Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Church Marquee Leaves Me Breathless

Y’all know me by now, so you know my southern genes lead me to tell long tales in order to get to my point. So settle back and listen to my too-long story. Or don't, if you lack the patience.

When I came to Missouri in 1998, I had spent my life in the South. And most of my adult life had been spent in dyed-in-the-wool liberal Atlanta. The sainted John Lewis was my Congressman. Then there was a two-year sojourn in Philadelphia – another liberal bastion and, more importantly, the place where God used the Episcopal Church to get hold o’ me.

In Philadelphia, home of the “Philadelphia Eleven,” and under a priest who was one of those Eleven, I came to expect fiery preaching that was relevant to the Gospel and to the issues of the day. My highest compliment to the priest on a typical Sunday was: {queue heavy Southern accent} “You done went from preachin’ into meddlin’.” I like it when a preacher meddles. I want to be challenged to live out the Gospel! I want to be challenged to examine how well I am living my faith and my baptismal vows in my daily life.

When I arrived in Missouri, I found things were quite different in the local parish. I loved the priest and found him a marvelous pastor. But I missed that firebrand style of preaching – the “in your face” call to Gospel living.

After a while, I went hunting for another congregation that would suit me better. Mind you, there aren’t many Episcopal parishes in this part of the world. I checked out the one about 20 miles away. Then I checked out the one about 30 miles away. The next closest would have been 60 miles, and I wasn’t going to venture that far. I visited those parishes, but none of them “did it” for me.

By that time, the Episcopal Church had reached a concordat with the ELCA, under which we were in full communion. So I checked the local phone directory, and discovered that there was one ELCA church here in town. I went there one Sunday, attending their “traditional” service at 10:00. I arrived in plenty of time to park, find my way into the sanctuary, pick up a service leaflet, and find a seat.

As the service began, it was a bit “low church” for my tastes … even though my Episcopal parish is fairly “low church” on the range of Anglican liturgy. I made it through the hymn and some opening prayers. Then they brought out some sort of cardboard cut-out stage thing, and began a puppet show. I remember looking at my watch. It was only 10:20. I thought, “If I make a fast break, I can be at Grace before the sermon!” And so I did. I raced out of there lickety-split, drove quickly across town, and ducked into a seat back at my Episcopal parish during the reading of the Gospel.

And that was the end of my roaming. I had made a decision to be part of this parish. I came to appreciate the subtle preaching. The priest was gifted in preaching the Gospel, but leaving a very diverse congregation free to interpret and apply it in their own situations. And I came to love this parish and its people – to love them deeply.

Occasionally, I think about applying for jobs that would require me to move to another town, another parish. Strangely, the thing that often holds me back is the fear that I would not find such a strong, supportive community of faith as I find in this parish.

After church just this Sunday, I had to run a couple of errands. One led me past that ELCA parish I had fled so many years ago. When I saw the sign on their streetside marquis, I nearly drove off the road! Here’s what it said. And I am quoting. I could not make this up:

CHURCH FOR GUYS WHO
SPIT CUSS
BELCH & SCRATCH

Honest to God! That’s their message to the world!!

Yes, I have read the studies and stories that talk about “muscular Christianity” and those congregations that feel a need to attract more men. I suppose that’s what they are trying to do.

My parish doesn’t have a marquee. We just have an understated bronze sign that provides the name of the parish and the service times. You can just make it out under the bell tower at the base of the red maple tree.

I have no wish to replace it with a zippy marquee. But I found myself wondering: What would we say if we did have a snappy marquee? I think it might be:

BE STILL, AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD

or maybe

WORSHIP THE LORD IN THE BEAUTY OF HOLINESS

or perhaps

WHEREVER YOU ARE ON YOUR FAITH JOURNEY, WE WELCOME YOU

In my fantasy, there would be no need for a frequently changing marquee, for our words of invitation and welcome wouldn’t need to change often, if at all.

Reflecting on that ELCA church’s invitation to “guys who spit, cuss, belch & scratch,” I found myself thinking: "And The Episcopal Church is in full communion with those yahoos?!?!?!?? WHY??" Frankly, I can’t imagine a church … an ethos … with which I could possibly have less in common.

Yes, we welcome sinners. Our parishes are filled with them! Yes, we welcome people where they are … trusting that the sacraments and the grace of God will help all of us become more than we are.

But that Lutheran marquee disgusted me.

I know that the Episcopal/ELCA concordat allows for mutual, reciprocal ministry. But never in a million years can I imagine my Episcopal parish having anything in common with a church that would post such a message on its marquee.

Over to you, now.

Do you think I overreacted?

If your Episcopal parish had (or has) a marquee out front, what would (or does) it say?

20 Comments:

Blogger David and John said...

Free Wine On Sundays.

(just kidding)

7/21/2010 7:51 AM  
Blogger claire said...

No Child Molester Here.
No Women Priest Either, Yet.

:-))))

7/21/2010 8:12 AM  
Blogger Walt Ryan said...

I think you did over react. Here in New Hampshire we say "infinite respect for one another ... radical hospitality for the world."

7/21/2010 8:27 AM  
Blogger keith nethery said...

I'm a male, Anglican (Canada) priest who has been known to spit, cuss, belch and scratch. I like to sing country music in church, listen to country on the radio, and tell the odd off color story. I would agree with your sign posting of "Worship the Lord In The Beauty of Holiness" (one of my favorite hymns). I read yourblog often as it is linked to a blog I check daily and find much of what you say sits very well with me.
My point is none of us are what we seem if you get just one quick brush. I've gone to churches I thought were awful, and gone back and liked them. I've written people off because they've said something that irritated me, and then realized they were wonderful people. I must also admit the process has gone the other way.
I'd come to your church with the small bronze sign and I'd check out the belching and cussin' church as well. My guess is from both I could find my way to faith.

