Sunday, July 19, 2009

Eeny, Meeny...

We were away for a couple of days visiting our favourite church away from church, Mars Hill in Grand Rapids. Really good service.

When I turned on this machine and checked my mail Sunday evening, there was a message with the subject heading: [Reminder] Breakfast @ Sun Jul 19 10am – 11am (Ruth Wilkinson). My completely useless attempt to organize myself. These automated reminders invariably arrive after I get home from Breakfast each month.

This one was more useless than usual, because we didn't have Breakfast this month. See, we'd decided that for the summer, we'd just have muffins and coffee from Timmie's across the road. No ham, no scrambled eggs, no J.'s oven baked hashbrown heaven.

Subsequently, there was some discussion among those of us who live there that if we couldn't do it properly, we probably should just take a break. Which was borne out by the very low attendance at June's Breakfast. So we put Brekkie on hiatus until September, when the world starts revolving again. Which is fine.

After all, summer is the time some of us have a chance to get away and see the world. Or bits of it, at least. My husband and I enjoy getting in the car, playing 20 questions at the longest undefended border in the world, and then heading southish to see cities we've never been to. We find the public transport and then walk around downtown to see what there is to see. So far, we've found that Atlanta and Boston are good for this, but Grand Rapids not so much. (Not a lot to see, except for the people hanging around downtown who reminded me of folks at the Motel, which made me homesick.)

Boston was one of our most recent expeditions. Really interesting city (American history machine aside). Cool architecture, good subway, Chinatown, really easy to get lost, terrible maps, good food. Perfect. Some historic churches. Mostly for "freedom" reasons, of one kind or another.

We chanced upon one that really struck me. Not as old as some of the others, probably. No "Paul Revere slept through the sermon here" plaques. But a lovely red brick building, tucked away in one of the more serpentine neighbourhoods. We climbed a few steps to a back door and found it unlocked, so we went in. Found ourselves in a foyer of sorts, creaky floored and unlit. There was another door in front of us, so we pulled that one open. Creak. Stepped to the threshold. Creak. Peeked through the door. Creak.

It was beautiful inside. Warm and hushed and soaring. Stained glass windows, old dark pews, draperies and candles. It smelled of polished wood and wax and flame and time and prayer. But we didn't go in any further. We closed the door and left. Creaking all the way.

Quite a contrast to the building we have Breakfast and Dinner in. No such loving preservation there. Nothing's been polished in yonks, if ever. Windows are cracked. Some don't open. Some don't close. It smells funky, like it's been wet too long, which it has. The floor is covered with a carpet that's 1 part rug, 2 parts unsuccessfully cleaned up spills.

But it has its moments. Sometimes when it's full of people eating the best meal of the week, chatting and laughing and grateful. When eyes are met and hugs returned and chairs are shuffled to make room for one more. It has its moments.

It bothers me sometimes that we don't have anything that passes for "church" there. Nothing of a clearly spiritual nature. Nothing that mentions Jesus by name. God, yes. But not Jesus, really. It bothers me that we don't pray together more, or read from the Bible. That we don't sing those songs. It bothers me a little that people talk about Dinner as being held "in the church". I want to challenge them and ask them what that means, knowing full well that it just means that room and nothing more.

Still. The room does mean more to people than just a meal. And they recognize that the impulse that brings it to life is a "church" impulse of some kind, or at least a "community" one. A "kind" one. Human and Spiritual.

And when I hold up our weekly feasts side by side with that church in Boston...

You see, the reason why we left without really going in is that when we opened that inner door, we heard something.

Someone speaking. One voice.

One voice echoing through the room, over the pews, off the windows. The pews that were completely empty, the windows that were telling their stories to no one.

One voice, chanting in what might have been Latin. Reciting a text that no one would hear. Except the speaker and God himself. Because they were the only ones in the room.

As we left, we looked at the sign on the fence outside. "5:00 pm. Mass". It was 5 pm. So the Mass was being said. Whether anyone was there to hear it or not. It had to be said.

Why? I have no clue. But it had to be said. If only to the antique pews and the priceless glass and the glowing candles and absolutely not a living soul. Haunted and driven by tradition. Disregarded by life and humanity.

One church with a sermon and no congregation.

Another with a congregation and no sermon.

Is one right and the other wrong? Both wrong? Both right?


But I know which one at least feels alive.


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