Christianity vs. “Churchianity”
Christianity: The time of our Lord.
“Churchianity”: Our time.
I believe I was an Episcopalian before I was even born. St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn was my birthplace. My dad was a priest; my mother was a choir member in his first parish. I was ordained to the priesthood in the diocese of Long Island in 1962. Since then, I have been rector of parishes, headmaster of schools, priest-in-charge, and Sunday supply for many churches. The conflicts I know of are from a lifetime of experience from 1934 to today, and thinking of them recently, I realized the mistake I’d made throughout a lifetime teaching confirmation classes: I spent an abundance of time on the creeds, Ten Commandments, church history, sacraments, physical devotion, and church polity—and almost no time at all talking about love, forgiveness, and appreciation for creation and life itself—mine and others’.
Like most of my fellow rectors, I was concerned with winning people into our parish more than winning them into a way of life. Numbers were more important than hearts and souls. How many families and communicants on the rolls? What is the amount of money pledged for next year and the amount of the diocesan assessment? What can we spend for outreach? What is our average Sunday attendance? All of these numbers are important. I would like to see them all increase. But above all, we must do whatever we can to create loving hearts in our people.
I like these words of food industry executive Clarence Francis (1888-1985): “You can legislate many conditions, but you cannot legislate harmony into the hearts of men… we need more than by-laws and compulsory rules.”
The primary purpose in every parish should be to change people’s hearts. I never want to see again divisions such as high church v. low church or inclusive v. non-inclusive. My understanding as a Christian is that we are automatically inclusive: male, female, slave, free, Jew, gentile, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning. Everybody born is a child of God and people will know us by the way of love.
How to begin?
An alternative: On the sabbath day, all four gospels often place Jesus teaching in the synagogue. Our Sunday service should do the same. We are so accustomed and proud of our current liturgy with its sermon that we miss opportunities for transforming hearts. I suggest that after the Collect for Purity, the congregation should discuss a scripture reading or relevant topic. The seminary-educated priest becomes the rabbi, teaching what it means to be a Christian and live the Christian life. Do this, and in time, “Churchianity” disappears and Christianity takes hold—and this Chinese proverb could become true.
“If there is righteousness in the heart there will be beauty in character.
If there is beauty in character there will be harmony in the home.
If there is harmony in the home there will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation there will be peace in the world.”