Written by Christina Villa
"Don't be flip with the sacred." - Matthew 7:6 (The Message)
One Sunday at a church I was visiting in New England, the time had come in the worship service for "Joys and Concerns." People stood up one by one to request prayers for successful outcomes to minor surgeries and a few serious life situations.
Then one lady stood up and said, "When will the shutters be put back up?" The exterior of the church had just been painted, and the shutters hadn't been put back up yet. "I have no idea!" replied the minister brightly before moving on to the next Concern like a politician taking a reporter's question.
When will the shutters be put back up? She could have asked about this pretty much any hour of any other day of the week. But she chose now, the supposedly sacred hour.
Whatever happened to the sacred? People seem suspicious of it. It's not accessible, or transparent. It thinks it's better than, well, everything: it's elitist. It asks us to treat it with humility and reverence, and some of us have too much self-esteem for that. It expects us to put all else aside and prepare our hearts to encounter it. And sometimes I just don't feel like it. I have too many Concerns.
A friend of mine used to dread taking his mother to church because she always complained about the Mexicans filling up the pews where once it was all Italians. Finally one Sunday he said to her, "For Christ's sake, Ma, this is a church! It's not the Sons of Italy!"
One of the purposes of the sacred is to relieve us—if only for an hour—of our petty concerns and prejudices, our obsessions with trivia and things we're going to forget about soon anyway. I'm pretty sure those shutters went back up eventually, and my friend's mother got used to sitting in church with Mexicans, as if it didn't even matter.
The shutters, the disappearing Italians, the fact that I think the pastor should get rid of that ridiculous mustache—take my mind off all of it, please! Remind me where I am, and what this hour is for.
Christina Villa is the Director of the Publishing, Identity, and Communications Ministry of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio.