Last week a reader sent me a Facebook message expressing hope that I hadn't discontinued this blog, saying, "Goyim for God, indeed!" I take the liberty of quoting from [his or her] reply to my response:
... I'm a lifelong [denomination member] recently transplanted to a small [location] town where my only church option is St. [XX] Episcopal ....
But talk about culture shock! Worship is a constant barrage of words that I either don't believe or that offend me (it will take some time), and I'm struggling with Book of Common Prayer on the one hand and the apparent absence of any normative common wisdom on the other. I say the first line of the Nicene Creed and am then silent. [Me too - DCT.] ... Yet the people are dear, the rector--rather conservative theologically--is masterful at pastoring, and I am chipping away at a niche for myself. Still longing for the Goyim for God!
... I am deeply concerned about the future of Christianity if all the laity sees is fundamentalism, megachurch me-ism, or 4th century theology. Where is panentheism in the pulpits? Where is there talk of process--or of anything other than Jesus as the biological son of God? We're doing a decent job of whaling away at social issues, but what about theology? What can a layperson do (other than write a highly articulate blog)? I gather you have found a way to be comfortable with worship. How do you do that?
Truth to tell, I've grown increasingly uncomfortable with traditional Christian corporate worship. Except when I have blood-drive duty every eight weeks, I haven't been to church at our parish in over a year. (My ever-supportive wife and I visited a couple of other nearby parishes, but she decided she didn't want to switch, for reasons I completely understand. So now she goes alone, and I'm not sufficiently motivated to become a regular at another parish on my own.)
Why have I stopped going to church? Because over the past 10 years or so, our parish has become far too Jesus-centered for comfort. As junior clergy have moved on, they've been replaced by evangelicals; all of our parish's recent calls have been products of Nashotah House or Trinity School for Ministry, two bastions of orthodox ideology. The sermons, the hymns, the Sunday school lessons all seemed to focus mainly on Jesus as (supposedly) God become man, who defeated once and for all the sin of the world and who would soon return in triumph — all of which are notions that, in my humble judgment, simply cannot be reconciled with the evidence of what God actually wrought in this world, as opposed to what some people imagine he did.
I remain convinced that belief in a Creator of some kind is eminently defensible, and that the Summary of the Law — paraphrased slightly — is the key to a happy life. I admire and respect Jesus for his commitment to both, even at the cost of his life. I still love and respect my friends at our parish, many of whom have said they miss me on Sundays. I can't rule out that it's I, not they, who is totally missing the point (but I don't think that's the case).
Still, I squirm when preachers and laity act as though there's no room in the church for any point of view that doesn't square with what I can only judge to be sheer speculation. In the end, that's what caused me to stay away from church, at least at our parish.
I've toyed with the idea of asking some of my like-minded parishioner friends if they'd be interested in starting a Goyim for God study group that meets somewhere for Morning- or Evening Prayer (minus the Gloria Patri and the Phos Hilaron) and Sunday brunch or dinner, either in lieu of or in addition to the Sunday service at church. Maybe someday we can give that a shot and see how it might work.