the visible invisible

It’s Thanksgiving in the United States.

I knew, conceptually, that Americans take this holiday very seriously.

I did not realize quite how Serious that meant.

But, in the spirit of thanksgiving, and thinking ahead to what I feel about the season of Advent*, I sent the following email yesterday**:

Hi —-,

We met once or twice when I attended your church several weeks ago; I enjoyed the service and fellowship so much, but unfortunately I’m stuck working on Sunday mornings now and I haven’t been able to make it back.

I’ve been attending a home fellowship group still, though – they’re the ones who introduced me to your church, and I’ve been benefiting from the wisdom and warm community of your church even though I can’t make it on Sunday mornings.

I wanted to say “thank you”: the members of your church have been such a blessing to me as I settle into NYC, and I’m grateful to have found your church even though I continue to be mostly invisible in the community.  I know it’s easy to forget that our churches have a broader reach than we see…realizing that I’m currently part of that, I thought that I would make some of the invisible visible.

I’m thankful for church, although I’m not certain I’ve got it figured out yet.

*This sounds hazy.  It is also hazy in my mind.

**Edited for anonymity.

The clocks are in my favour.

I’m working more these days (which is to say, I’m actually getting paid to work, as opposed to just doing free work that I love, but I’m still trying to do both – the free and the paid work – and thus my calendar is a little packed).

This means that Sunday church is becoming more and more difficult.  New York is not a city that fully embraces early Sunday services, and so to catch an 8am service before I start work at 10am I have to trek several miles uptown, leaving my apartment at 7:15 if I don’t want to walk in halfway through the first reading.

I’m not sure how long this will work out.

However, the clocks were in my favour this morning: with the annual fall back and an extra hour of sleep, it wasn’t too difficult to get out the door relatively on time.  I waited and waited and waited for a train to come, sipping my travelmug coffee on the overheated subway platform.  I snuck into the service only a few minutes late, somewhere mid-Revelations and slightly happy to have missed all the doom and gloom.  The gospel was the Beatitudes, which is table-turning and revolutionary enough to set me in a better mood.  I tried not to be the person who constantly shuffled in their pew while rustling for Kleenexes, but my clogged sinuses made me feel pretty conspicuous.

Here’s the thing about early early church: it’s a short, quiet service, with no singing, no sermon, no passing of peace or other human contact.  But when we all fit around the communion rail in one go, it really does feel like community, one body together, whether we’ll ever trade smiles or not.  It feels like, we’re all up this early for a variety of peculiar reasons, and we’re all in this place because we really want to be and made an effort to get here for 8am.  This is intentional worship, even though we’re just reciting the same words that millions have recited before from the same printed card of service liturgy.

We have a long day ahead of us: it’s only 8:30 am when we leave, and goodness knows we all must have important plans for the day if we had to be at church this early.  Our lives are splitting into a million (or, approximately a dozen) different directions, but for this brief time we were all together, and we really needed to be here.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

neighbourhood church

churchI was running around my neighbourhood yesterday morning and stopped at an intersection to wait for the light to change.  Glancing around, I noticed a huge church tower just a block or two from my apartment.

What is that? Why have I never noticed a massive church on my street?

I took a detour to pass the front of the building and realized that I have passed this church, often, and that the creep of neighbouring architecture means I’m too often focused on the narrow sidewalk, the traffic, the bustle of shops and pedestrians to realize that the church’s dome towers far above the rest of the neighbourhood.

And I have, in fact, wondered before about the history of this parish.  Arriving home, I booted up the Google and took a look at online maps to name the building I was looking for.  Turns out it’s the Most Holy Redeemer Church, locally identified more commonly as Iglesia Santisimo Redentor.  And while the community gives it a Spanish name, the church’s history was originally German – a part of New York City Lower East Side’s founding German community, remembered forever by the General Slocum disaster that wiped out much of its core population.

The church hosts daily mass.  The interior photos on their website look beautiful.  I might pretend I’m anglo-catholic enough to sit in the sanctuary, sometimes.  It’s the closest parish to my doorstep, and I wish it could be home.

Church is better with friends.

ilha_againCan anyone explain why a quiet evening of movie watching can leave me exhausted the next morning?

Because when I woke up today, I was anything but ready to climb on my bike and head to church.

I lay with my eyes closed for awhile, weighing the options.  I promised friends from bible study that I’d see them at their church, but it’s 85 blocks north and I’ll need to sprint from there to work as soon as the service is finished.  Or, I could bike ten minutes to the service that’s close by, and then have plenty of time for a detour to Ikea enroute to a punctual arrival at work.

Somehow I mustered up the courage for the trek uptown.

And I was surprised, in fact, to share a pew with more friends than I expected.  But my greater surprise was at how good it felt to sit in church with people I know.

I don’t know them that well.  They’re probably not even the kind of friends to whom I would admit how much ice cream I ate yesterday evening while watching a movie by myself.  But they’re people I know, people I’ve made cheesy bible study jokes with, people I’ve passionately debated the sovereignty of God amongst.

Sitting between them, watching them take sermon notes on their bulletins, listening to them sing the hymns, I felt like I was part of something.  Like I was in a place that I should be in.

So here’s number two on my list of things that matter at church: It’s nice to have church with friends.