7/21/2010 9:11 AM  
Blogger susan s. said...

Over react? You? ;-)

Well, I wouldn't want to go into a church that had that on the marquee either. But that is only one of many ELCA churches in the US. Alas, it is the one you have been exposed to. The puppets would have been enough to send me out the door, too.

My marquee would say
"Celebrating God's Love, Which BTW Has _Always_ Been Inclusive"

7/21/2010 9:24 AM  
Blogger James said...

Yes, I think you over reacted, but hey, we love you, still. :)

I agree with Fr. Nethery and I actually thought the sign was funny. But them I'm a male who's been known to belch, cuss and scratch (Sadly, spitting is something I never mastered). If I had been driving by and read that sigh, I'd have visited the church. The puppet show might have turned me off, though.

As for your southern-ness, I have a friend who grew up in the South who, when telling me something always says, "long story longer...."

My sign would say, "Enter, Rest, and Pray." Those words are on the board by our church door and have been there since 1892 when the structure was built.

7/21/2010 1:11 PM  
Blogger JCF said...

Heh: as a GenderQueer who's been known to "spit, cuss, belch and scratch", I kinda like it! ;-p

OK, but seriously: I don't like church marquees, either. It makes a star of the preacher (or whomever chose the marquee language), when THE Focus should be Jesus (y'know, the Main Course of the mass! ;-) )

7/21/2010 7:41 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

LOL, David & John and Claire. Love your slogans!

7/21/2010 10:34 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

You make a good point, Walt Ryan. BUT! I’ll respect they are being who they want to be. However, I don’t see they are offering “radical hospitality for the world.” I hear them inviting a small segment of the world.

7/21/2010 10:37 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Keith, I appreciate your taking the time to offer a thoughtful comment here. You make me think.

I’m not a man, so I don’t know how to spit. But I do cuss, belch, and scratch. Like you, I listen to country music … usually in springtime.

You make a valid point – that most of us are not what we seem.

You make me ask why that church marquee ticked me off so much. Maybe it’s the “men who” focus. I wonder if they would do something similar to offer an outrageous welcome to women. Maybe my own sexism is at work here. I’m willing to consider that.

Keith, I hope you heard the larger point of my post … which echoes the point you make. When I came here to Missouri, I thought the local Episcopal parish (and its priest) was namby-pamby. With time, I came to love them deeply. So I can echo your point.

7/21/2010 10:46 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

LOL, SusanS. Yes, moi. It is possible. ;-)

In our town of 40k, there is only that one ELCA parish. All the rest are Missouri Synod … and you know how they are!

But I hope you and all heard what happened: I went back to the Episcopal parish and fell in love with it in whole and in all its parts. So it all worked together for good.

Love your slogan!

7/21/2010 10:50 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks, James. OK, OK. Maybe I over-reacted. GAWD! I can be so judgmental. [I’m sure it’s my chief besetting sin … for those of you familiar with that phrase.] And thanks for your continuing love.

I guess the sign speaks to you guys in a way that I just don’t get.

I will have to remember that phrase, “long story longer.” God knows, it’s a propos very often for me.

“Enter, Rest, and Pray” since 1892. That’s awesome, James. Love it!

7/21/2010 10:55 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

OK, JCF, I’m getting that it’s a gender thing.

About your comment on marquees: Our past, long-time rector made the conscious decision when the bronze sign was forged that he did not want his name on the sign. He said it’s not his parish. I think you would have liked him.

7/21/2010 10:58 PM  
Blogger Malcolm+ said...

What's a little over-reaction among friends?

As I see it, the advantage of marquee style signs is twofold.

1. When you have something to announce (like our parish fair this Saturday), you can put up the bare details.

2. And when you don't have anything specific to announce, you can post things that are provocative. The ELCA parish appear to have accomplished this for you. And if they started one other conversation among some unchurched / dechurched folk, then it's probably a win all around.

7/22/2010 12:13 AM  
Blogger Kirkepiscatoid said...

I would have run screaming from the pew if they had broken the puppets out, too.

7/22/2010 8:24 AM  
Blogger it's margaret said...

You know --there is a time and place to spit, belch, cuss and scratch.... I do them all --including the spitting... (but only in the sink!) and I cuss like a sailor.... but I try not to any of that kinda thang in worship... and the sign kinda implies that that kind of behavior would be welcome at worship... so, I am left cold by it... and feeling that there might be straw on the floor and barf buckets too.... just sayin'....

7/22/2010 5:15 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I agree, Malcolm, about the two possible functions of church marquees. Unfortunately, in these parts, I mostly see them posting stupid messages that would send me fleeing.

My take-away from this ELCA's marguee was about like Margaret wrote. And more: When I see I marquee like that, it tells me they don't want thinking people. They just want bubbas who think it would cool to spit, belch, cuss, and fart in church.

I intend to be fully human in my parish. I yearn for it! But my parish calls me to my highest self ... not my lowest self. Maybe that's part of what ticks me about this ELCA marquee.

Thanks, Maria. Glad to know we could have run out, hand in hand.

7/22/2010 8:00 PM  
Blogger Kirkepiscatoid said...

We would have gotten stuck in the doorway like in the old comedy movies, neither one of us wanting to go backward, back toward the sanctuary!

7/22/2010 10:00 PM  
Blogger MarkBrunson said...

CHURCH FOR GUYS WHO
SPIT CUSS
BELCH & SCRATCH


I thought that was called "football?"

7/22/2010 10:48 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

LOL, Maria. Yep! That's a fitting image.

And a LOL to you, too, Mark. Yep, it's football ... which I love.

7/22/2010 11:08 PM  

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