"Wherever you go, let God be before your eyes;
Whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures;
And in whatever place you abide, do not easily leave it."
On September 17, our little parish will take a step that gets us stuck. As the collective body, we commit as if marrying ourselves, to a piece of land on Whitlock Ave. This is bit different than most of my Christian friends experience, but then again, walk into our sanctuary and it's clear this is a different kind of space. It's sacred space. We don't tear it down for basketball midweek and we won't be able to relocate to the burbs when we become a mega-church.
We're prepping with plans for a formal dinner, special clergy invitations, welcome baskets, thank you baskets, a cleaning and re-organizing of the parish areas and a ton of other little items that will take everyone of us pitching it. The physical labor makes the spiritual labor to which we are committing feel real.
The spiritual labor is intensive. Last year, a nearby parish in another jurisdiction had their altar consecrated. I use the pronoun their instead of its because the parish, while grounded in the place now, is still the people. The bishop who washed their brand new altar, annointed it with holy chrism, and installed the relics of a martyred saint within its bowers, also charged the parish for their role in the community. A missionary priest from Indonesia did the same, saying we all had the responsibility to pray for our community, to fast and to seek its salvation.
The Spiritual Labor of Consecration
That's the spiritual labor. We are committing our children, our children's children and future members of this parish to stay on this land, so long as the earth exists.It's a ballsy move, pardon my vernacular. I mean, we don't know what the future holds.
It makes me want to hold my breath. We have a nice plot of land for growth there, but really, what if the neighborhood goes south? It's already a bit on the other side of the tracks. I called the police on my way home tonight to report possible child abuse in house nearby. Our gardening guru found a toddler running half naked down the street with the family's pitbulls last summer. At night, foxes pop out of the tiny wooded plot adjacent. This is wild territory. It could go either way.
That's not what I'm thinking most about though.
Too Many Parishes?
I'm thinking about those parishes out east that were founded a century or so ago, by immigrants. There is one every few blocks. Ukrainian Greek Catholic. Russian Orthodox. Orthodox Church of America. Antiochian Orthodox Christian. Catholic. The diocese of these jurisdictions are making tough choices about closing parishes. We've served in tiny and large buildings with just a few attendees. On the Sunday where a grandchild, who ordinarily doesn't come to church, brings her son to be baptized, twenty people show up! In the auctions and antique shops, there are reliquaries, confessionals, altars. What happens when the elderly who will fight denture and walker to keep their doors open without change die? They are laid to rest, sometimes at the rate of one a month. The youngest people in these parishes are often middle-aged. Forty and up. What happens if we become one of these? What if we just want to be laid gently to rest someday? We don't want the little kids dripping wax in the wrong spot or leaving footprints on the new glass doors. We don't want the youth group canting. What happens if one family builds a dynasty on the parish council and will not give up the chicken barbeque, or the ethnic festival?
A Serious Business
This is serious business. We are committing ourselves to this city and its people and to one another. We are committing to accepting annoying habits of new people in our parish. We are committing to helping keep each other's children in the flock. We are saying, "I will pray for your children's salvation with the same anguish and intensity as if they are my own." We are saying, the tattooed kid who shows up at our door and three years after he's chrismated wants to go to seminary, "We will support you." We are committing ourselves to a variety of chant. We are saying, we won't get old, stuck in our ways, and refuse to change for the love of the other person. I'm not talking about all the meta-changes that modern Christian publishers are hawking. I'm not talking alterations to dogma, creed, or liturgy. I dare to wonder if most of those are masks for the refusal to try to work with the dude or gal who is our neighbor. We want to novelize the big stuff so we're all distracted from the hard work of interpersonal relationships.
We are saying to each other: "I have. I do. I will."
Tonight, one of our seekers, a Weslyan, said that Christians have become so accustomed to schism we just accept it. I realized, we are. We are accustomed to walking around a mutilated and injured body. Instead of healing, we make more marks, hoping these tattoos we imprint on our worship and prayer habits will make us look cool and relevant and pretty. It's not that tattoos are bad, but I know a few people who add one every few months or annually. They get restless and bored. When they need to sex up their existence, they alter their appearance. It's a pretty static change to themselves. It doesn't alter their state of being, just the external look and feel. Marriages do that. Families do that. All that experimenting and trying on the experience to be sure we aren't missing something, all that change without hope that our souls will be satisfied.
"Do Not Go Gentle..."
Those older people out east, the ones who fight the closing of their parish doors, understand a truth. It's not supposed to end. They are supposed to have relationship with the space, and the people. But we get crusty and static. It's easier to make a few vanity changes. We can claim we change. But we are stuck. A different kind of stuck.