Along our route from the house to our parish church, a billboard was recently put up for one of the regions large bible churches. It shows a bunch of kids (probably ages 7-10) watching raptly as several loudly costumed people perform a skit, with a cross in the background. The tagline is "When was the last time your kids dragged you to church?"
A couple things stuck me about this. First is the basic awkwardness of touting a church's resemblance to entertainment as it's big selling point. It seems like the basic message there is "Your kids hate church and like entertainment, but we make church so entertaining, that they'll like it in spite of themselves." Now, if sitting in a church building for an hour or two each week were somehow an end unto itself, this might be just fine. Maybe from a certain point of view it is. But if (as I would) you think that it is what happens at church that is important to experience, than ditching that in favor of something more "kid friendly" seems off base. Not only are you not training children to appreciate the liturgy that in theory is their reason for being there -- but you're training them to appreciate something else instead.
Now, I think a certain amount of this may have to do with the differences between an American Protestant way of looking at religion and its place in one's life vs. a more Catholic view. The other day at work I was listening in as a couple of guys who are very active in their (bible church style Protestant) churches were comparing notes. One said, "We're pretty satisfied with the church we found. They've got a good men's and women's bible study, good kids program, good preaching and fellowship. The big problem is with the teen program. We have our daughter go to First Baptist instead because our church doesn't even have a full time youth minister."
And I'm sitting there thinking: Sheesh, I like our parish because the liturgies are according to GIRM, the choir at the mass we go to is pretty good, and our pastor and assistant pastor don't go in for loopy theology or liturgy. It wouldn't even occur to me to look for nearly the number of specialization of ministries that my Protestant friends seem to consider essential in a church. Sure, it'd be nice if our parish had a good bible study or lecture series, but that'd be strictly gravy. I don't think I'm totally out of the norm in that to me, extra-liturgical groups at church are things like St. Vincent de Paul drives, parish grounds cleanup day, and occasional projects/snacks/beer with the Knights of Columbus.
I'm not clear in my mind where there differences come from, or if there's a right answer to them. Another area of difference I notice every so often is that noun pressed into service as a verb as well: fellowship, to fellowship, and even fellowshipping. I once read a "secret worshipper report" by a Protestant visiting a Catholic church where the author complained: "There was no one to greet me as I entered. After the service, no one welcomed me as a stranger visiting for the first time and I was not invited to any sort of coffee and fellowship hour."
My first thought was: With at least five masses every weekend and 2500 families in the parish, I recognize at best 10-20% of the people who usually attend at the same times as we do, much less the people who always go at other times. I'd have no way of knowing if someone was a stranger. And I don't think I've ever gone to the parish coffee hour.
My second thought was: It would kind of creep me out and annoy me if I attended mass at another parish or in another city and someone immediately came up to me and said, "I see you're new here. Welcome to the parish. Let me take you under my wing..." I may not quite be one of the "don't offer me the sign of peace" kind of people, but I do still very much consider the mass to be communal time in private with God. We're there for the liturgy, so being overwhelmed with all sorts of community seems more a distraction than a benefit.
Every so often I read someone talking about how much better a job Evangelicals do of providing "extras" to their congregants, and how Catholics are starving for this stuff. I don't know if I've simply found ways to appreciate that lack because that's how things are, or if there's actually a different set of priorities which we rightly should have as Catholics. But there's clearly something very different going on.
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