Friday, October 30, 2009

Twice-a-year Churchgoers: Guest post from DairyStateMom

PeaceBang, on hiatus from her regular blog, has been scratching her blogging itch on FaceBook. One post there yesterday particularly struck DairyStateMom (who was the original PeaceBang reader and fan in our house). She responded briefly at FB, and then we talked about it some last night and this morning.

A later comment from PB
I always make a heartfelt invitation on Christmas Eve for people to join us at other times. And I really do feel it. I also feel for the people whose lives are obviously so harried that they yearn for community but honestly don't know how to go about becoming part of one. But I am just SO TIRED of meeting people at various events who seem to take some pride in informing me why they don't go to church (they're too enlightened, etc.) but "we love what you do at Christmas - it's so pretty." Someday I'm just going to speak my mind to them.
(emphasis added) helped us understand her original comment more sympathetically, but DSM felt moved to articulate her reaction to the overall thread, and I am posting her thoughts here:

First, let me be really clear: I’m COMPLETELY sympathetic with the emotions PB is expressing in her later posts, which gave a much friendlier picture of where she was coming from than her original (as she admitted “not very nice”) remark.

It’s just awful when another is eager to criticize one’s own hard work or one’s community, particularly when they’re equally eager to be morally or intellectually superior to oneself. (“I don’t come to church regularly because I’m just too rigorous a thinker for any such community.” Oh, please. Let me slap your head; perhaps you won’t be quite so rigorous then.). And I can’t help thinking that PB is probably much kinder when she meets and talks with these folks than her initial FB remarks were.

Further, it seems to me that good manners for the visitor suggest that timing, as always, is everything. Standing in the post-Christmas service greeting line with a hundred other people behind you is probably not the best moment in the world to tell a minister that you felt really annoyed when he said X or Y or Z in the sermon. Visitor: if you want your words taken seriously, why not ask for a little of the minister’s appointment time in a week or so, when things have calmed down a little bit?

All that said, let me make a case for the need (or anyway the inevitability) of such visitors, and the corresponding need to treat them in an welcoming a fashion as possible, despite their high annoyance factor. (Or as annoying and difficult people were called in at least one congregation I belonged to in the past, the EGRs, for Extra Grace Required.)

It seems to me as a thoughtful (I hope!!) churchgoer that clerics almost constantly struggle with a certain tension.

First, they are called to create a community, which needs to include some amount of challenge and risk for its members, or it winds up in a much-too-comfortable place that helps no one’s spiritual growth.

Simultaneously, they are called to welcome the stranger, who may not now or ever be ready for the challenges of a community, or at least not the one the minister serves right then.

Could anything be tougher?! On the one hand, one can take for granted that one’s audience understands certain conventions, gets the inside joke, will have heard the echo of last month’s series of sermons in today’s sermon, and so forth. On the other hand, none of those things are true. Pace Charlie Brown, AUGH!

And yet.

Dizzy Dean, when asked by his play-by-play man to praise an outfielder for a spectacular catch, said “That’s his job!” And so it is here. It’s the job of the minister to be the spur to her own community while maintaining a sense of welcome and tolerance for the new and grumpy and annoying. It’s the job of the minister to meet people where they are, wherever that happens to be.

All visitors, but especially the C&Es (Christmas & Easters, or Santa-Bunnies, if you will), bring fresh eyes to a church’s service, and if all people are God’s children (or are inherently worthy and dignified), then surely even the most annoying visitor has special eyes with which to see what others might not. Any fresh perspective -- even from someone who’s only too eager to tell you where you screwed up -- is helpful.

And may a non-UU gently point out that UUs pride themselves -- rightfully so! -- on meeting all people where they are in their journey? How better to do that than to be much gentler than people might rightly expect or imagine. How much more necessary when one remembers that some people come to UU churches having been deeply wounded by experiences in another denomination. Such experiences might well include having their own perspective dissed or ignored; so again, what a great opportunity to show them how blissfully different this church is.

Annoying people are also another branch of diversity. Diversity in congregations is taken as A Good Thing. But why?

Because the more different kinds of people who are there means that there is at least the potential for more points of view, more ways of thinking, more ways of expressing, more ways of living, more ways of loving.

Because then each of us sees clearly that Our Way Is Not The Only Way.

Because then all of us have more chances to hear God's voice among all those voices, because we never know in whose mouth God will put the words that we need to hear just then.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, DSD, for lending DSM the podium today!

    And thanks, DSM, for your wisdom! As a UU seminarian aiming for parish ministry, and someone who knows I have to work on what Christians sometimes word as "let[ing] go and let[ing] God...," I greatly appreciate your assessment of what the job of the parish minister entails and the significant benefits of dealing graciously and inclusively with ERG's (wonderful term!).

    Bless you, DairyStateMom!


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