I’m Episcopalian, and we dig saints…mostly with the small s, sometimes with the capital S. (small s saints equals the Christians who came before us, sometimes referring to those still with us, but usually not necessarily referring to super-human, super-holy inaccessible people. Capital S saints referring to people canonized and recognized as by the Roman Catholic church, like St. John the Baptist, St. Luke, etc. Many, though by no means not all, of our denominations’ houses of worship will bear the name of a capital S saint.)
So, a tradition in some Episcopal churches is to read off the names of small s saints during the church service; small s saints being deceased loved ones of existing currently attending parishioners. You can imagine a church, even with only 50 in attendance, might come up with a sizable list. So clearly, this would seem to be a tradition that takes place only in small churches.
I go to just such a small church. I love prayer as much as the next guy. But I have a little bit of a rant regarding this morning. That litany of names takes a LONG time to go through for the primary worship service of a congregation. This is not the same in my opinion as keeping your mouth shut in the name of diversity and community and “getting along” for the greater sake of the whole, like when you don’t like one single 3-minute hymn. To me, the primary worship service of a worshiping community ought to account for its being intended and suitable for all in attendance.
To me, this was a very mature (adult) prayer style. It takes enormous patience and inner discipline and quiet not to squirm during a lengthy reading of names of people you do not know. (it was something like 3 columns of names on two pages, in about a 10 point font. There was a LOT of names.)
This is not easy to admit, but I was annoyed. Yeah, complaining about praying for the deceased makes you look pretty damn small and petty, doesn’t it?
I should explain. I’ve got other issues that contributed to that annoyance. I think I need a vacation from being the Sunday school teacher. But c’mon? How can any reasonable adult think a child would relate to or simply endure well this lengthy litany of names without a patient loving explanation of what’s going on? What reasonable adult would not think it might, maybe, just be a good idea to extend the Sunday school a teensy bit longer on this particular routine-altered morning?
My morning actually also began with an extra enthusiastic choruses of “I hate church” coming from the primary school aged crowd in residence at my home. Then I was the assistant teacher for the Sunday school, and my daughter was distracting the class so I calmly pulled her out and explained why what she was doing was drawing attention to herself and away from the story being told, and she assumes I’m mad at her. Then, glory be to God, she actually connects and gets excited about her art response time! But then, because of my role, I need to enforce the community’s norms of getting the children into the worship service in time for the passing of the peace. This allows the children to be present for all of the Eucharistic liturgy, central to our theology of worship, and minimizes disruptions to the praying adults as we enter during a time of joyful commotion anyway, the passing of the peace.
It’s all good, under ordinary circumstances. A parishioner comes to our classroom at the conclusion of the sermon, lets us know it has ended, and the following prayers in the liturgy take just enough time for us to relaxedly wrap things up and regather the children to enter the worship service.
This particular morning the children were working with the “Ten Best Ways to Live” (a.k.a. The 10 Commandments, focusing on 4 commandments with guidance for loving God, 6 commandments with guidance for loving people.) My daughter had taken to making a “greeting card” style of art response that happily declared, “I love God.” But I had to enforce the “rules” of cleaning up, just like every other child, and consoled her by stating she could finish at home, or next Sunday in Sunday school.
Imagine my disappointment and surprise, turning to frank annoyance when I arrived and I needed to hush the children in the back of the church for this litany of names, droning on and on. I opted to escort each child one by one to their families so they could at least be seated, rather than squirming with me and the other teacher at the rear of the church. I eventually decided to get back up with my own daughter and allow her to return to the classroom and finish her art, so annoyed was I that I hadn’t been warned to adjust our classtime and that I had actually interrupted the usually “I hate church” kid while she was engrossed in expressing love for God. GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!
I know, I know, no one set out to annoy me. (that part especially for my local, fellow parishioner readership!) I really and honestly do get that. But I am so frustrated as a mother who is really struggling to guide and enable my kid’s development toward a positive relationship with God and things-churchly to bring her into this droning litany that is NOT age-appropriate, when it would have been totally appropriate and reasonable for someone to have told me, as the Sunday school director (a hat I’m getting increasingly weary of wearing and thereby trumping a potential occasionally-indulgent-mommy-hat that I could otherwise opt to don on some Sunday mornings!) that this would be taking place so I could make appropriate judgment calls and adjust the class accordingly. I know they don’t neglect it intentionally. It just doesn’t occur to them. (Again, and again, such things do not occur to them, though “them” is sort of a non-entity, the more I think on it. There is no centralized worship planning team to inform me, or allow me to offer input to.) And I’m starting to feel shrill and surly instead of advocating for the children maturely and appropriately. <sigh>
I need a vacation. I need to pray. Truthfully, I could use a prayer or two? Thanks. And thanks for enduring the rant. I really do love my parish. <sigh> They just get to me sometimes, sort of like blood-family can get to you sometimes.