saint Luke Parish was built in 1977, and it looks the part. It has a very 70’s vibe to it. It has a school building attached to it, and rather large grounds. The church part is brick and wood and looks like the kind of church the Brady Bunch would attend. There was no soaring arches, no impressive stonework, and no giant doors or grand spaces. The building is short, comfortable, and pretty practical-looking for a church. The roof was almost flat, and the brickwork had a 1970’s office building kind of feel to it. Unlike older churches, the ramps and handrails installed to meet modern standards don’t look like they were tacked on. There were also lots of windows, and lots of natural light.
Saint John’s in Seattle, in contrast, was truly a grand, magnificent, old space. Personally, I like Saint Luke better. Saint John’s makes you feel small. Saint Luke just feels like a place to hang out. It’s more comfortable.
Neither is Saint Luke quite as festooned with artwork and treasures as the other Catholic church. There are little sculptures on the wall of the various stations of the cross, and of course, there is the huge crucifix and obligatory statues of Saint Mary and Saint Joseph. There was a baptismal font, and lots of pews to sit in, and some small stained glass windows to let in light. But it was very modest compared to to Saint John’s.
Mary and Joseph’s skin seemed to be made of metal. Possibly silvered, although it could easily have been chrome or any other shiny metal, I can’t really tell the difference. It made them seem more like robots than saints. I could almost imagine a single glowing eye sweeping back and forth like a 70’s era Cylon.
I would totally go to a church that had Cylons as saints. We give thanks to the Lord … By your command!
Jesus up on the cross was a little different than I’ve seen him elsewhere. Instead of some poor nearly naked guy dying a horrible death by being nailed to bits of wood, there was a robed, and fully clothed Jesus springing forth from the cross with his arms raised, as if he was about to fly away, Superman-style. His flowing robes even kind of made a cape. Super Jesus is better, in my opinion, than Torture Victim Jesus.
There was a band, which consisted of a pianist, an acoustic guitar player, and two vocalists. They were great. The hymns they played were a lot more upbeat and jazzy than I would have expected from a stereotypically stodgy Catholic church. The piano player was especially good. It was interesting that the parishioners sang along rather sedately, like a group used to organ church music. They should have bopped around and enjoyed themselves more. The music was fun.
Of course, in most churches, you’re not supposed to bop around and enjoy yourself. This is serious business, after all. However, at the very end of the service, the the little band played This Little Heart of Mine (one of my favorite gospel tunes), and as soon as the priest left the building, the flock applauded the band. I guess you’re not supposed to applaud while the priest is in the house. But I was glad they did applaud because the performers really deserved it. In all the churches I’ve attended so far, some of which had some great music, this is the first time I’ve ever witnessed the attendees actually applauding.
The priest was young. And by young, I mean young. After the service, I asked him how old he was. He rolled his eyes at me, as if he’s constantly having to answer that question, the poor guy, and said, “I’m old enough.” To which I replied, “I’m not doubting that, you did a great job, I was just noticing that you seem very young.” I told him that I visit a lot of churches, and he’s the youngest-seeming person I’ve yet seen giving the lesson. He told me that he was thirty, and was, in fact, the youngest priest in the parish.
When I told him that I thought he did a great job, I meant it. He is a very good speaker. I wish I could give him some points for his message, but unfortunately, there was no humanist value in it whatsoever. There were some announcements that came from other folks that did contain some point-worthy things, but the main thrust of the message for today basically about suffering for Jesus.
I know that the Catholic church pretty much sets the message for the week, but I also know that the priest can add to that message. The African guy who is the priest of Saint John’s ad-libbed a bit, and because he gave good advice, got points from me for doing that. I think this young priest, as good a speaker as he was, missed an opportunity.
This priest, and really all pastors, imams, priests, rabbis, fathers, and whatevers have an opportunity to talk their flock into going out and doing something truly great. He could have told people to sign up for a Habitat for Humanity project, or to donate to Doctors Without Borders, or donate blood, or really anything useful and good. Instead, he said that in order to be faithful to Jesus, you just might have to suffer.
His examples were interesting, and included a woman who converted from Islam and had a tough time of it from her friends and family, and he also managed to get a pretty fun and on-topic example out of Disney’s Alladin, which I liked.
But you know, I hear this message a lot at different churches. This message of being faithful, suffering, or just believing as the center piece of the sermon I think is part of the reason why many churches are dying. How many people really want to hear that? How many people can identify with that message? Some, I’m sure, but not nearly enough to keep the faithful coming every week and putting coins in the offering box.
Eventually, the only people who will keep coming are the true believers. And I gotta tell ya, those people are kind of weird. You shouldn’t tailor your message to them, they already believe. You need to tailor your message to the people who have one foot out the door.
I think that one of the things that make people feel like they belong to a community is for the community to have a purpose and for them to feel like they’re participating in that purpose, and then to be recognized by their peers for having done so.
If, as pastor or priest, you tell your flock to go out and do something good… some of them will do it.
Now having said all of this, I have to point out that this particular Catholic church does seem to have a fairly active community of people who do go out and do good things. One of the people who did the announcements talked about volunteering and donations for a food bank, and so that qualifies as a point on my scale. If the priest had mentioned it, it would have gotten two points.
Sidelining the good things a community does to a ten second announcement isn’t enough emphasis or encouragement.
There was another brief announcement requesting monetary donations for a program called “Build Hope” that was specifically benefiting people in El Salvador. After the mass, I went looking for literature on this, so I could decide whether it was worth a point or not, because if it was just giving out bibles, like the Mars Hill guys do and call that charity, than I wouldn’t have considered it point-worthy. But the literature I was able to find talks about building economic independence, and that sounds good to me, so I gave it a point. Again, if the priest had spent any time talking about either of these worthy projects, it would have been a good thing.
One final note on hygiene:
Communion in this church lacks appropriate hygiene. I didn’t participate, of course, but even if I was a Catholic, I’d have second thoughts about drinking from a cup of wine that scores of other people had just drunk from. I doubt the alcohol content of the wine is enough to kill the germs, and I doubt that wiping it with a napkin afterwards does anything more than smearing the germs around the rim of the cup. I worry that old folks, young folks, and anyone with a compromised immune system could get pretty sick from this sort of thing.
Update: After it was pointed out to me on Reddit that this isn’t as unhygienic as I make it out to be, I had a conversation with a molecular biologist. My scientist friend tells me that if (a) the wine is port (which someone on Reddit said it would be), and if (b) it’s only sips being taken in the cup, and (c) they wipe it with a cloth, then it’s probably not that much of a problem. It may not even be as unhygienic as shaking hands. It’s still a minor risk, but it’s not the major risk I make it out to be in my comments above.
So, thanks to Reddit and Science I learned something. I still think that the practice outlined below is a little gross, though, although I do understand that if one believes that it is the transubstantiated blood of Christ, then one would naturally want to handle it in a very specific, reverent, and respectful way.
But one thing at the end kind of horrified me: The priest poured all of the leftover wine from the several communion cups into one cup, along with some (holy?) water, and drank it. Dude. I know these last two paragraphs make me seem like a germophobe (I’m really not) but that is just gross.
Now, maybe you think God will protect you from germs, but you might take note that he doesn’t exactly have a good track record for that sort of thing. Google “1918 Flu Pandemic” if you don’t believe me.
So, finally we get to the points:
Being good to your fellow human: 2 (food bank, Build Hope)
Help your community: 0 (no mention)
Be good to yourself: 0 (no mention)
Good and timely advice: 0 (no mention)
Could easily have been a 4.
Channeling Disney (1 point)
Super Jesus (1 point)
Communion backwash (-2)
Net honorary points: 0