This week be churched


Between my two recent posts, 85 million unchurched Christians. Is that good? and A church for the unchurched?, the 300-plus comments they generated, and the General Wisdom of these days, I think we can all agree that overall the main reason so many liberal/progressive Christians remain unchurched is because they reject everything about Christianity that they know has no more to do with true Christianity than Nazism has to do with true social democracy.

So on Sundays they stay home. Which, God know, I get.

I want to share with you that lately I have been attending church, which I have not regularly done for the previous five or so years. But this year I felt moved to properly observe Lent. So did my wife Catherine. So we went to the Ash Wednesday service of a small Episcopal church about a half hour’s drive from our home. (We’re Episcopalians. And we love this church; we have found our church home.) We’ve since attended every Sunday service there. Each Friday evening I’ve also done our church’s Stations of the Cross. At home throughout this Lenten season Cat and I have read the daily readings from the Book of Common Prayer: we read from the Old Testament, Psalms, the Epistles of Paul, and one of the Gospels. (Then we say our personal prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, and meditate for a while.)

Today is Palm Sunday, also known as The Sunday of the Passion. The first day of Holy Week, it is the day we recall Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and Jesus’ Passion on the cross.

Next in Holy Week is Maundy Thursday (maundy from the Latin mandatum novum, “new commandment”), part of the Triduum, or three holy days before Easter. During that nighttime service the ceremonial Washing of the Feet will be observed; also commemorated will be the institution of the eucharist by Jesus “on the night he was betrayed.” At the end of this service the altar will be stripped and all decorative furnishings removed from the church, as is customary.

Following the Maundy Thursday service Cat and I will sit from midnight till one-thirty in the morning at our church’s Altar of Repose; that is, we will hold vigil before the consecrated bread and wine from the Maundy Thursday eucharist which are reserved for communion on Good Friday.

Then of course comes Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus—the darkest day of the Christian year. (On that day two years ago I wrote Today no one gets saved.)

Next is Easter Vigil, also known as the Great Vigil, an evening service that consists of four parts: The Service of Light (kindling of new fire, lighting the Paschal candle, the Exsultet); The Service of Lessons (readings from the Hebrew Scriptures interspersed with psalms, canticles, and prayers); Christian Initiation or the Renewal of Baptismal Vows (Holy Baptism—the Christian rite of initiation and adoption); and The Eucharist.

And finally, the next morning, is Easter, the celebratory beginning of the Christian new year.

I’m glad to have returned to church. If you’d care to, in the days ahead we can talk about the reasons why (most of which I haven’t really explored myself). For now, though, if you are unchurched, I would simply like to encourage you to attend church this Holy Week. My extremely heartfelt recommendation is that you find a reasonable mainline church near you (as opposed to an evangelical or fundamentalist church), and go.

Find your inner Christian—the part perhaps deep inside of you that never stopped resonating with the story of Jesus Christ—and do Holy Week. Be in communion with people. Pray with them. Sing with them. Confess with them. Do the rituals with them. Through the transportive mystical phenomenon of communal worship and prayer, become with them, for however long, angels.

With others step into the ineffable mystery, the unimaginable power, the palpable tragedy, and the wondrously immediate glory of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

You have got every other week of the year to be a solitary Christian.

This week do yourself—and God, and Christ, and the living body of Christ on earth—a favor. Experience Holy Week, in communion with others, at a church.

 

The painting is Giotto’s The Crucifixion of Our Lord Christ.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://www.fordswords.net/ Ford1968

    Last Sunday, my pastor was encouraging the congregation to participate in Holy Week services. He said if we only go to Palm Sunday and Easter, we go from a parade to a party and miss all of the real-life grappling with faith and angst.

    Many years ago, I had a job singing at an Episcopal church. I love the liturgical tradition – especially at Easter. The ritual is really meaningful because it’s a communal experience with believers present and past. It’s also a way to connect with the original followers of Christ, and to understand the emotional journey they went on.

    Passover coincides with Easter (it starts on Monday this year). I love the Seder dinner which is a ritualized retelling of the story of Exodus that happens in Jewish households across the world. It’s a great way for me to connect old and New Testaments – to ground my understanding of the gospel in the greater arc of the story of God.

    Quite simply and beautifully, we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves; God is faithful to all people through the generations (this one included).

    • Jill

      I would SO desperately love to hear you sing, Ford. Any chance of it? :)

  • disqus_vse8VLAIQm

    If I wasn’t so jaded from trying a good number of churches in my area, I’d consider it. I do try to go to church on Christmas and Easter, because I think they’re important to being a Christian, but every time I go back, I’m not impressed.

    • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

      Oh. Well, wouldn’t want you to not be impressed.

      • disqus_vse8VLAIQm

        Thanks.

      • James

        I get what disqus is saying – for me it’s more the static just gets in the way of it all, to the point where it’s hard to work out if any of it’s real. I believe more when I don’t go… :-/

  • Lance Schmidt

    What a beautiful invitation. I’m off to a Palm Sunday service in a couple of hours, but as far as I’m concerned church just got started right here and now at my laptop in my home office when I read your post. Blessings.

    • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

      Thanks Lance. And thanks for all your very great comments here lately.

  • usingmyvoice

    How interesting, John, I have also returned to church, and reactivated my membership about 10 days ago…

  • Worthless Beast

    My issues with going to church / deciding not to are different than most. I’m not avoiding for politics anymore, it’s just straight up introversion. I’m so awkward around other people and so fearful that in any group of people I’m just going to be an annoyance that I’m pretty much only social (and limited here) on the Internet, where I don’t have to make eye-contact. It’s gotten so bad I stopped going to therapy because it involved going out.

    Surely I can be forgiven for staying home and eating chocolate or taking walks in nature like I do every year due to having a broken brain.

    • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

      I get that I’m pretty much an introvert myself. Sometimes it can be a chore to have to deal with people especially in groups. That said group therapy and the right medication have made a huge difference in my life. I still need my solitude but more and more I also need community. I believe that we best understand God through community and ourselves through solitude.

    • Jill

      I hope one day the virtues of non-churching stop going overlooked, for it seems that anyone authentic about their chosen faith have to de-church for a period of time, if only to center it clearly within their own lives and hearts.

      So much communing happens on a quiet park bench and on a busy downtown street corner.

      • Lance Schmidt

        Wow – great insight – I love it.

      • Worthless Beast

        Or at a creek with a fly in the water…

        • Jill

          I hear that a lot– fishermen/women sound like the sages of our time.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

            Well I happen to fish at the freezer aisle, but there is something about sitting by water, enjoying the sunshine, seeing waterfowl fly or float by, hearing the buzzing of insects, and getting a good old fashion sunburn, on a gorgeous day that is contemplative, glorious and soulful.

          • Worthless Beast

            I get my fishing license every year not because I expect to catch anything, it’s more like “an excuse to be outside on nice days.”

          • Worthless Beast

            If you can take the burping and the snorting and the scracthing…

            I’m female, by the way. I’m not so much into the beer-drinking… prefer soda or Gatorade…

  • Michele N. Morgan

    I’ve been attending an LGBT+ specific non-denom.

    It’s small, but full of love.

    Really, it’s the only LGBT+ safe space I’ve been in outside of the Interblags because I have issues with people.

    I can be out, and not be overwhelmed there.

  • BrotherRog

    7 Ways to Find a Progressive Christian Church:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2014/01/7-ways-to-find-a-progressive-church/
    - Roger Wolsey, author, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity”

    • Jill

      so good

  • Peggy Michael-Rush

    I truly would but there simply is no church close to me that is not either very conservative or just Christianity Lite. I miss observing Holy Week, but I can’t handle superficial observance either.

  • Funsize

    I’m an evangelical, but I must say that I much prefer how Mainlines celebrate Holy Week. Evangelicals just don’t put enough emphasis on it all. I plan on attending my local Episcopal church for Holy Week, and I may end up going to my local Catholic church for the days leading up to Maundy Thursday, so I can have a week filled with church ^_^

    • Lance Schmidt

      That’s really awesome. I find that each faith tradition has a unique strength that they bring to Christianity and it can be wonderful to include spiritual practices from all of them. My spiritual home is among the Anglican “frozen chosen” but I don’t think they know what to think of me as a reformed Mennonite post-atheist indie Christian whose Sunday morning ritual may include belting out evangelical southern gospels in the shower before silently chanting the Eastern Orthodox Jesus Prayer during my walk to church and then going all Catholic while genuflecting and crossing my way through Eucharist. Sometimes you just gotta let loose and have some fun with this stuff – and some of it can stick and become really meaningful! :-)

      • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

        yes yes yes yes yes yes i so dig it.

      • Funsize

        Exactly! I think there’s way too much hostility between denominations. While I don’t always agree with what Progressives think, I still find I can learn a lot from them and absolutely respect them. I, too, pray the Jesus prayer quite a bit :P I think I’m a bit of a “fruit salad” of denominations, and I’m glad to find someone else like me :D

  • R Vogel

    It’s interesting that one would take up the label of a denomination when one does not attend church. Or are you only episcopalian when you do attend church? This would leave me in a tight spot since I do not attend church and the last church I attended was a fundie evengelical gig, so I certainly wouldn’t use that one. If one can be an episcopalian without actively attending church, can I be a presbyterian without ever having been in a presbyterian church? One can only wonder…..

    Now I have no idea what presbyterian’s believe and what distinguishes them from the thousands of other denomination, but I like the name, particularly the ‘sbyt’-part. You don’t see than very often.

    • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

      Man, it’s so weird what people will find to get snarky about. I didn’t “take up the label” of being Episcopalian, R. Some 12 years ago I was ceremonially received into the Episcopal church by the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego during an Easter Vigil at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego. I was an active member of that church for about seven years. When we moved to a different area I attended another Episcopal church for awhile, but then stopped going. Now I’m attending a different Episcopal church that I like very much. Lemme know if you need any more details.

