Myths Killing the Church from the Inside-Out

Myths Killing the Church from the Inside-Out: High Sunday-Low Sunday, or Letting People off the Hook!

It is not the proper duty of Christianity to form leaders- that is, builders of the temporal, although a legion of Christian leaders is infinitely desirable. Christianity must generate saints-that is, witnesses to the eternal. The efficacy of the saint is not that of the leader. The saint does not have to bring about great temporal achievements; he is one who succeeds in giving us at least a glimpse of eternity despite the thick opacity of time.”
~ Dorothy Day

Recently I’ve come to realize that there are parts of my Episcopal tribe that simply do not make sense to me. While I, like Rachel Held-Evans, have my reasons for having left and returned to the church, there remains language, expectations, and even myths that I think are preventing many mainline communities from being church…all the time. In fact, I think that these myths are silently killing (robbing the life of) churches all over the country from the inside-out.

Of particular note for me as of late has been discussion around the scheduling of events and activities during what are typically called “low Sundays.” While the Episcopal church does the liturgical calendar very well (seriously, its why I am Episcopalian), what follows these narratively epic events and seasons is the expectation that once people have done that much church, there will be a lull in participation. The myth goes that: people just do not want to do that much church or God or religion.

This myth is killing the church, and it is simply wrong.

In our language, these peak and valley days have come to be called “high Sundays and low Sundays”. While the language itself is likely a naming of that which is true in the experience of many clergy in the institution, it’s ongoing effect over the life of the church has made it such that the clergy and staff themselves expect less not more from those in their communities in the aftermath of significant religious experience (aka Holy days). And let’s face it, in most of the Biblical narratives, in the aftermath of religious experience (or God) people became more dedicated, more engaged, more devoted, more convicted to live in the experience of God…not less!

Isaiah, Saul, Peter, and even Jesus were all compelled to a life of deeper, more communal, more public faith with God after their divine experience than they were before. Isaiah’s call story left him not only speechless, but then a prophet among the people. Saul’s experience of the great light, led him to change his ways and become of the principle voices in a movement he once opposed. Jesus, simply put: baptized, recognized and and crucified (did I miss something?).

So if the narratives of our faith tradition narrate an expectation that experience with God leads to more participation not less, why does the high Sunday, low Sunday myth persist? Why do we in the mainline community let religious and spiritual people off the hook? Is it because in our excitement over “who was here” we forget to remind people that “here” is nothing more than a sign and symbol of what ought be going on “out there” all the time? Do people actually experience God in our events? Do we or they interpret them as emblematic of shifting personal responsibility from passive to active? Or, do our experiences simply leave people as having ticked another box?

Because we leaders have bought into the “high Sunday, low Sunday” myth, it is killing the church from the inside-out. And yet, by my read, not only does it fail to represent what has always been true of Biblical experience with God (that experience with God- in the other, on the way, or in a religious service- always leads to deeper more public engage with personal faith) it fails to challenge people to live fully into their Christian vocation; a vocation which is not something that comes in merely in days high and low, but that gets enacted every moment of everyday all the time.

Guest Post From…

Joshua Case is an Episcopal blogger, creative, and public theologian. He is a graduate of the University of Alabama and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Known as “Josh” of The Nick & Josh Podcast, Joshua currently works at Holy Innocent’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta. When not curating things religious and cultural Joshua works as a professional golf instructor.

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9 comments
Joshua Case
Joshua Case

Ben- good to hear from you. I hope you get to hear that sooner rather than later. JC

Ben Gosden
Ben Gosden

As a pastor serving a mainline where this myth is alive and well, I greatly appreciate this post from my friend (and fellow graduate) of Candler, Josh Case. If Easter is 50 days long then as far as I'm concerned we should sing, "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" for 6 weeks. The myth of "low Sunday" begins with leaders--and I can now say that as a pastor who's exhausted after Resurrection Sunday and can see the temptation to slack off the next week. One of the beautiful theological points we should recover is the counter cultural sense of time by living into the church season and resisting being governed by the consumer season, school season, etc. I guess my only question is when can I download a podcast of Homebrewed and hear Josh banter with Bo and Tripp???

Joshua Case
Joshua Case

Andrew- it's not the concept of high or low "experientially" that concerns me. I'm not being charismatic about this. It's the concept that participation in vocation might run in waves...especially in the aftermath of G-d. Holy days ought compel us forward in God not be a peak that leads to void... Jenna- Fact and well spotted.. Copied it wrongly from where last used;) Thanks for reading honestly and commenting! JC

Joshua Case
Joshua Case

DB- agreed! Critical texts for how we interpret life in the beloved community today! Preach it...highly! dmf- not sure I see what you mean. However I do think that religion makes moral, ethical, and practical demands of us. Just maybe not the ones that pietistic or often conservative religious culture presumes. make sense? Bo- I too am doing two events this weekend;) Let's create a poll!'

jenna
jenna

Josh-- great post. We've got a youth meeting on Sunday! And plans to reinforce the fact that IT'S STILL EASTER FOR WEEKS! FYI though, the wonderful quote with which you open your post is not from Dorothy Day (though I believe she cited it) but rather from Henri Cardinal de Lubac (in his Paradoxes of Faith).

Andrew McGowan
Andrew McGowan

"Low Sunday" isn't the greatest contribution Anglicanism ever made to the liturgical calendar, let's admit it. Easter is 50 days, while Lent is 40 - clerical exhaustion notwithstanding, we should be celebrating pretty seriously this Sunday too (granted a little Thomas circumspection). But human time and liturgical time are not a steady march up to glory any more than the religion of the incarnation is a faith of relentless optimism. There really are lower and higher days - and liturgical time at its best makes sense of them. The quasi-traditional Anglican Easter calendar may not be a great example - but a year full only of highs is a fearsome thing to contemplate...

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

We should do a poll and ask how many Mainline churches are having the youth or youth pastor do something this week after easter! Bill and I are 2 ;) -Bo

dmf
dmf

interesting than should we assume that people who prefer a less demanding, less sacrificial/otherworldly, religious life (surely we shouldn't simply equate the 'high' culture/habits of past periods with being more in tune with a divine nature than the current cultural trends?) have not truly experienced the G-d known by Jesus and Paul?

Deacon Bill
Deacon Bill

This is quite helpful. I'm still new to the mainline, and given my evangelical background, it struck me as odd that I, the mere youth director, have been asked to preach this Sunday - the Sunday after Easter. One of our texts is Acts 4:32-35 - the second "early church community" picture we're given besides Acts 2:42. I don't know if there could be a more important Sunday on the calendar, and a more important text for American Christians in mainline churches. Guess I will just have to do an awesome job... but alas, no one is expected to be there!