Friday, March 12, 2010

Getting to this point - her story - Part 1

Years ago when my future husband and I began exploring the possibility of being in a relationship, we spent many an evening doing laps around our small Christian college campus talking about our lives - past, present and future.  I quickly realized that he had something of a jump start on me in the theological realm.  He had very definite views on many issues, many of which had never even been discussed in the non-denominational, come-as-you-are, theater-style mega-church that I was raised in.  Needless to say, I felt a bit intimidated, as well as challenged to learn more and decide for myself whether or not I agreed with him.
Also about this time, I noticed that while my soon-to-be husband had been raised in the conservative branch of a  mainline denominational church, he had this strange fascination with very traditional churches - namely Anglican/Episcopalian.  (At one point I even thought that he had been raised in that tradition, he seemed to know and care so much about it.)  While I went with him to services and gradually became accustomed to the arcane style, the idea of considering it "my" (or, rather, "our") church never occurred to me.  Surely, I thought, this is just a phase.  It's novel, but not anything to seriously consider.  After all, these churches are dying out for a reason, right?  People who grow up in a church like this become "Chreaster" Christians or reject the faith entirely, don't they?
I'd always been taught, and therefore intrinsically believed, that "real" and "alive" churches were the ones with contemporary music, young families, and crazy holy spirit stuff.  A sign of a "good" church was one where the services were so full that you needed a team of parking people and an army of greeters.  Anything less was either a church plant of the above mentioned church, or a kingdom leftover: it was nice a hundred years ago, but we've moved on to the bigger, the better and the more relevant.
All this to say, the whole traditional thing was nice for visiting, nice for an intellectual change, but I knew it would lose all of its significance as soon as it became normal; when I had memorized all the prayers and didn't have to think about saying them, when I could stand up, sit down, kneel and cross myself without thinking about it - literally going through the motions - then it would be dead to me, just like it surely was for all the sorry people in the pews beside me.
It took me a long time to really appreciate denominational churches.  Eventually, I began to recognize that knowing academically what one believes can (and should) play a role in how one worships on Sunday.  I began to appreciate the truth and beauty of hymns and memorized prayer.  Shockingly, even though we said the Lord's Prayer every week, it didn't become a meaningless recitation.  By the time I left college, I was ready to join a denominational church, and my fiance was thrilled.
By the time we got married, my family was beginning to understand that I was moving away from the church of my youth.  I had attended various denominational churches through college, was marrying a man who would soon start a position at a denominational church, and we used hymns and a piano in our wedding (no drums, no guitar, no giant screens).  My sister had even come with us to an Anglican prayer service, though she roundly denounced the whole thing as stiff and unapproachable.  "No outside person would feel comfortable in there," she told me, and she was right.
But, I made the switch.  I joined a denominational church, with all its tradition hanging around like Miss Havishams' wedding cake.  It would be acceptable to assume that I used this to justify all the things I had thought about such churches before and would be high-tailing it back to a "living" non-denominational church.  To the contrary, I grew to appreciate the traditional aspect of the church and was deeply saddened by the spiritual apathy around me.  The general congregation seemed unable to connect their real lives to the life of the church, and it was that disconnect which led to spiritual death, not the traditions themselves, as I had previously thought.  Through this realization, I felt a pull towards the more ancient roots of the church, the source of those traditions which had piqued my interest.
As one might expect, my husband's fascination with all things old and ancient was not a phase, and did not end, but had indeed grown stronger over this time.  For a while we attended a midweek service at the local episcopal church. (We usually doubled the attendance - the priest, a woman of course, was very nice and grandmotherly, her usual assistant was a lesbian - and they didn't seem to know what to do with us.)  He established a small closet in our apartment as an icon corner, saying prayers every morning while I either read my bible or slept (usually the latter).  Then he announced that he had struck up a relationship with a priest at a nearby Greek Orthodox church.  I wasn't really sure what to make of this (found it rather strange, to be honest), but the guy was very nice and cared about us quite a bit, so I let it go.  While I wasn't hostile to it, I wasn't on the bandwagon either.

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