Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Postcards from Everywhere Part I: The Project

Sometime late last spring, or perhaps it was early in the summer, I was thinking about my role in the church. I'm not ordained, I'm not going to be ordained.

I don't even really want to be ordained any more.

I'm a writer. I'm also a researcher, with an interest in many things, among them the role of the church and religion in today's society. So I thought that I might do a bit of a project: for one year, on the first Sunday of every month, I would "travel" to a different church, and sometimes even a different denomination or religion, not to critique, nor yet to steal ideas (though I'm hoping that my home church will learn and grow from this project), but simply to witness what is happening in my area an beyond. To absorb and learn from others who, like me, feel the need to pay respect to the holy on a regular basis and in a group setting.

The project quickly gained traction. I mentioned it to a friend who I thought might be interested in accompanying me on my journey -- she enthusiastically agreed, and had her own set of reasons for doing so.

I mentioned it to one of our ministers, who mentioned it to the others, and the word came back to me that it might be nice if I wrote "postcards" from wherever I travelled to, so that others might journey along with us.

Hence the "Postcards from ... " Project.

Those of us who go to church every Sunday almost always fall into a bit of a rut. We go to the same service if our church has more than one. We sit in approximately (or in some cases exactly) the same seats as we always sit in, and talk to the same people every week. There is comfort in routine.

However, there's a danger, too. We become blind to our faults. Things like not realizing just how much of our ritual and language is incomprehensible to outsiders. If a church is looking to grow, especially if it's hoping to reach out to the unchurched, this is a fatal flaw that needs to be noticed and corrected.

Things like how we always talk to the same people, and often don't even see the new person, until one day we do. Then the conversation goes something like this:

"Hi! Are you new here? I haven't seen you before."

"No, I'm not new. I've been coming here for three months!"

Embarrassing and off-putting for the new person.

Things like not telling folks at the beginning of the service simple things, like where they can find the nursery or where they can find the bathrooms.

Yet those are the things that make people feel at home.

So I'm taking one Sunday every month (more or less, as you'll see) to become an outsider.

I've already learned that church folks are eager to have you share their worship experiences. When I mention the project to others, I get the response, "You should come to my church!" That's heartening -- it means that most people who go to church really are happy in their communities.

I've also learned there are many more than a year's worth of churches I want to visit, and so the project is likely to take a couple of years at least. (And that's just those within an hour's drive of home!)

So come join me on my journey! Heather and I are already three months into the project, although one postcard will be from a church I preached at, and another will be from a joint service recently held in Guelph for all the United Churches. But I have some interesting and (I hope) valuable observations for each of these, so I'm going to write them up and post them too.

God bless you all!

1 comment:

Margaret said...

Hi, Ruth! I really like your idea of visiting different churches/denominations. I've had some very good experiences as a visitor. I enjoy seeing how other services run, and listening to the different sermons/styles. It's even interesting going to different churches within my chosen denomination -- it's so diverse. (Episcopal.)

I've come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a perfect church -- of course there isn't! -- it's more about finding the group you're most happy with. To me, there is danger any time a group is formed. Have you heard th expression "Where three or more are gathered...there's fighting"?

There is always that struggle to serve God, yet we are human.

I'm rambling, but I wish you well on your journey. Peace be with you!