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.