Thursday, January 24, 2008
Working on my doctoral project has sent with it a tidal wave of memories which have been keeping me company for the past couple of months. They refuse to leave.
I'm preparing for a major funeral on Friday - one of the dear members of my congregation died early Monday morning. I shall miss Eleanor greatly. She would have been 83 in April, but she was a very young spirit. Very active. Lived alone in the house where she and her beloved 'Andy' raised their children. Andy died in 2000.
She drove her car everywhere - especially to attend her grandchildren's activities and events which she enjoyed enormously and retold with great pride. Faithfully attended Wednesday morning Eucharist and, of course, was in church every Sunday. There at 9:45 AM. Like clockwork. Fourth pew on the right. Sat with her 'buds."
Eleanor was diagnosed with two brain tumors shortly after Christmas. About two weeks ago, after the diagnosis and radiation at the hospital, she had been sent to a hospice care center. She caught a virus that was going round the facility - affecting staff and patients alike. Because her immune system was weakened by the radiation, she was unable to fight it off. The blessing came in a surprisingly swift death. The only comfort we have been able to gain is that she did not have to endure the indignities she would have had to face had the cancer progressed.
In the custom and tradition of The Book of Common Prayer, her funeral will be a reflection and celebration of the dignity and worth of her humanity and the uniqueness of her life, as well as our belief in the resurrection.
Perhaps because of that, I've been thinking of some of the funerals I attended when I used to "live and move and have my being" on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic in Baltimore, when another kind of virus weakened immune systems and death came with equally surprising swiftness. The affected population was much younger, of course. Death came like an early frost.
A great deal of my work was with LGBT people but there were lots and lots of 'straight' people, too. I worked with people of diverse ethnic and racial origins whose religious origins and/or faith practices were in all of the mainline churches - Roman Catholic, Lutherans, Methodist, Presbyterians, Baptism, Episcopalians, non-denominational Evangelicals, Charismatics and Pentecostals.
In the Pentecostal Churches of color, wakes and funerals were an amazing event - filled with deeply felt and expressed emotion and faith unheard of in the Episcopal Church.
Not so much anymore. Well, and that's my point.
In the rise of the 'evangelical' wave which is sweeping all of the mainline religions - even in the Roman Catholic church - we're seeing a tangental rise of a 'charismatic' expression of that faith. Some of it is beginning to sound like some of what I heard in the Pentecostal churches back in Baltimore.
I'm hearing similar strains from the 'far Right' in The Episcopal Church. Lots of talk about "Jeeesssuuus" and "The Holy Ghost." If you listen closly enough, you can hear whispers about "The Rapture" which seemed at home in the store-front churches, but singularly out of place in the great stone edifices of The Episcopal Church. This is combined with an insistence on conformity to specific sets of behavior - and not just gender roles or sexual behavior. There's an insistence on dress, language and even dietary purity. It seems to me a Levitical sect gone modern and dressed up in fair linens and fine liturgical vestments.
Which leads the little corner of my brain that is interested in the sociology of religion to wonder: Are we seeing the rise of a neo-Pentecostalism in The Episcopal Church?
Not that this is necessarily bad or good. I'm just curious, is all.
What do you think?
Oh, and of your mercy and kindness, please pray for the repose of the soul of our dear Eleanor.
May she rest in peace and rise in glory (Hmmm . . . I think we may have borrowed that phrase from out Pentecostal friends).