Saturday, March 23, 2013

Expectations of the Church

It saddens me that people expect so little of the church. I got a phone call regarding Eleanor's funeral this week. The caller, who described themselves as Anglican, wanted to know what our church's fee would be for doing the funeral. I explained that Eleanor was a parishioner, and my church doesn't charge a fee for parishioners who want to have their funerals here. Access to the rites of the church is just part of the deal of belonging to Christian Community. "Well, there won't be an organist, will there?" So I went on to explain that of course there will be an organist. In fact, it actually never occurred to me that we might do this funeral without Fiona playing. Perhaps that was unfair to Fiona, but when I asked her she said, "yes," and that was that.

Eleanor was "one of ours." She was extremely faithful to the church. She showed up week after week despite her disabilities and the physical pain of moving on her old knees. Every Sunday that we offered laying on of hands she would hobble, slowly, toward the altar rail until I would walk down and anoint her however far she had managed to come. She came every week to the Saturday healing prayer service, and I'll be damned if I'm not going to be there for her now. Fee?! Sigh.

This illustrates the way consumerism has invaded the church. Even people that are in the church think of it as a set of services given in exchange for money. This makes sense. I've got to eat and pay off the loans I took in seminary. The heating and electric bills have to be paid. And this is one way in which people make ministry happen--sure. No doubt they pay gratefully and with the knowledge that they are helping God work (and they are right). But it saddens me that one of the major things people think about when it comes to the sacraments of marriage and baptism, or when it comes to funerals, is "how much is this going to cost." We need to give people some alternative ways of thinking about the "pastoral rites" and also about the nature of giving to the church. It's not an exchange! it's a gift! Both ways!

And we have no one to blame but ourselves. We, as church, have perpetuated these attitudes in a million little and not-so-little ways. And it bugs the hell out of me.

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