As we enter the last month of our bicentennial year, I find myself quite reflective. One particular thought has occupied my time, especially as we step back and participate in liturgies from the 1789 Book of Common Prayer. In a world so different than the one of our church founders how is our role in the community, our mission changing?
When Saint James’ first opened her doors, James Madison was president, we had only 18 states, and Edison’s light bulb was still over 60 years from conception as was the invention of the phonograph. Imagine the role the church played in that community. What happened each Sunday at Saint James’ was in all likelihood the most significant cultural and social event of the week. The church had little competition on Sunday morning (or any other day of the week for that matter). Imagine the transcendent beauty of listening to the organ and raising your voice in harmony with the gathered faithful prior to radio, records, tapes, cd’s, much less iPods and streaming music…. Contemplate the power of a well-crafted and delivered sermon in an age without film, television, or the internet. The church truly was the center of a community’s life.
Today, two hundred years later, we live in a world with not only widespread use of electricity, but information and entertainment available at the touch of a finger, incredible demands on our time, and increased secularization. Even Sunday mornings are not reserved for church. Church competes with people’s work, their sporting events, incredibly limited family time, sleep, CBS Sunday Morning. Does the church need to adapt to a changing age? Or is the nature and rhythm of church all the more indispensable as a foil or balm from the world outside? I cannot predict the breadth of Saint James’ or the larger church’s ministry in 50 years, but I do think I have some insight on the relevance of church now and in the future.
I look no farther than my own household as I see what the church has done for my children. Their world is one of decreasing attention spans and ramped overstimulation, where mindfulness is a form of therapy or a behavioral tool instead of a core piece of living in relationship with the Holy and acknowledging the sacred all around us. In that context church becomes our sanctuary if not our John the Baptist calling out in the wilderness.
Elliott and Lauralee step out from the countless distractions around them and commit 90 minutes of their week to participate in an ancient ritual that shapes them towards God. The wilderness time forces intentionality, focuses them outside the self, and engages them with others outside their peer group. The church’s message not only provides hope but encourages a goodness that society has failed to unconditionally model or affirm.
I also pay particular attention to what they see apart from the liturgy…. people supporting one another in adversity, celebrating joys and milestones, volunteering time to the service of others. Elliott and Lauralee also witness people investing in them, acknowledging their full personhood, engaging them in conversation, sharing their wisdom and their stories, and naming and celebrating my children’s gifts and contributions to the church. The people of Saint James’ are helping them “grow into the full stature of Christ”.
Additionally, as we light advent candles, discuss the church seasons and Sunday readings around the dinner table, witness their tight knit community of friends galvanized through Sunday mornings, school, weekends at Shrine Mont, and participation in countless other parish activities, and listen to them articulate their ever expanding theological understanding, I see my son and daughter, still with a lot of growing up to do, but most assuredly a product of the church. And I am deeply indebted.
I pray when they find themselves in valleys or unexpected turns in the road that their church will not only provide them the assurance that God is with them, but a community praying for them, loving them through it, and when needed holding them accountable. I hope the church instills a lasting sense of mindfulness, peace, and intentionality in order for them to appreciate the holiness of this life. I also depend on the church to continually ask my children as they grow into adulthood, are you living the life that God prepared for you? How are you impacting others? I wish we as adults leaned even more heavily on the church so that our children could see and trust that the body will lift us up and dust us off, center us, and embolden us.
I cannot see the future but I am looking pretty deeply into the present and I see a church as alive and relevant as ever and pray for the sake of our children and their children that the 250th and 300th anniversaries find the church so fully about the work of being church.