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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pentecostal Episcopalians?

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).


David@Montreal said...

you and Eleanor both in my prayers and practice
and i can't help but thinking what a blessing for Eleanor's family and 'buds' that they'll have such a fine priest to celebrate her life and our faith


JimB said...

Prayers ascending for Elanor, may she rest in peace in light perpetual.

I think you forgot a couple of the e's in His name, and everyone knows those should be z's no s's. ;-)

I think we are seeing the effect of our electronic village. Everyone "knows" that Christians pray to Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezzus, and that the Rapture is the doctrine of the future because it is all over the broadcast media. And that may well drive a rise in neo-evangelism in churches that have a high percentage of converts. Especially in our 'consumer society' where people come to the church with expectations and without a particular assent to the theology, I think it likely.


Mary Sue said...

Um, actually "rest in peace and rise in Glory", it's from the Prayer Book, the CofE version.

I read this post and my first reaction was, "What's so wrong about talking about Jesus? Isn't he kind of the reason we're, you know, in church? And what's wrong with talking about the Holy Spirit moving through the church?"

I 100% believe the Holy Spirit moved in our General Convention when ++Katharine was elected PB. I've seen the fruits of the Holy Spirit's works in the reports of the faithful in San Joaquin.

Shoot, I've even seen the Holy Spirit work amongst the blogrolls here, hello, how much did we raise for Ciudad de Dios again?

I think the problem is that for so long, people have shied away from using these words because they didn't want to be associated with the Pentecostals (is that why I've gotten no response to my call for a Revival Meeting on Mardi Gras? Probably).

Shuck that fit. The Holy Spirit ain't the sole domain of the Pentecostals, it's our inheritance as Christians. Time to embrace it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mary Sue - I talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit all the time. In fact, I make some of my folk nervous. "You talk about Jesus a lot," said one to me, just recently. I'm always fascinated by what makes some people uncomfortable in church.

I'm talking about Jeeeeezzzzzuuuussss and the 'Holy Ghost.'

BIG difference.

Paul said...

I require an affectional dimension in my faith and appreciate the yearning for emotion and a sense of the immediate presence, power, and action of God in our lives, individually and collectively. Unfortunately, many innovative teachings seem to accompany the movements that offer these elements. Having been raised in fundie circles I am well-immunized to the dark side of it all but most folks are not. They see a moving experience of faith and they want that--and, I would affirm, deserve it too.

What has been helpful for me is an Eastern Orthodox emphasis on the Holy Spirit, a mystical strain, and my Baptist background's knowledge of the Bible that includes, thank you Jesus, context. When "rapture" teachings or narrowed views of behavior and doctrine are put forth, I know enough Bible and church history to know there is far more to the picture, to the church's teaching, to the biblical tradition itself, and to Christian experience than this tiny slice. Alas, when you have clergy who do not know the breadth and depth of the tradition they can think they have it right and lead many others to think that tiny slice is the "true faith".

A friend's description of much of what is desired, practiced, and touted being a "goose me, Jesus" faith interested in emotional highs to the detriment of all else, is, alas, too true. Worship is where I am most often deeply moved but we need a faith that can deal with the down times, the dry times, the dark times, and the very ordinary times--this latter being where most of life is lived. We also need liberation from late medieval and early Reformation models as being the only way Christian faith can be legitimately formulated.

Suzer said...

Mary Sue -- While I believe that most of us who frequent Rev. Kaeton's blog are intelligent enough to understand what YOU mean by revival, versus the connotations that word has to quite a few of us currently living in Southern Baptist Land, it's hard to shake off the negative perceptions one has about revival meetings.

A former pastor of mine (at a UMC) used to go back to her home church for "revival weekend" every year, and always spoke highly of it. I couldn't help but suppress a shudder every time she mentioned it, as unfortunately the word is now associated almost entirely with a fire and brimstone, hell-bound fundamentalist theology.

Yes, I know that's not what you're referring to. But sometimes the power of a word is even a bit too much for me, who knows the difference. Call it a weakness of mine, but it's hard to get over that association.

Mary Sue said...

Elizabeth - What's the difference? Seriously, I don't get it.

Suzer - So, you're letting someone else define the word for you, instead of seeking out a meaning for yourself? Why?