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Friday, November 02, 2012

Power and Light

ABC photo by Jason Duran

Excuse me, but I just have to get this off my chest.

This is not exactly a rant, but I'm not exactly a happy camper, either.

My email inbox is suddenly flooded with messages from churches and dioceses with long lists of churches that say either (1) they have "no power" and will not be open for services on Sunday or, (2) they have "power" and they will be open for services on Sunday.

The "power", of course, refers to electricity and, I suppose heat.

To be honest, several churches did report that they had - or did not have - "power and electricity". I've seen two churches that said they had no "power/electricity" but would be holding services anyway - one is having three baptisms.

So, here's my beef. I can understand if a church has a tree that has crashed through the roof and is sitting in the middle of the sanctuary. I can even understand if a church basement is flooded and the concern is about mold / mildew.

But, cancelling church because there's no electricity?

Are you kidding me?

If you cancel church because there's no electricity then you are right: You have no power. You have no power because you have given over your power to "the powers that be".

Indeed, I want to suggest that those churches without electricity that are still holding services on Sunday have more power than those that do. And, I suspect, the Light of Christ will shine brilliantly in those churches during their 'candlelight' service.

Oh Elizabeth, someone said to me as I was ranting on earlier today, it's not just the lights. You really can't expect people to come to church when there's no heat.

Clearly, he doesn't know me.

My first service of the Great Vigil of Easter as a seminarian was at Christ Church, Hyde Park. The furnace had gone out and was only repaired 30 minutes before the service was scheduled to begin. There were ten of us that night - coats, hats and gloves on, tapers lit - all huddled in the darkness around the heating grate in the middle of the aisle.

It was the first time I had ever chanted the Exultet. I had to concentrate on my chanting because, every now and again, even I was....enchanted....with the way my voice sounded in that magnificent old, dark, cold, and fairly empty church - when I wasn't distracted by the puffs air coming out of my mouth and into the cold air of the church.  

By the end of the service there was light and heat.

It was absolutely glorious!

My friend cleared his throat and tried again (Foolish man!) But, what about the organ, he wanted to know and then, seeing my face, quickly added that he supposed a piano would do but - oh, dear, oh dear - the magnificent music for All Saints Sunday just wouldn't sound the same played on a piano.

I didn't want to say what I was thinking so I closed my lips tightly. He pressed on (Foolish man!), and said that many churches don't even have a piano.

I could not contain myself any longer. Gee, I said, the sarcasm dripping from my lips, I suppose, then, that faithful modern Christians would have to do what millions and millions of Christians have done over the centuries and use the first instrument God gave us.

He looked at me quizzically. Then, light dawned on Marble Head. Oh, he exclaimed! You mean sing A Capella? Without instruments?

Why not, I asked?  It happens in lots of places in this country and around the world every Sunday.

His shoulders slumped and he fell into his seat. Then, suddenly, his back stiffened and he sat bolt upright. He raised his voice and said that it was just not the same and I knew it.

Of course it's not the same, said I, but it's worship and God glories in it.

I remember Ms. Eula Jefferson, a parishioner of mine at St. Barnabas Church in Newark where I was privileged to be Vicar for three years. One young man was complaining, one very hot summer day in the city, that it was too hot for church and maybe we should just cancel services for the summer the way the Unitarians do.

Ms. Jefferson got all up in that poor child's face and said, "You come to church because you think God needs you to be here? God don't care two figs if you come to church or not. I come to church because I need to. And that the Gospel truth. I come to church because I need to be here. I. Me. I need to be here. With my friends. With my church family. God don't need that but I think it pleases God. And after all the Lord has done for you, you mean you can't spend one hour - one hour!? just one stinkin' hot hour!?- with your friends and church family to praise the Lord for all the things He done for you the rest of the week? Shame on you, boy!"

If we can go to church for one stinkin' hot hour in the summer, I think we can go to church for one chilly cold hour in the late fall. With no electricity. No organ music. Just our voices, raised in petition and praise and thanksgiving.

