Friday, May 22, 2009

God, Life, and Everything - "Meet the Goodpeoples"

The bi-weekly column I now write for the Hudson Valley News has a new name!  It is now called, "God, Life, and Everything" reflecting the broad scope I want to take.  Everything falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

Meet the Goodpeoples.  They’re good people who go to a church in a different town.  There’s Marge, Harry, their twelve-year-old son Pete, and their six-year-old daughter Rosetta.  Did I mention that Marge is expecting?  Mmmm, two point five kids.

Things are not easy for the Goodpeoples.  Young Pete is a Boy Scout, plays soccer and has recently started rowing for a crew club.  Rosetta also plays soccer but is mostly interested in her ballet and swimming lessons.  

Marge tries to work as a web designer from home, but business is slow with the economy, and the kids keep her running.  Harry works a lot of extra hours these days and helps coach Rosetta’s soccer team.

The other day, I was talking to Harry when he started apologizing for not having been in church much lately.  I said, “Hey, I’m not your pastor, but tell me how long has it been.”

“Well, we made it on Easter.”

“And before that?”

“I know we went in Lent at least once -- they were wearing purple.”

As we talked, it came out that they’ve been attending about once a month or so.  But it had gotten so bad for awhile that, as Harry put it, “I was afraid the roof would fall down if I showed my face again.  The kids were afraid to go to Sunday school because they didn’t know anyone anymore.  But what can we do?  Scouts have monthly weekend campouts, travel soccer has its games on Sunday, sometimes I’m on call all weekend.  If only they had a Saturday evening service!”

Ah, the silver bullet of church attendance, the Saturday evening service (or as I like to call it, the Saturday Night Special).  

Now, I can sympathize with my friends. If a sane person wanted to do all the things they were doing with their kids and work (not to mention Harry’s own hockey team.  Did I mention that?), something would have to give.  For them, it was church.

Why?  Because their church does not yell at them if they miss a Sunday.  Coaches yell and let their athletes know they let their teams down.  Boy Scouts need to be there to earn their badges and ranks.  Unless it’s the kind of church that threatens eternal damnation for not showing up a certain number of times (or paying a certain amount in pledge), it’s the easiest thing to let go.

Would a Saturday evening service help?  Perhaps.  They work for Roman Catholics.  On the other hand, for Christians, Sunday is the sabbath, and shifting the primary act of worship to a different day in order to accomodate sports or work doesn’t seem a good fit for me.  (In defense of my Catholic friends’ practice, they have so many people they probably couldn’t get everyone in with fewer services).

So what can Marge and Harry do?  They’re good people, after all, and don’t want me to think less of them.

The world we live in will always try to steal your time away, will always offer interesting and important activities to suck out your time.  All I could suggest was that they MAKE the time for church -- precisely because it was the one thing that would not punish them for not being there but would feed their souls and revive their spirits.

I really feel for families, but as a parent myself, I know that MAKING time for what’s important is possible.  We adults just have to set the priorities.  And for me, Christ trumps pretty much everything else.

The Rev. Chuck Kramer is rector of St. James' Episcopal Church, Hyde Park.  You can leave a comment for him at