Sunday, July 28, 2013

alternatives to church: dying in wisconsin

My dad who lives in The Thick has been visiting us here on The Rim for the past two weeks and this morning he and I attended a local church service. It was a Lutheran service, ELCA, and while he enjoyed it or at least didn't find it offensive, I was disappointed by it. 

It wasn't that it was offensive in some way--to the contrary, my impression was that the visiting pastor was taking pains not to be offensive to anyone Christian--and even someone like me, who my wife calls "a good Christian if it weren't for all that divinity stuff," found nothing offsetting.  And that may have been the problem:  it was so desperately inoffensive no one could object.

The message was "we should pray," and during it he made note of recent scientific suggestions that there is a piece of the human genome that seeks something greater than ourselves.  There is nothing wrong with that, but that was the only contemporary information he used.  Otherwise the sermon might have been given ten, fifty, or a hundred years ago.

Nothing else suggested anything beyond the early twentieth century either.  The hymns, except for one from the 1600s(!), were all from the 1800s; his children's sermon was talked at rather than with them, and was itself about what "hallowed" in the Lord's Prayer meant (what kid younger than a precocious 16 year old would care? and why not ask them something, anything, instead of telling them? While he did have the rapt attention of the youngest, a baby, she was staring at the movement of his mouth and the redness of his face, not taking in, as he suggested, his message); and while I counted nearly one hundred fifty attendees--and that is a remarkably small number in a town of 1300 with only three churches in a predominantly Lutheran state--fewer than a half dozen were younger than 50. 

My dad, who is going deaf in one ear, was impressed that despite his having left his hearing aid in the car, he could hear the entire service well because we sat near one of the post-mounted speakers, so there's that.  And the stained windows and vaulted arches and wood interior was tolerable eye candy.  The organist was fine and the solo pianist was pretty good, and while the guitar player, who affected a folksy, Hank Williams charm was also competent, the teenager who accompanied him on sax was barely that, and her singing was worse. 

When the collection came around I gave them a dollar.  I want this church, like most churches, to continue but not for long.  After we left my dad complimented the service but said it went on too long.  I pointed to my car clock:  it had lasted only an hour.  His watch was a half hour fast:  "That's all?  It seemed so much longer!"  This service and this congregation make a compelling argument for the swift death of American institutional religion.

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