GETTING CHURCHED – Felicity Pool – Sermon, 8/21/22
I’m honored to be up here in the pulpit, a place I’ve literally been looking up to for years and years and years. The messages that have come down to me most lastingly and helpfully have come as stories.
I’m going to tell some and share a bit from 2 books.
When I was growing up in Dublin, we didn’t always have Sunday School because there wasn’t a Yummy Cady to guide and inspire. So I’d be among the adults, leaning against my father in his usual spot 5-6 pews along on the center aisle to the right. I was usually equipped as the sermon began with a lollipop (and told to be respectful with it – no crunching) or with crayons and a coloring book. As a background to these pleasant activities, I was aware of lots of words in a lulling rise and fall cadence.
I gathered from the grownups that the minister then was so enthused by theologies that he got lost and his sermons became a wrestling match with profound ideas, he debating both sides over 20 –even 25 — minutes. My father and mother didn’t see how being bored for all that time would lead to me liking church, and they wanted me to experience it as a good place, and one where I wanted to be.
To that end, when I outgrew the candy and coloring, and we still had the same minister, my father took a different tack. Launching into the second or third verse of a familiar hymn, he’d deliberately mess up the words and shake with laughter . . . which set me off, and we’d act up together in a very-pleasing-to-a-child way. Other times, especially on a beautiful summer day, he whisked me out before the sermon in a sort of scuttling motion as though maybe no one would notice. What he told people was that he knew the preaching would be over my head and he didn’t want me to be bored; and what he added in conversation with my mum at lunch on those early-departure days was that he found “all that theology very dry and hard to follow so Felicity is a great excuse for me to exit.”
He never didn’t come, though, except maybe on fresh powder ski days when we’d get up at 5 a.m. to be first on the chairlift at Stratton or Okemo.
When I was older and in a faith-questioning place, I asked him what he got out of Sunday worship. He answered, “I can’t put it into words. I always pray for you and Mummy, of course, but I’m not sure what good it does. I just want to be there.”
I didn’t know the term then, but I think now that he was expressing ‘being churched.’
I first heard the term sitting next to a devout Christian friend in the front row of her place of worship. I started to cry — not the delicate glycerin-like tears of a movie scene, but shakes and hiccups and snuffles, and of course I was unprepared and had no handkerchief available. “I’m so embarrassed,” I whispered. She said, “Don’t worry. “I don’t feel I’ve been thoroughly churched unless I cry.”
I don’t remember the sermon that day, nor the gospel reading, nor why I was so emotional. But CHURCHED? And THOROUGHLY? Along with my tear-dampened shirtsleeve, that’s what I took away. It seemed like maybe a good thing to be.
Too shy to ask my friend what she meant, I headed for my mother’s dictionary – a leather-bound, onion skin, gilt-edged paper affair. It always stood invitingly on a lectern so one had only to turn pages, not heft it off a shelf and lug it to a sturdy-enough table. What I was looking up seemed weighty enough.
Churched: Affiliated with a church; formally present or taught at church; topics that people who are churched (versus those who are unchurched?) are able to relate to. In a ceremony celebrating birth or adoption, new mothers can be churched.
None of that necessarily fit with crying during worship, as my friend seemed to have suggested. So was I not Churched at my brother’s funeral service when I was 8 and at my sister’s funeral 14 years later? I was affiliated with this church, and formally present (both part of the definition) but I didn’t weep on either occasion – in fact, I concentrated on not doing so.
Not crying was how you showed strength in our family. At my sister’s wedding, waiting to walk down the aisle, my dad apparently took in the bride’s brimming eyes and muttered, “Don’t cry. Think of how a Liggett’s drugstore smells.”
For those of you who didn’t live in the pre-CVS or Walgreen’s era, he was conjuring true Grunge – think rubbing alcohol, stale candy, and dirty linoleum. Definite distraction from being emotional!
Hear that word? DISTRACTION? What if crying during a funeral or wedding, being emotional during worship . . .what if it doesn’t matter? What if my father said everything important about being churched when he said simply, “I’m not sure what good it does, I just want to be there.”???
I SO do not have answers! But I want to share stories from two faith-seekers who inspire me. The first is Nadia Bolz-Weber, a heavily tattooed leather-wearing ordained minister, in her book “Pastrix.” She writes about having to preach soon after a mass shooting in her city, and how she found words to do so:
“My former bishop once said that the greatest spiritual practice isn’t yoga or praying the hours or living in intentional poverty, although these are all beautiful in their own way. The greatest spiritual practice is just showing up. Showing up, to me means being present to what is real, what is actually happening. Mary Magdalene didn’t necessarily know what to say or what to do or even what to think when she encountered the risen Jesus. But none of that was nearly as important as the fact that she was present and attentive to him. I got a tattoo of Mary Magdalene on my forearm when I realized that I, as unlikely a woman as any, was called to be a preacher of the Gospel. Beginning when I first told my parents about my calling, the tattoo has often made me feel empowered to borrow Mary’s voice and her ability to show up.”
Here’s Anne Lamott in “Tender Mercies”:
“My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers . . . I was cracking up like a cartoon where something gets hit, and one crack appears which spiderwebs outward until the whole pane or base is cracked and hangs suspended for a moment before falling into a pile of powder on the floor. . . I could no longer imagine how God could love me . . . but Heaven forbid anyone should think I needed help. I was a Lamott – Lamotts GIVE help. Out of nowhere it crossed my mind to call [the new minister] at St.Stephen’s . . . It took me 45 minutes to walk there, but this skinny middle-aged guy [who I’d never met] was still in hi office when I arrived. [He’d waited for me.] . . . I let it all tumble out . . . I don’t remember much of his response, except that when I said I didn’t think God could love me, he said, “God HAS to love you. That’s God’s job.’ Some years later I asked him to tell me about this first meeting. ‘I felt,’ hje said, ‘that you had gotten yourself so tangled up in big God questions that it was suffocating you. Here you were in a rather desperate situation . . . going down the tubes. I thought the trick was tyo help you extricate yourself enough so you could breathe again. You said your prayers weren’t working anymore, and I could see that in your desperation you were trying to sabe YOURSELF: so I said you should stop praying [just] for a while, and let me pray for you. And right away, you seemed to settle down inside.’
‘What did you hear in my voice when I called?’
‘I just heard that you were in trouble.’
He was about the first Christian I ever met whom I could stand to be in the same room with. Most Christians seemed almost hostile in their belief that that were saved and you weren’t. He said it bothered him too, but you had to listen to what was underneath their words. What did it mean to be saved, I asked . . .
‘You don’t need to think about this,’ he said.
‘Just tell me.’
‘I guess it’s like discovering you’re on the shelf of a pawnshop, dusty and forgotten and maybe not worth very much. But Jesus comes in and tells the pawnbroker, ‘I’ll take her place on the shelf. Let her go outside again.’”
After I read that, which happened to be when my beloved mother was dying, I came to Sunday service here and sat in the very back pew (where I’ve settled in ever since), wearing dark glasses, looking down at my lap with a handkerchief held over my nose and mouth and I cried through the whole service, then left quickly during the postlude.
Two members of the congregation came to our house right after services – just to give me a hug and support. I sputtered about my embarrassment for probably disturbing everyone’s worship and how I probably shouldn’t have been there when I was so weepy. They somehow conveyed that it was all okay. “You were exactly where you needed to be,” they said, “with all of us and us with you.”
I was getting Churched.