      • R Vogel

        Many apologies – I wasn’t trying to be snarky. I find it interesting how people identify themselves is all. I gleaned from some of your recent writings that you no longer actively attend church so I found it interesting you still identify as an Episcopalian. I find this with many of my Catholic relatives – not to compare, it is the only liturgical tradition I have exposure to with the rest of my family coming from the Independent non-denominational flavor or conservatives fundamentalism. So I glean that you did not stop attending church over some issue with the church or denomination itself so you still feel comfortable identifying as such. As I mentioned that is not my experience so I find it interesting. I apologize for the way I expressed myself which clearly offended you. I forget the importance most people place on their religious identities.

        • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

          You have no idea how much “importance” I do or don’t place on my “religious identity.” It’s you who made it an issue. (And your passive-aggressiveness is really grating.)

      • R Vogel

        Not to be picayune but you certainly did choose to ‘take up the label’ when you (a) decided to be received in that denomination versus the myriad others and (b) when you decided to identify as such. It is not a judgment. We all take up different labels for different reasons. I am interested in how people, myself included, do this. I, for instance, identify as a Marine. I have been out of the Marines now for longer than I served, and I have no plans to go back. I have become for more pacifistic as I have aged so I no longer even have much solidarity with their mission, but I retain the label even so. If I meet a group of vets, I will immediately feel more solidarity with any jarheads, and if none are present then sailors, before I would with Airmen or Soldiers. It’s a strange little hierarchy that exists in my mind. I have far more in common with the average soldier, having been in the infantry, than the average sailor, but Marines and Sailors both fall under the Department of the Navy and that, apparently, means something to me.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      I suggest you do what I did, before landing in a Methodist congregation. Check out the different denomination’s histories and tenets. I actually waffled between the Episcopalians (the denomination I was first baptised in), and the Methodists.

      • R Vogel

        Thanks for the suggestions. I am less interested in the particulars or different denominations, although It is intellectually interesting, then how and why people identify with those they either (a) no longer actively attend and/or (b) no longer agree with. This is playing out in quite an interesting fashion with all the progressive evangelicals trying to scramble for reasons to continue to call themselves evangelical in light of the WV debacle. My family members who aren’t Fundies are Catholic where I see this most conspicuously. I thought it was interesting that John identifies as episcopalian, when I thought from previous posts he indicated he no longer attends church. Perhaps I read more into it then was there overstating his separation in my head. We all suffer from reading through our own personal lense at times. I regret offending him

    • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

      The thing that distinguishes the Presbyterian church from other denominations is its form of governance. Each church is governed by a session made up of elders elected by the congregation, congregations send delegates to the synod, and the synods are part of the national church. So you could think of it as local government, state government and federal government. Although that greatly simplifies things. Also there are no bishops in the Presbyterian tradition. Presbyterian also believe that all members of the church are ministers in all may preach the gospel but the services are usually conducted by an ordained minster (pastor). These days there are extreme far right Presbyterians such as dominionist and liberal Presbyterians like the Presbyterian Church USA and everything in between.To be a full fledged Presbyterian you need to formally joint the church but anyone is welcome to attend services and partake of communion.

      • R Vogel

        That’s pretty interesting. Is it this governing structure what distinguishes them from other denominations?

        • James Walker

          “presbyter” is an old word that means “elder”. so, yes, the governing structure is what made the denomination distinct from many other offshoots of the Church of England.

  • Jill

    Thank you for this, John. Of course everyone comes to this concept with their own stuff, their own story, but there is something about a religious ritual that is shared with another (or many) that holds value. It is not the only way to go, as you clearly
    acknowledge. But it is A way to go. It does bring us out of our routines and allows us to feel connected in ways we might not otherwise.

    I’ve been churched now for about a year and a half, with persistent reservations that may dog my footsteps indefinitely. I may not stay churched indefinitely and yet I leave open the possibility that this may be how my relationship with Jesus might remain. I may not consistently be receiving what I need yet there are people there that benefit from my kind words and support. In some instances it’s about something bigger than me.

  • DonRappe

    The shared ritual is very important to me. Through it we can make each other glad in ways that may be otherwise unavailable;the means of grace.

  • Catherine Hammond

    Just wanted you to know that I took your advice and went to church last Sunday. Was so glad I did. I will go back. Thank you.

    • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

      I really appreciate you letting me know about this, Catherine.

  • SonjaFaithLund

    Took your advice, and I found a lovely little inclusive Episcopalian church in Costa Mesa. They’ve welcomed me with open arms and I’m looking forward to attending for the rest of the weekend, and maybe beyond.

    • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

      Fantastic! Thanks for writing to let me know, Sonja.

      • SonjaFaithLund

        Update! I’ve been attending every Sunday since. When I move back home in a couple of weeks, I’ve already found another Episcopal church near the Presbyterian one my parents go to. There’s just something about this denomination which really speaks to me.

        • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

          This is really great news. I’m so glad you wrote to say this, Sonja. I’m the same way. It’s just … the Episcopal way for me. I think it’s perfect.


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