50 States Church Surch Week 23 St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Brunswick, ME
"Jesus said, 'For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.'"
Taking one for the team, I walked through the rain for over a mile to church today. Sounds like how I went to school. Only it was ten miles. And through chest deep snow.
The motel brochure listed 'Places of Worship,' so using my scientific method of choosing a church, I picked St. Paul's Episcopal because (a) it was close and (b) I've never worshipped at an Episcopal church.
Walking through the rain, the familiar sign indicated I arrived at the church. Those signs can be found anywhere in the country, for as far back as I can remember. St. Paul's, a good name, one dear to my wife and I as we named our first son after St. Paul.
People entered through the back door off the parking lot, reminding me of so many Capitol buildings that use the service doors. An umbrella can and coat rack greeted me. Apparently this rain is commonplace. I hung up my coat and followed the signs to the Family Service With Holy Eucharist.
I refuse to claim ignorance. They misnamed the service, as it wasn't a Family Service, but Mom, Dad and the kids. Little kids. None over ten. I felt like a fish out of water during these church secret shopper campaigns, but today rates among the highest. Parents bore little gray and little kids, while I sported much gray and no little squigglers. Call it Children's Church, please. Oh, why not? Where two or three are gathered together in His name...
The Reverend Dr. Ann Broomell, Transitional Priest in Charge, performed the service while a dozen kids sat pretty still with an equal number of parents keeping the wiggling under control. She let kids assist with the lighting of candles, presentation of hosts and wine, and ushering the offering. She read from the Bible, reiterating the story of the disciples asking Jesus if they should shut down others casting out demons in Jesus' name. She told them that the church has no circle, that all are welcome into the fold.
Reading up on the Episcopalians, they have initiated women in the clergy, using lay people for clergy more, and elected their first homosexual priest in 1977 and bishop in 2003. While they lead the churches for their 'open circle,' church membership has plummeted from 3.2 million in 1970, to less than two million now.
The church began in England as the Anglican Church, created by King Henry VIII so he could continue his barrage of marriage dissolution without the inconvenience of excommunication. When the Brits emigrated into America, they
brought their church with them. However, after the American Revolution, the church had a problem. The clergy were required to swear allegiance to the British monarch, as he was the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Hence, the Episcopalian church. No wonder the separation of church and state evolved in America.
St. Paul's, another church that sounds, looks and feels Catholic.
'God be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to The Lord.'
We ended the service with the butterfly song. Do you know it?
"If I was a butterfly, I'd thank you Lord for giving me wings."
And so on, complete with the arm movements. I still know the song after all these decades. "If I was a fishy in the sea, I'd wiggle my tail and giggle with glee."
But where are the people? Twenty four people for the family service? We met in a foyer area, with three dozen chairs put out and a simple table. Last week the church in San Diego had 800 small groups! Obviously a different demographic, but seriously, it seems to me the old school traditional churches are failing. Almost like a stone building with a steeple is the kiss of death. The modern churches in contemporary buildings, old warehouses, strip malls, and even old stone buildings, seem to be growing and reaching people.
I walked back through the rain, meditating on the church, where they are going, how they can reach people, and if it is growing, shrinking, or dying. Spotting a convenience store, I decided to stop for a delicious snack. A twenty-something fellow in front of me asked for change for a ten dollar bill. Wanted two fives.
"Going to church," he explained.