01 September 2013

Church matters

Time for a Sunday Morning church post. It's long, but not preachy, so relax. :)

The United Church is my church home. In the same way that BC is my home. I wasn't born into it; I adopted it. There are parts I love, and parts I avoid like the plague. There are people I love to be around, and plenty I don't. The doors I used to walk through on Sunday mornings have closed. Permanently, and so now I'm looking for a new place to put my butt. And so far, none of the seats are comfortable.

It's not that the people aren't lovely. They are.
It's not that there isn't a warm welcome. There is.
It's not little things like projectors instead of hymn books.
It's not the theology.
It's not even the liturgy (which is NOT my favourite thing).

So what is it?

Old. Conservative. Tedious. Stodgy. Institutional. Completely out of touch.

Well, what I like about the UCC is the liberal theology. The questioning of what God is. And the okayness of saying, "Oh, I totally disagree!" Today's service could have only been more panentheistic if they'd actually used the word. The labour rules that the church enforces are equitable between sexes, between genders, and between genders is okay with them. Women are valued as much as men. And no one gives a crap whose fucking who. That's kinda awesome.

The church is liberal. The central church. The moderator. The congregations, at least the ones I've been to, aren't.

Take today. I went to a lovely little church tucked away in a wealthy area of town (which in Victoria means the houses in the area average about $800,000). I walked in about 2 minutes late, and it had already started. There was a sea of white hair and little else. I scanned the congregation and found 4 other adults under 60 (there may have been more, but that's what I saw). And there were 5 children. The children and their parents were the only people who weren't white. Oh, and one Asian guy. Now Victoria is rather white to begin with, so this wasn't really a surprise. And not a bad or good thing, though I do enjoy diversity. Just an observation. The average age was at least 72 and probably closer to 75. We took a seat at the back. The songs were projected onto the screen, but there were also hymnbooks for those of us who like to look at the music as well (BLESS THEM! There's nothing worse at church than not being able to sing along because I don't know the tune and have no music to read).

Then it was time for the children's time. I went up to the front with Pop and we listened to the fifteen minute lecture that the old woman had prepared and read - She READ the children's "story". It included words like narthex and right relationship with God and doctrine. I literally expected her to use the word panentheism at any time, because that's what she was explaining to them. It was basically a sermon, but written for ... I don't know, adults with a learning disability? It certainly wasn't for children. And I was bored to tears.

Oh, and the "responsive prayers"? Good God, people. Either do it with some joy, or just drop them. There is very little on earth that brings on the lolsob than hearing a congregation of people reading a prayer of joy like they're 8 year olds repeating after the most boring teacher on earth. Oh God we sing your glory! We praise you Oh Lord! should not sound like something Charlie Brown's parents say. And I've never yet found a church that doesn't fail that test. Every one of them. It's painful.

So we went off to Sunday school where I usually leave Pop. But he was clinging and I had a weird feeling about it. Ugh. Another lecture. No toys. No games. Nothing fun at all. It was literally school. One of the women figured out that Pop and another boy were bored and so she took us downstairs to the nursery. Where there were also no toys. They were expected to colour quietly while talking about God. No. I am not kidding.

There are a million reasons why the church is dying. The old conservative people's idea of reaching out to young people is playing a tune written after 1970. One. For diversity, I guess. The clergy must be getting frustrated. The young ministers come out of the seminary with all these ideas and then run into councils that are filled with old white heads that cry, "But we've never done it that way!" They make tiny little changes that to them feel groundbreaking, but to those of us dying for change feel like rearranging the furniture (and sometimes, rearranging the furniture is literally the change they're arguing about making. I am so not kidding. I witnessed a large church blowup about whether a pew could be moved.) There are still choirs in robes. There are still anthems. There's still membership. You have to officially join a church to be a member of the elders which is another stupid thing (elders?! Everyone there is elderly. I was an elder at one church, and I was the youngest member of it!). This means, you can go to a church for 40 years, but if you haven't joined officially, you can't vote on spiritual issues. Bwuh? My generation says no to that. Just no.

Institutional change is needed in our churches. And I have no idea how to make that happen in a bottom-up run church. Why why why must every service be at 10am on Sunday morning? Why not Saturday evening? Why not Wednesday evening? Why must every service be exactly the bloody same? Sure, different readings, different sermon. Same shit, different day. And I mean that as gently as I can. I love a good sermon. And I guess the answer is, "Because that's what the people who still run it want". They don't like to do new things. I went to a service where the minister asked everyone to turn around to each of the cardinal directions. He honoured the directions as symbolic. Well! You'd think he'd asked them to get up and dance a jig and then spit on the cross the way they reacted.

It's a problem. Young people who might be craving a little bit of the spirit have no where to go that respects them. Show up in a UCC while being under 40, and you can pretty much expect to be asked to join a committee. Blergh. Bring a kid, and they'll want you running the Sunday School. I honestly can't think of any church job I'd rather do less. Maybe being the person who has to keep the UCW happy (United Church Women, for the uninitiated). We're young. We have jobs. Or kids who are full time jobs in my case. We don't have the luxury of being stay at home moms to kids who go to school for 6 hours a day. So it makes sense. We don't run it. We don't get things our way. And so we don't go. We don't stick it out like the old folks did. And they don't get that. I actually heard one woman say of my closing church that her church would absorb all of us. She said, "There's no other United Church around. They'll have no choice but to come here". Oh. Oh honey. No. We can choose to drive across town. We can choose to not go. We can choose to join the Pentecostals (shudder). She didn't understand that. And I love that lady. But she doesn't get it. One flu epidemic, and her church is done. There's no one there to keep it going in any fashion, never mind the way she likes it. Because there's no youth. And the way it's set up requires a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of money.

You know what'd I'd really like? A charismatic church with a liberal theology. I want to sing and dance and celebrate on Sunday morning. I want to revel in God's love. I want to sing the glory. I want to wave my arms in the air. And I don't want to be told I'm a horrible sinner not worth of God's love. I don't want to hear about some literal hell where I'm going to burn forever because I think women are sexy. I don't want my friends to be unwelcome because they think God is "just" the energy of the universe. Or because they have a penis but wear a dress. I want a place where everyone is welcome, as is, and is celebrated as is. And where we can all get together and worship. And I do not see that in the United Church. Oh sure, there are some where my dancing would be smiled at rather than scowled at. And once, someone joined me (I named Pop after her. Only sort of kidding.)  But it's not the norm. And not even possible in some places.

So what's the answer? I dunno. Change for the good of the church, or die and rise from the grave. I know which one started the church... So I guess we'll see. In the meantime, Pop and I will keep looking for comfortable seats to put our butts in every Sunday. Even if they don't fit properly, we can try to find something that's close enough, and then work to make it just right.