Ordination; on church attendance

I just returned from the ordination service for fellow-blogger Emily’s husband Bob; it was a lovely service — I’d never attended an ordination service before and didn’t know quite what to expect, but in the Presbyterian Church, at least, it includes many of the usual elements of a church service plus the presentation of the ordination candidate and series of questions for him about whether he’ll uphold the beliefs of the church. It ended with a “charge” to the candidate, which Emily gave herself. I think the idea is that someone close to the candidate gives some personal advice and encouragement, and Emily did a wonderful job, giving a moving speech complete with a funny story about Bob’s childhood and a reference to Dostoevsky.

I’m not a church-goer these days, but I have a long history of church-going, and attending church nowadays, on those rare occasions I do, is a fraught experience. I’ll resist it the whole way there, complaining about the prospect of having to listen to a sermon and having to hear about a God I don’t believe in. But once the service has begun, I find myself tearing up. I find moments like the passing of the peace moving, and in this ordination ceremony I was touched by the “laying on of hands” part, where Bob knelt and priests and elders stood around with hands on his shoulders, praying for him. There’s something wonderful about the physical touch, an embodiment of the human and spiritual connection among members of the congregation.

I don’t miss being a believer, and I’m fairly certain I’ll never be one again, but I do miss the communal part of church-going; my parents are part of a church that drives me crazy in lots of ways, but I’m also aware that my parents have a solid group of friends who are committed to sharing in their life and taking care of them if they need it. For me, this is what church is (or should be) all about, really — people working together to take care of each other and to bring out the best in each other.

I grew up attending a series of conservative Protestant churches of several different denominations (socially conservative, as in no women pastors, for example), and although I attended a liberal Episcopalian church for a while as an adult, I still tend automatically to think of churches as conservative entities, so I’m pleased when I find out otherwise. The church I attended today has a woman minister, which always makes me happy, and the Prayer of Confession we all said had this interesting opening:

O Lord our God, as we come before you now, believers and doubters alike …

which made me feel right at home, the doubter that I am. It also had this sentence:

Forgive us all our wrongs and help us to understand that the profit and pleasure we pursue lays waste to the land and pollutes the seas.

Growing up I would not have encountered such a sentiment in church, partly because the environmental movement wasn’t so widespread but also because the churches I attended thought of “sin” as a purely personal matter, not something that had anything to do with the earth.

I won’t be attending church regularly, I’m quite sure (church would interfere with bike racing, for one thing — can I say I attend the Church of the Bicycle?), but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to be a little less resistant to the experience, since once I’m there, I often find something meaningful in it.

Oh, and I got to meet two of Emily’s siblings, Lindsay and Ian, and Emily’s parents; they are a wonderful family, let me tell you. Aren’t you all jealous of me?

15 Comments

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15 responses to “Ordination; on church attendance

  1. Very jealous. Sounds like a lovely day.

  2. I think it is cool that you have met and become good friends with bloggers you met online. It sounds like a cool experience–and I really like the idea of a woman minister!

  3. hepzibah

    I know sometimes I doubt god too — but isn’t there something just wonderfully divine in religious services? There is something divine about people coming together in a common cause and professing a faith together. Without my faith I don’t know where I would be –it gives me hope that someday things will be better, even if they are not so right now.

  4. Aleppo

    I’ve always held a theory that cyclists are disproportionately atheist, if only for the practical reason that so much cycling happens on Sundays.

  5. Eva

    I also miss the communal aspect of church-going, although I don’t agree with the narrow teachings of Catholicism (what I grew up in). I’ve been to a couple of UU services, and I really liked them. Unfortunately, the group I went to met in a middle school cafeteria, and that just isn’t holy to me.

    I’m hoping to start going regularly to the other UU church in town (despite the distance and gas money) so I can be part of a community again.

  6. Eva

    Oh-and I’ve added you to my blogroll. :) I’m not sure why you weren’t there before, lol.

  7. Oh my! What a beautiful testament to a very special day. Thank you!

  8. LK

    Such a nice, thoughtful post. Thank you, Dorothy.

  9. verbivore

    I really like this post. You put into words a lot of my own feelings for religion. My father is a pastor and so I grew up basically in church but I am no longer a believer. Luckily, my dad is quite liberal and we can talk about that change. I think he also understands that I saw way too much inner church politics growing up to enjoy a church community. But when I do go visit my parents I go to church with them and there are often moments I get really involved in the service – rarer and rarer these days but its always kind of a ‘whoa’ moment when it happens. Religion is such a tricky thing – incredibly harmful in some ways but in many others, a good and useful part of our human experience.

  10. Stefanie — it was!

    Danielle — yeah, it’s great to have two ways of knowing somebody — in “real life” and through their blog. And I wish I’d had the experience of attending a church with a women minister — not that it makes me want to go back, but I wish I’d had it in the past.

    Hepzibah — I do have a problem with the “God” part, but not with divinity — I agree that a beautiful service can be divine and people coming together can be a divine experience.

    Aleppo — surely you’re right! It makes perfect sense :)

    Eva — thanks for the link; I have trouble keeping up with my blogroll myself. Interesting that you should mention UU services, because I’m curious what they are like and Hobgoblin was just telling me about a local one. I would definitely like the theology of a UU church, but I’m not sure about the service itself; I’m partial to the episcopalian liturgy.

    Emily — well, thanks for letting us be a part of it!

    LK — thank you!

    Verbivore — well, that’s wonderful that you can discuss this with your father; I’m always avoiding the subject with my own parents, and I’m not happy about that — but they wouldn’t be pleased at all to know what I believe — or what I don’t.

  11. Yes, I’m jealous! I used to work with Emily (even though we lived thousands of miles apart) but I’ve become a fan of her entire unique, intelligent, and irritatingly talented family!

    Very interesting post!

  12. I really liked this post and here’s a coincidence – on Sunday I’m going to my friend Sue’s ordination service in Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. Like you I was a regular church goer but don’t go any more and am feeling apprehensive about this service. Your post re-assures me.

    How fantastic to meet another blogger in person!

  13. Danny — well, you got to work with Emily at least! :) I’m a fan too, definitely.

    BooksPlease — I hope the service ends up being a good experience — I know that feeling of apprehension well!

    Mandarine — Perhaps you will meet Emily some day too!

  14. Dorothy, it was really neat to meet you!

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