By: Dennis Bates
First, you have to understand that my small little Presbyterian church literally sits right across a dead-end street from a Catholic church. We almost share a parking lot. Second, we often have members from that church attend our social events and vice versa. In addition, some of our members regularly attend services over there and some of theirs have actually joined our ranks
Still, centuries old prejudices and misunderstandings mixed with very few real differences keep us the church over there and the church over here. It doesn’t matter which side of the street you sit on when you say that, which in its own special way is more than ironic.
Every now and then, however, I see a break through. I wouldn’t exactly call them ecumenical movements or anything like that, but I continue to pray that some of them are small steps that can begin journeys.
For example, I am excited by a Wednesday night Lenten series on prayer at my tiny, totally imperfect Presbyterian Church. We’re trying to get back to basics, and that includes putting some holiness back into the entire season of Lent. That’s almost a novel concept for Protestants, at least the Protestants I’ve grown up with.
Sure we pay some attention to the final week before Easter, and acknowledge Ash Wednesday, but little else. Lent comes from a Roman Catholic tradition, don’t you know, and they’re the church over there.
Maybe, maybe not.
This year we have held Wednesday night services each week in Lent. We begin with a celebration of the Eucharist, which right there sounds a little Roman for those of us who usually call it Communion. The origin of the word is actually Greek, but never mind. We also have a liturgy that doesn’t vary from week to week and has the distinct feeling of a Mass. Oh my!
Perhaps we should erect barricades in the street so we can stay over here and they can stay over there. Of course, we’ll have to put a gate in the barricades so we can go back and forth for the soup suppers and summer picnics, but that shouldn’t be too hard.
I’m going to say this next part in a whisper, just in case. Many of our studies have included concepts and practices from both Calvin and Catholic orders like the Benedictines. And we have meditated on early Church prayers like the Jesus prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
So far the lightning rods on both our small town churches have done their jobs. Of course, it’s still winter here. There haven’t been many lightning bolts from the sky yet, but I jest. Sort of.
I personally have noticed two things from our daring little experiment.
First, silent prayer and meditation can be extremely powerful. The Holy Spirit can speak to our souls without being interrupted when we’re quiet, and we can hear and feel His power in our absolute silence.
Second, liturgy can help us focus our attention on God and His purposes, instead of merely closing our eyes and wondering about everything but God. Even if it’s repetitive, it’s repeating the right things, and that alone makes it worthwhile.
All in all, the services have been exciting and rewarding. I have already suggested that we do them all year long, not just during the season of Lent, but my suggestion has been met with curious looks, bordering on slight frowns. After all, that is what the church over there does. We aren’t like them.
Maybe we could both learn something. Wouldn’t that be an answer to prayer?