Abandoned Church

I remember a time during my childhood when my parents would take us to church on Sundays. It was a regular thing, and we went every Sunday (and special days, of course) without fail, unless we were really sick with a fever. For me it was a very comforting feeling: familiar, warm, and lasting. There was tradition that was followed for many years that was mixed into everything we did. The old, red, hymn book we always used to sing the hymns and follow the liturgy were worn, the pages yellowing. The church calendar cycle was the same very year, with the ebbing and flowing of special times; of Advents and Christmases; of Lents and Easters.

And as a child, in a life filled with constant changes it was nice to have one place in our lives as that didn’t change. It was respite from a child’s life where every new school year started with a new set of teachers. Every so many years we switched to a different and larger school building, meeting new friends, new experiences, new teachers, new classes, new interests, etc. That’s where church, and faith, and religion became a solid foundation in our lives – an unchanging haven in a sea fraught with ever-changing storms.

Growing up in the 70s (the 1970s, that is; not the 1870s), we were still using the same liturgy that was being used in the 1920s, the same songs and hymns that were used in the 19th Century, and all that continuity became a long chain of tradition that reached back to the ancient religious – regardless of the religious or denomination background. Those old sounds, those classic words, they were all part of a tradition that remained, even in modern times. These were things that always were – and always would be.

Or so I thought.

Over the years, so much has continued to change in religion: Changes to wording, changes to music, more and more of shoving God down into a little box we can tuck into our pockets and pull out when we need; or like the good-old buddy we can slap on the ass when he tells a good joke. God was no longer “He” or “Father” – because that might offend someone somewhere somehow. Instead, we were forced to use inclusive language, or “gender-neutral” language, in which God is addressed as “Creator” or “Father Mother Spirit” (though that would really offend people who didn’t have fathers, or mothers, or were abused by fathers or mothers… but I digress.).

Even as a young adult, I was quite restless with the changes that were invading my spiritual respite, though I was thinking it was the opposite reason. With each new change, I grew more restless and demanded more changes more quickly. Eventually, over time, I realised (quite late) that what caused my spiritual restlessness was the modernisation, itself, and the loss of traditions I’d held dear (and didn’t know it). When I finally found a church that continued with the old traditions unchanged, I knew I’d found my way home, and settled in.

Or so I thought.

Life continues to change. There doesn’t seem to be any way around it. We grow older, we out-grow our clothes, our friends; we move from place to place and lose ties with those from before to forge new ties with those ahead. And apparently, even the institutions that were, for very long, places we could go to for strength, for a moment to breathe, would succumb to the same modernisation that infects everything else in our lives. And I started to think what life will be like without any of those churches that still held to traditions.

As I posted in previous writings on my blog about S Clement’s Church Philadelphia, the last bastion of Anglo-Catholic Traditional Worship within hundreds (thousands?) of miles had finally sunk below the horizon. As those members of the parish who were true “Clementines” through and through were forced out over the years in different ways (including myself), I realised that the most painful fact about it was not that there was one less Anglo-Catholic Traditional Parish in the world, but that those people who loved those traditions had no place to go. That community which once existed had turned to dust.

To these people (including me) there is no more Church. It no longer exists. Sure, being a priest, I can still celebrate mass as I prefer; but without community, it just feels so hollow? It’s akin to clapping with one hand.

“So join another church then! There’s plenty about from which to choose! That one over there is similar; or that one over that way is close to you.” I’ve heard it from many people. Yet these arguments are about as useful and fruitful as giving someone whiskey to drink when they will die of dehydration without water. “Hey, they’re similar – they’re both liquid!”

There are those who also believe our pleas are nothing more than incessant whining, and that we can merely change our religious leanings in order to align ourselves with everyone else. “Just join one of the other groups in the area. It’s all the same thing in the end. Why don’t you just join the Roman Church? They do things close to the way you did.” This would actually be the same as asking someone to change their sexual orientation to be assimilated into the masses (excuse the pun). Invariably, both arguments are the same thing: both go against one’s very nature. (Though, in all honesty, one could probably change their sexual orientation much more easily than they can change their religious convictions.)

It’s a conundrum that has no real answer – at least nothing in present sight. And for those of us of that traditional bent that the modern church is trying desperately to snuff out, it’s a bleak future.

So, what happens when there are no more churches? It seems like a ridiculous question to ponder, but I’m guessing some of us will find out sooner than others.