My friend pushed his salad around his plate for a while and finally agreed with me. (Smart man!)

I did concede the point that some people will not be able to go to church because of the gasoline shortage in NY and NJ.  By some accounts, there was a five mile back up the other day at one of the gas stations on the Garden State Parkway. Some gas stations are only selling $10 or $20 worth of gasoline at a time.  In some places, fist fights have broken out. I know one man who drove from NJ to Stroudsburg, PA where he finally was able to fill his tank.

Look, here's my point. I know I've made it earlier, but I'm going to say it again: You may not have electricity, but you have lots of power.  You may be in the dark, but the Light of Christ never fails. There may be a chill in the air but you have a coat and, if you huddle around in a circle, the temperature near you will rise perceptibly.

Sing out those glorious All Saints songs using the instrument God gave you when you were born. Just listen to how you sound without the organ drowning you out. You may just discover what that line in Amazing Grace means when you sing, "how sweet the sound".

So, here's my plea: If you have any say in the matter, please don't cancel church on Sunday just because you have no electricity. I'm sure attendance will be thin because people will be saving their gasoline to get to work on Monday. That's okay. Others will come.

Perhaps they will come because they think God needs them there.  Whether they know it or not, they'll come because they need to pray with their friends and church family.

There is never a more important time to gather together as a community of faith than after the devastating effects of a storm like Hurricane Sandy.

Amen? Amen!

So, sing out children, with all your heart and mind and voice - for all the saints, who from their labors rest. And, for your own immortal soul, which contains all the power and light you need.

22 comments:

Carol Horton said...

AMEN!

The "No Power" mantra started to grate on me midweek, and as I sat in the dark and getting chilly church it hit me what a demoralizing comment it is to say "we have no power." No wonder people are so bummed out. We may not have electricity, but we surely have power -- the power of the Holy Spirit from before creation -- the power of our baptism -- the power of our prayer and the power of our community as the Body of Christ.
That's my rant.

We are having church on Sunday, whether the electricity makes a comeback by then or not. How could we not? Some folks won;t be able to make it beacsue some of the roads are still too dangerous -- but I know they will pray with and for us wherever they are.

Thanks for sharing your rant, and for reading mine.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I suspect this would make some of Margaret's parishioners out on the Cheyenne River Reservation laugh uproariously. Especially the ones at Bear Creek!

Josephine Robertson said...

I agree. Maybe we've just become wimps? I'm from Michigan originally and I remember doing a Christmas service up there in the middle of a blizzard. We had about 5 folks, the people who could walk to church because driving was impossible and dangerous, but it was BEAUTIFUL! (I lived a few blocks from the church, so made it.)

We didn't have music (you can do a service without it, shocking I know). I don't remember now if we had power or not, but that drafty old place was always so cold in the winter we always worshiped with our coats on, and the alb and chasuble were UTILITARIAN. ;) I rather LIKE those sort of services.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Carol - I don't think it qualifies and a rant, but if it is, I think it's a noble one.

"We have no power"? Really? Okay, then, you don't. And, you're not much of a Christian, either.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kirke - I know, right? My goodness! Sometimes, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Josephine - In moments like that, I think re-discovers its authenticity. If it chooses to do so. Some will just stay home and grumble. They are the ones without power.

Genette said...

An electrical outage reveals much, like the difference between those who gather in response to God and those stopping in at the religious 7-11 for a cup of weekly ritual bicarbonate ... the difference between experience and convenience.
Make no mistake, I'm all for encouraging everyone to attend, no matter how 'transactional' their understanding may be (nearly impossible to learn more, find more, expand in faith without that exposure), but what sort of priest or vestry or staff even considers cancelling short of grave physical risk? The disaster isn't just a hurricane if the leaders of the faith fail so easily ... and at All Saints, a little heat sacrifice seems too much to bear?
Lord, hear our prayer ...

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Oh, if only I were closer. We could hop a train, head to the city, find an uncluttered corner somewhere near one of the churches with "no power," and you preside, I'd be your acolyte. We would open the door and go, "Look! There is all kinda power here!" Folks have been "bein' the church" for a long time before there was running water and lights. I believe she does just fine without them.

