I just returned from the ordination service for fellow-blogger Emily’s husband Bob; it was a lovely service — I’d never attended an ordination service before and didn’t know quite what to expect, but in the Presbyterian Church, at least, it includes many of the usual elements of a church service plus the presentation of the ordination candidate and series of questions for him about whether he’ll uphold the beliefs of the church. It ended with a “charge” to the candidate, which Emily gave herself. I think the idea is that someone close to the candidate gives some personal advice and encouragement, and Emily did a wonderful job, giving a moving speech complete with a funny story about Bob’s childhood and a reference to Dostoevsky.
I’m not a church-goer these days, but I have a long history of church-going, and attending church nowadays, on those rare occasions I do, is a fraught experience. I’ll resist it the whole way there, complaining about the prospect of having to listen to a sermon and having to hear about a God I don’t believe in. But once the service has begun, I find myself tearing up. I find moments like the passing of the peace moving, and in this ordination ceremony I was touched by the “laying on of hands” part, where Bob knelt and priests and elders stood around with hands on his shoulders, praying for him. There’s something wonderful about the physical touch, an embodiment of the human and spiritual connection among members of the congregation.
I don’t miss being a believer, and I’m fairly certain I’ll never be one again, but I do miss the communal part of church-going; my parents are part of a church that drives me crazy in lots of ways, but I’m also aware that my parents have a solid group of friends who are committed to sharing in their life and taking care of them if they need it. For me, this is what church is (or should be) all about, really — people working together to take care of each other and to bring out the best in each other.
I grew up attending a series of conservative Protestant churches of several different denominations (socially conservative, as in no women pastors, for example), and although I attended a liberal Episcopalian church for a while as an adult, I still tend automatically to think of churches as conservative entities, so I’m pleased when I find out otherwise. The church I attended today has a woman minister, which always makes me happy, and the Prayer of Confession we all said had this interesting opening:
O Lord our God, as we come before you now, believers and doubters alike …
which made me feel right at home, the doubter that I am. It also had this sentence:
Forgive us all our wrongs and help us to understand that the profit and pleasure we pursue lays waste to the land and pollutes the seas.
Growing up I would not have encountered such a sentiment in church, partly because the environmental movement wasn’t so widespread but also because the churches I attended thought of “sin” as a purely personal matter, not something that had anything to do with the earth.
I won’t be attending church regularly, I’m quite sure (church would interfere with bike racing, for one thing — can I say I attend the Church of the Bicycle?), but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to be a little less resistant to the experience, since once I’m there, I often find something meaningful in it.