Tuesday, April 16, 2002

In his post-script to talking about Catholic orthodoxy/dissent, Louder Fenn says that one should dress appropriately (presumably button-up shirts and dresses) for church, and opposes things like guitars in services. I have to admit that I'm torn on this. I was baptized Episcopalian, and I was raised to know that when you go to church, you'd best be wearing at least a button-up shirt and a tie (and pants), and preferably a suit. When I started returning to Christianity in high school, I decided that since I was most familiar with Episcopal services, that would be the best place to start. I knew that there were two traditional services (at somewhat inconvenient times, since one was really early, and the other one meant I had to hustle to get to my job afterwards) and a contemporary one, but I absolutely refused to go to anything modern. I don't really like most hymns, so I tended to go to the early services where we didn't sing, but I always dressed up. For that matter, I went to a church slightly more distant from my home (there are at least five of pretty much any type of church within twenty minutes of me) since the closest one had a female priest, and that was utterly unacceptable to me. I knew about praise music and all from Fellowship of Christian Athletes, but to me that wasn't the same thing as church at all.

When I first got to Tech, I decided that I needed to find a church. Unfortunately, I was shocked to find that the Episcopal church in Blacksburg had a female priest. However, there was an Anglican Catholic Church about a block away from it, and I looked into that and found that it was basically an Anglican schism that's uber-conservative. Fair enough, I'm pretty traditionalist and conservative myself. I went twice, and both times I was struck by the fact that not only were there only about 25 people in the pews, but that about twenty of them were, well, old. There definitely weren't any other students. What got to me was when the minister started dissing the Baptists from the pulpit. I don't have anything against the Baptists, just a mild difference in preferences. Deciding that I had to get out before I found myself some sort of of nutcase Klansman, I wasn't sure what to do, so I just stopped going to church. My family back home had been sort-of shaking itself out of years of not going to church, and had decided to go to Methodist services. I knew that the Methodists were formed from the Church of England, and I basically considered them very-Low Church Episcopalians. Close enough. I went to services at Blacksburg United Methodist Church, and it wasn't bad. I felt a little odd not having kneeling benches, but that's a pretty small concession. The minister was excellent, and Methodists are known for being pretty good singers, so while I was out of place in that way, I at least had good stuff to cover my voice.

The only thing missing was, well, something. I don't doubt the devotion of the people there, but there didn't seem to be anyone like me who was still searching. No one I talked to in the Wesley Foundation (Methodist student union) seemed to have much of an interest in theology, and they all seemed pretty content. Besides, I just didn't fit in, just as I didn't really fit in at any of the other churches. After Christmas break, I stopped going to church again. I'm taking a class on the New Testament, so I figured that the Bible reading from that and my own theology reading (Lewis, Kreeft, Shiflett & Carroll, etc.) would at least sustain me while I figured out what to do.

While I'd been going to the Anglican Catholic and Methodist services, my roommate Kevin had been going with a friend of his to New Life Christian Fellowship services. Now, NLCF is very contemporary, and I was horrified at the idea of attending. To me, it seemed more like a revival than serious church, and while I figured it was good for general Christianity, it certainly didn't take the place of being in the pews on a Sunday morning and singing hymns. However, about a month ago, I decided that I really needed to be in a community of believers, and since I do Ultimate Frisbee sponsored by NLCF and the Navigators (another campus Christian group), I figured it couldn't hurt to attend services there (I also considered InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's services, but they were at an inconvenient time). I went, and it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, I really enjoyed it. I was there in shirt and tie, but everyone else was in t-shirts and jeans. There was a band with guitars, drums, etc. up front, and instead of old, boring hymns (the Wesley brothers didn't exactly write hymns that I liked very much), they played praise songs. I actually knew some of these, and so that was nice. The ministers were 30-ish, and were able to communicate well with the students. There was joking around (not just the Mandatory Chuckle Moment that's standard) and also seriousness. They were the kind of people that had gone through doubts and still struggled with life, but had faith in God's providence. I honestly felt better after that service than at least 95% of the other ones in regular churches that I'd been to. I've been going back every week, and I'm really enjoying it.

I think I've strayed some, but back to Louder's guitars. Just as guitars and regular clothing could be signs of disrespect if not considered well, hymns and fancy-dress can also become a substitute for faith. One joke about the Episcopal Church is that the worship centers around dressing nicely. In the few Catholic churches I've been in, guitars would probably be pretty out-of-place. However, I don't know that it would hurt to try them out once in a while. Guitars and jeans are pretty new, but then, organs and neckties were probably risque at some point as well. It's a fine line, but if you understand what side you're on, I don't think faith will be hindered.

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