|ABC photo by Jason Duran|
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.
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.