Ask anyone in my family if I’m a traditionalist, and they’ll roll their eyes and crack up laughing. I’m sure they think my picture should appear in the dictionary beside the definition of the word. The thing I like about traditions, whether particular foods or decorations or seats at Christmas dinner, is that you know what to expect. There’s something comforting in knowing what’s coming. There are memories attached to those traditions that have become a little part of who you are.
Church is no different. We grow accustomed to a certain style of worship. We always have communion on the first Sunday of the month. Our pastor never wears a tie. We read the same prayer at the same point in the service every week. Whatever your church tradition, it’s no doubt comfortable for you. But, admit it; comfort quickly gives way to a sense of ‘this is how things ought to be’. Our thoughts too frequently drift in the direction imagined by Kathleen Mulhern.
“Those people who go to that church down the street, the one with United in the name (why is it that “United” implies something quite nefarious to some?), ‘do church’ oddly. Their sermons are too short or too long, their band too loud, they still have a robed choir (seriously?); they don’t use the Lord’s Prayer in the morning service, they recite a Creed (clearly a sign of nominal belief), they kneel, they don’t kneel, they have Communion every week, they cross themselves; they have funny looking tapestries in their worship hall, they meet in a school, their bulletins are full of prayers, they all carry coffee into the worship service, they use candles, everyone carries Bibles (what for?), their Bibles have too many books; the adults go to Sunday school—what’s up with that?; people in church raise their hands; their pastor prays a long, long, long prayer, but no one else ever prays… I wonder: are they genuine Christians?”
How uncomfortable we get when asked to step outside the confines of our familiar surroundings! Is it any wonder that our churches are divided by barriers of race, class, and culture? I share Kathleen’s concerns when she says the following.
I fret sometimes about the insularity of Christian communities; we become comfortable with our dialect, our way of doing things, our shibboleths, our postures. Inside this community—safety, surety, commonality. Outside this community—suspicion, uncertainty, insecurity. And we place our faith not in the Jesus sent by God to call us as his own, but in the personal Jesus of our own making…who looks a lot like us. Our God is indeed too small.
One of the most beautiful things about The Love Akron Network is that we can step outside of our familiar habits and experience God and worship and fellowship in ways we might never have imagined previously. If you missed the Ash Wednesday prayer event at The Front Porch Café, people were given the opportunity to receive the sign of the cross in ashes on their forehead. For many this was a first time experience, something they had never considered or once thought odd. Yet, we shared in this tradition with our fellow believers and were able to appreciate its symbolism of contrition and repentance. What a memorable occasion it was!
Embrace your church and your traditions, but also open your eyes to the beauty of The Church, in all its diversity. Kathleen concludes…
…Eventually we discover that Christian life and love can accommodate a wide variety of rhythms and preferences, traditions and peculiarities; that the methods to our individual madnesses will ultimately make sense and even become quite compelling; that it’s okay to let go, embrace the other, and still remain yourself.