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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Good Morning Christians!"

When I was a seminarian at St. John the Evangelist, Bowdoin Street, Boston, there was something called, simply, "The Thursday Night Supper."

Every Thursday night, about 200 people who were hungry and/or homeless would come down the steps into the Parish Hall for a full meal - soup to nuts, as they say - prepared and served to them by members of one of several suburban churches in the area.

Jack Flaherty was the Coordinator of the Thursday Night Supper, as well as the Jubilee Senior Center on Monday and Wednesday mornings.

Jack is now numbered among the Saints of God, but when he presided over the Thursday Night Suppers, he did so as one-part Sacramental Presence and one-part High School Teacher - which he was before he retired.

Jack had a "way" about him that commanded respect. Most of the guests called him "Father". Now, Jack was a Roman Catholic who faithfully attended daily mass in his suburban home town but was always - always - in the pew at St. John's on Sunday morning.

Clearly, he was not ordained in any capacity by either the Roman Catholic or Episcopal Church, but he never disabused the guests of the status of his ordination. He just simply let them call him, "Father".

And, this is the way he would address them before leading (or asking one of us to lead) grace before the meal: "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen."

I once commented to him that it was really lovely to hear him treat the guests with respect.

"Well, yes," Jack said, in his breathy way, with just a whisper of an Irish brogue. "But, it's also my way of setting up expectations for behavior. If I call them 'ladies and gentlemen', it assumes that they will behave as such."

And, they did. Always. Well, in so far as most were able, given the "altered states of consciousness" of some of the guests.

That obviously made quite an impression on me, and I've never forgotten it.

I think of Jack when I hear Bishop Barbara Harris greet a congregation before she preaches with, "Good Morning, Church." For her, it's not just a quaint custom of the Black Church experience. It also sets up an expectation for behavior.

People in church need to behave like they ARE church. Because, they are.

Well, I think I'm coming to my own version of this.

As much we all need to be reminded that we ARE church, I think the need is far greater for every one of us to be reminded that we are Christians.

It's not just that being "church" comes with lots and lots of baggage, it's that we need to reclaim our status as Christians as our primary identity.

Yes, the word "Christian" is also loaded with lots and lots of baggage. In many ways, it has become a pejorative term. There are so many "Christians" who behave so badly, it makes Jesus weep.

Just look at that cartoon at the top of this post for an example.

Here's another one to your left.

Makes us all sound like we're all straight out of a 'Looney Tune' cartoon, doesn't it?

Well, based on the behavior of some Christians, it makes some of us wonder.

I say, let's take back the definition and image of what it means to be a Christian.

Let's do that by reminding ourselves that WE are Christians.

For the past 10 years or so, I've always opened the service, after the processional hymn, by saying, "Good Morning! This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."

I think I'm going to begin to make a small alteration.

Instead of a simple, "Good Morning!" I'm going to say, "Good Morning, Christians!"

I'm not sure how that's going to go over. 

Since I won't be leading worship on a regular Sunday basis, it will be hard to determine the cumulative effect.

I know. I know. I'm probably just dropping tiny pebbles into a very large baptismal font.

You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

I'm preceded by my dear friend Jack and have a good example in Bishop Barbara.

So, next time you're in church with me, expect me to greet the congregation like this, "Good morning, Christians."

Just know that I'm talking to you - and, that I expect you to behave accordingly.


suzanne said...

I just forwarded your post to my rector with the suggestion of trying this. I think it would set a different tone for worship.

susankay said...

Regarding Jack's expectations: I remember during the busing time in Boston when various companies in Boston adopted various schools to help somehow. The company for which I worked sent me and a fellow member of an efficiency team out to Boston English High. We were dressed in our usual "dress up" work clothes. Principal and staff at English wore jeans and t-shirts or whatever. Bob and I were standing near the top of an escalator with the principal when a kid came off the escalator and crashed into us. He snarled at the t-shirt clad principal: "watch where you are motha f***er" and turned to Bob and said "sorry, sir"

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Suzanne - I think it absolutely would. I used this with a Vestry group the other night, and it absolutely did. I'll be interested to know what you think.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Susankay - That's a GREAT story. I really think this could make a difference - in how we see ourselves and how others see us.

Anonymous said...

I tried this on Sunday morning: an emphatic "Good morning, Christians!" was met with an equally emphatic "Good morning!" response. I was a bit taken aback at the forcefullness of the response.

After the service someone asked: "What if there are non-Christians present? How welcoming is this greeting?" We do get visitors from other faiths and the question made me remember the Jewish spouse who attended church regularly at my field ed.

I've been thinking (and sometimes preaching) over the last few years that we do need to reclaim our "Christian" identity--especially from those who use it to exclude or denigrate others. But the question of welcome raised by one parishioner continues to tug at me. Maybe borrowing Bishop Harris' "Good morning, Church" might be an answer. And yet, there is that Christian identity piece...

Mark Kozielec

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I don't know, Mark. I mean, doesn't the same issue apply? If they are visitors from another faith tradition, they aren't members of the "church" either.

That being said, I think your point is well made. I think I might alter it slightly with "Good morning, Christians" and then add "And a warm welcome to our visitors".

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. I was feeling "iffy" about "Church," too. I like the idea of including a warm welcome to visitors at the beginning (I'd been doing a general "welcome" at the beginning and the visitor welcome mostly at announcements with a longer invite to check us out). So, come Sunday, I'll give it a try. Again, the response from those present was truly remarkable.

Mark Kozielec

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark - do let us know what happens.