29 June 2013

Not my church

This past Wednesday, Matthijs was appointed as a lector (reader) as part of his training to be a (permanent) deacon in the Catholic Church. This is a fairly minor step in the process of becoming a deacon, and as there were only a few other men being appointed, we were with a small group in the chapel at the Seminary. Before the service started, the deacons-in-training were given instructions about what was expected of them, and the wives were also given the overview of the service (including the fine print of what they had to say and where they had to stand). Despite this hospitality and the warm welcome I received when I arrived, I felt disconcertingly uncomfortable in church. It wasn't my church, despite my being married to Matthijs and my presence there being desired.

During the service I pondered this strange feeling of being not at home there, wondering what it was that led to this feeling. It was not for a lack of welcome, nor is it a lack of familiarity with the Catholic Church as I have gone to various Catholic churches these past few years. I also am fairly familiar with the liturgy used for the Eucharist. And the liturgical smells and bells - like the bishop's hat-things on and off - were also familiar with me. So why the discomfort?

There was simply a strong sense that this was not my church. It was not the church I had grown up in, nor the one I had chosen. The liturgy used is not exactly the same as the one I know from the Nicolaas church or from Oudezijds100, and even though it corresponded closely I still like to have the words in front of me as I find it harder to memorize things in Dutch than English. There was no singing, which I only realized now as I am reflecting on the service, and singing for me is an important way of hearing God and responding to him. The smells and bells, despite my being familiar with them, seemed out-of-place in this small chapel with so few people. Even the ceremony itself - a step in a process but having little meaning of its own - feels a bit odd to me. It is thus not entirely surprising that I did not exactly feel at home in this place.

As I was pondering my disconcerting sense of feeling not at home in a church service, I also had a deep sense that this feeling was good. The Catholic Church, no matter how welcome I might be, is not my church. No matter how much I desire for all churches to be unified, we live in the reality that different church (denominations) express the Christian faith in very different ways. As I am part of an ecumenical community and am regularly exposed to different kinds of church services, it can be easy for me to forget this. Wednesday's deacon-in-training service was thus a good, albeit unepected, reminder of how we can be both welcome and yet uncomfortable amongst other Christians, and yet still all be a valuable and unique part of the body of Christ.

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