Saturday, January 30, 2016

Unchurchy church in the new Brooklyn

An idea that's been around in churches at least since the Sixties, with impressive historical credentials (when romantics read the Didache): in hipsterized, gentrified Brooklyn, St. Lydia's (a saint from the Book of Acts), an experimental church (actually ELCA Lutheran, which in this case means it's an Episcopal project too) that doesn't use a church building and features an agape meal as the Sunday Eucharist. (First rule of hipster church: don't call it hipster church, "hipster," like "guido," not being something you call yourself.)

Let's start with the positive. It's better done than Pastor Ingqvist trying to be hip with a guitar service. It has a strong appeal, reaching out to fill a deep need probably not being met, 20- and 30-year-olds far away from family in a society where real community is eroding: hungry for a connection. (Loneliness: it's not just for saddos anymore.) In a way it's nothing new. Churches and church groups meet in parish halls and people's homes for dinners all the time. (My city Catholic parish manages to have coffee hour once a month after all the Sunday Masses, like the Episcopalians every week; for an American Catholic parish, phenomenal, virtually St. Lydia's, comparatively speaking.) Such experiments aren't just for liberals such as ELCA: evangelicals, actually very adaptable, have tried it; remember the Jesus movement in the early '70s? Catholics tried it with the charismatic movement and its "covenant communities," and in ways, the Neocatechumenate from Spain with its own low-church liturgy. Before Vatican II, in France you had the worker priests trying to revive the faith among the blue-collar by offering them unchurchy church. OK. So, unlike the Sixties radicals, they don't want to take away my Latin Mass or conventional Catholic or Lutheran parishes. So why not live and let live, having house or storefront churches with agapes, low churchmanship, and good fellowship, alongside that? As I like to say, Catholics' ecumenical approach should be "everything that's not doctrine is on the table." We're not tied down to one rite or culture. Why not room for one more?

Yes, up to a point, and this is where doctrine and practical experience (2,000 years worth!) kick in. As a Catholic I'm not a bigot; as long as we keep the old Mass and you try to keep the teachings, like we try to, I can be very accommodating.

So let's look at St. Lydia's claims to be all-inclusive, not tied down by insistence on doctrine (other than a broad belief in Jesus and the Bible as they see it), and counter-cultural, "working for change" (as if "change" were always objectively good: isn't that a doctrine?). A risk with such communities is when you jettison the traditional church and its teachings you lose your objectivity; pretty soon "God" starts sounding suspiciously like me or "my set" (cf. The Screwtape Letters), our king, our tribe, our government, etc. I've never been to St. Lydia's but I'm sure it isn't consciously cliquey. But let's look at some of their statements: A progressive, GLBTQ-affirming congregation... Refugees welcome. (By the way, "conservative Christian" doesn't automatically mean "pick on homosexuals" as these statements assume. It does mean "follow the same gospel as your straight brethren," which for you means abstinence — "take up your cross and follow me," which seems not to be what St. Lydia's wants to hear. And what of the Christian duty to defend innocent people from being raped or shot by "refugees"?) This is not so much for the benefit of homosexuals or Muslim immigrants but virtue-signaling something very much doctrine, a rather narrow one appealing mostly to present-day white Americans of a certain class on up. A modern, say, English- or Swedish-based culture. A message now so mainstream that most of its target audience doesn't see the need for a church glommed onto it.

Such communities in such neighborhoods might by definition be transitional: what happens when the young creative types pair off, marry, and have kids? Then Pastor Ingqvist's parish with Sunday school, etc., would work better. Might such communities last longer if, say, some of the members committed to not marrying and instead lived together and ran such local churches, schools, hospitals, shelters, etc.? Oh, wait.

In short, I'm reminded of that humorous and insightful writer, G.K. Chesterton, who as a young man tried to come up with the heresy to beat all heresies: maybe supposedly boring old, hung-up orthodox Catholicism and its cultures, from Italian to Ukrainian to sub-Saharan African ones, are far more radical and universal/inclusive (one gospel for all people in all places and times) than anything the good-hearted Lutherans of St. Lydia's can imagine.

1 comment:

  1. Somehow this kind of service doesn't seem to fit in with St. Paul's admonition, "If any man be hungry, let him eat at home."


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