It struck me the other day that one of the reasons I have returned to mainline religion is because it’s so, well, adult.
Contrary to what I hear around me so often, I want my grandfather’s church.
I know, I know… there are characteristics of that old, traditional church that are not desirable: many had a narrow, parochial spirit, many were characterized by pervasive judgmental attitudes. They could be exclusive, racist, uncreative, and stuck in their ways. This I readily admit and abhor. A congregation that replaces a living, thriving, growing tradition with anemic or dead traditionalism is of no interest to me.
But I want a church where I know and feel that the adults are in charge, where wisdom trumps enthusiasm, where historical perspective is considered, where depth is valued as much as breadth, where stories have shaped us for generations.
I want a church building made of stone and wood, quality materials, with natural light and symbolic significance and a certain level of aesthetic excellence upheld in architecture, art, furnishings, music, liturgy, and preaching and teaching. I don’t want to be snobbish about it, as though these things are there to represent and satisfy my good taste. That is not the point. Rather, they should communicate weightiness, solidity, permanence. Those who come among us should think: “This is a place where life and love and God and people are taken seriously.”
I’m done with an approach to the faith that flies by the seat of its pants and calls it “spiritual.” Gatherings that feel like pep rallies, youth conventions, or pop concerts hold no appeal. I need to be humbled, not enthused; to know my place in a diverse, multi-generational community of ordinary people who are learning to “walk and not faint,” nourished by spiritual leaders and institutions that have gravitas and maturity.
Give me the neighborhood church on the corner, not the big box church on the suburban highway; the robed pastor in the pulpit, not the hipster who preaches from his iPad or the superstar on the video screen. Give me candles and altarware, you can keep the stage lights. Walk me through the Church Year, and help me teach my kids the Catechism. Keep things simple and meaningful. Don’t program us to death with something for everyone. Let us learn to love our neighbors by participating in the community through being involved in the schools, the sports and recreation leagues, the Scouts, the arts and in charitable causes. Give us time to have evening meals with our families and Sunday afternoons at the park or visiting with friends.
I understand the attraction of youth and enthusiasm and energy. We need young leaders too, but let them be those who have older mentors to guide them and recommend them, not brash entrepreneurs who come with all the answers and stake out territory on their own. As I said before, I want the adults to be in charge.
And if you send me a postcard advertising your church as “not your grandfather’s church,” I’m here to tell you right now that is not a selling point. Grandpa’s church is the very one I’m trying to find.
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Photo: Joshua Taylor Photography