Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Faith Story, part II

I grew up in a parish that restricted communion to those who were confirmed, a not uncommon practice in those days. There weren't that many of us who were under 20 running around (I didn't realize that we were a small church until later, but that's for later in the story). I was in 6th grade and the rector deemed it appropriate for another boy and me to take confirmation classes.

Here's what I remember: we spent Saturday mornings with the Rector in his large office with the big bay windows. There was a chalkboard with some illustrations on it. I vaguely remember something about the Trinity (probably a circle and a triangle) and some illustration involving a bridge. I remember that we took quizzes, at which I excelled. And I remember looking forward to being confirmed because of the white veil I was going to wear and because I was hoping to receive some sign that there was something out there, that there was a God.

We finished classes a few months ahead of the Bishop's annual visitation. The rector decided we could take communion early. Again, I was hoping for something, some feeling beyond the everyday. It was just a wafer. There were no bells (well, there were, but it was "smells and bells.")

And yet, I did have a powerful experience regarding confession. Our rector had us make our confession before being admitted to communion. He sent us home with a huge mimeographed document with lists of sins. On a Saturday morning my mom drove me to church and I went into the small hallway behind the organ. The priest was kneeling with his back to me. He never looked at me, but how many 11 year olds were in his congregation? It didn't feel very private. Oh, I dreaded it and shook through the whole experience (my poor priest--the most exciting thing I ever confessed to him during our relationship was "talked back to my parents.")

But afterwards I had this feeling of being clean and released. To this day I have an ambivalence towards confession. I strongly believe in it, but I have a hard time getting past that document with the list of sins. Now, looking back on it, I think it missed the point entirely. The great sin, I now belive, is not putting God first in one's life. All those lists about whether or not you had your horoscope done or played poker doesn't really help gain a greater understanding of one's place in creation. It's not that there weren't genuinely sinful and unethical things on that list (although frankly, not ones that your average sheltered 6th grader would have had much opportunity to participate in). But it was more like a list of misbehavior and flouting authority and didn't help me understand what sin was and what being separated from God was really about.

And yet, for all the ways organized religion was failing me, I was being formed in some significant ways in my faith. I carry those in my core. Holy Week at this congregation was full and rich. We had a deep sense of liturgical time, which was reinforced at home by my parents' practices of honoring Friday as meatless (Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent), my father bringing chocolate home on St. Nicholas' Day, etc.) On Good Friday we lined up at the altar and kissed the foot of the cross that the priest carried by us. And for a young girl who didn't fit in at school and whose nuclear family was so very, very small, church was a wonderful family, a place to talk to people and play and be loved and hugged.

But it was also a place of anger and silences. Many in the parish were angry with the changes in the church, and if they weren't, they didn't say anything. And I know now there were huge elephants in the living room, some of which I understand now through guesswork and hearsay, so I won't repeat here. And the biggest elephant of all was that we were dwindling, fewer and fewer at church.


At 4:48 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Beautiful post. I think that you have done a great job of explaining why it is that so many of us have a bittersweet, ambivalent feeling about the Church...so full of beauty and glimpses of God...so full of humanness. I've been following your recent posts, and I share your concerns for the future of our little corner of the Body...I look forward to seeing where you go with this!

Grace and Peace,

At 1:07 AM, Blogger Dawgdays said...

It's always cool to read these.

I think I'll need to write one for EFM. I might even post it.


At 4:15 AM, Blogger Kathryn said...

I was in my 20s when the Holy Week liturgy became real for me, but your words about this rang loud bells here.
Equally, the non event of Confirmation and First Communion (there were 2 of us in my confirmation class as well...but, oh the embarassment, it happened in our family sitting room...and (cringe, cringe) at the end we all 3 had to stand while Fr C prayed. I can see him now, in his cassock and cloak...totally alien, as was the church he seemed to be offering me. Nothing to do with my inner self...
Hang on..this is too long for a comment! I'd better blog it ;-)

At 5:12 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Joe and Wes, I look forward to reading yours!

Kathryn, I love the image of the end of class prayer.


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