Jim said...

30 years ago, give or take, Chicago had an ice storm over Christmas Eve. In the morning, living only 2 blocks away from church, I set out to walk to the Christmas morning service. I made it about half way, fell on concealed ice onto my rear in a couple inches of ice water.

I stood up, laughed, and dripped my way to the church. Not one soprano made it. I am a tenor, but that day I was the soprano section. We had about 20 people about 6 in the choir.

I had a blast! How often does a tenor get to sing the descant for Joy To The World? I had a fun time, the one remaining tenor did fine and that was one rocking Christmas service.

We joked for weeks that God wanted my back-end in that ice water so I could reach the high notes. ;-)

Preach it Reverend!

FWIW
jimB

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

First - a correction. Josephine - I think it's times like these when THE CHURCH rediscovers its authenticity.

Genette - I've since learned that ONE of the churches is closed by order of the police. Apparently, flooding is still a problem.

I can't possibly know the background story to each of these situations - and, they are in several dioceses that were hit by Sandy - but to simply say, "We have no power" and then close the church for Sunday services is simply inconceivable to me.

Christ, have mercy.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Amen, Kirke. Amen. We'd make quite a powerful team, indeed.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jim - What a wonderful story! I do believe your service brought joy to the heart of God.And, you may be right about needing to get your backside wet to reach those high notes. LOL.

Anonymous said...

Amen! Amen!
This summer we lost power. But since it was Sunday I got the kids dressed and headed for church. I got there and they were turning people away because they had no power. They said they emailed us a notice of closing. (Yeah like I was able to read it on my computer without power.) I was told it would be too hot in church. I was in short- disgusted. Really? Close church when many of us need to be close to God? The Lord gives us 7 days with 24 hours in each day and we have a little power shortage and church is cancelled? So, I did what any good formerly RC would do and headed for the only church that I could get to in time for mass. Yes, it was the RCC. They never close. But, I needed to be with God just for a wee bit of relieve from the stress of the world. Apparently so did some of the other formerly RCs because I saw them at mass too. We just laughed at each other.
Maria

it's margaret said...

I'm laughing!!!! --just where are these churches? I'll call the folks that made the decision. They should come here for a visit!!!!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Maria - You know, I can't believe we let churches get away with this stuff. And we wonder why churches are closing. I fear many of them should.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Margaret - I know, right? It's pathetic. Unless the police told me that I couldn't hold services because it would be a public hazard ....and, even then......

Honest to Pete!

Anonymous said...

Preach it! You are right on with this.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - Try and stop me. LOL. Please leave your name next time.

Elaine C. said...

I tend to go lightly with both our heat and air conditioning -- it's a big building and our pledges just don't support the cost of the utility bills. I've gotten lots of complaints about the lack of hospitality because the building is too hot or too cold -- the most obnoxious rants usually are from those who don't pledge or financially support the church.

But, of course, I grew up in Iowa, and my parent's (who are now in their 80s) always did the same light touch with heat and ac at their house.

I totally agree with you!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh,you know, Elaine, I finally decided that the temperature inside the church served the same function as food at the hospital. People have to have something to complain about. Better to have them complain about the food than the care in the hospital. Better to have them complain about the temperature of the church than the liturgy, music or your sermon.

David and John said...

The nave at my parish was completed in 1857....way before electric lights and central heat. There is a small square in the wooden ceiling (right in the middle of the aisle near the chancel steps) where a chimney used to be. An elderly relative of mine recalls when a wood-burning stove used to sit in the middle of the church with a pipe reaching up to the ceiling (it was their only source of heat).

Electricity didn't come into the area until the 1930's. There was no running water or indoor plumbing until almost 1960.

To my knowledge, services were never hindered by the lack of ameneties.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

David and John, When people talk about the "good old days" of the church, I think they forget that it is precisely this spirit of not having every modern convenience that made the old days good.

Thanks for this.