Where we live, in the Bible-Belt region of the Appalachian Mountains, in which the Civil War is still being fought on a symbolic and cultural level, we have a phrase that “Sunday is the most segregated day of the week”. The obvious understanding of this phrase is that the European and the African-American ancestry folks pass through separate doors to worship in their own traditions. Defacto segregation at work. However, the separation begins on Fridays. The local mosque calls its congregation to prayers in the afternoon. The synagogue hosts its members on Saturdays, as do several Christian denominations which follow the Jewish tradition of observing the sabbath on Saturday. Then Sunday morning, the Catholics and Mennonites and Brethren and Baptists and Methodist and Presbyterians and Episcopal and et al’s fill their separate parking lots and shopping malls and renting-the-school-gym churches. But, this phenomenon of segregation hit home, literally for us this weekend.
The concept of the church, the body of the believes, goes back to the Acts of the Apostles and all those letters that Paul and Peter wrote to various early Christian congregations. Obviously, geography dictated how large and where a church might be established. Also, under Roman law, Christian groups not being officially recognized, could not own property as a group. Thus, they met in homes. Having recently visited numerous Roman homes from the time of the beginning of the church, these were not spacious places. This photo from Herculaneum, not necessarily a church, shows you the average size of a home in 79 AD.
The average believer’s home probably could cram a couple of dozen folks into it doors. Some of the writings by Roman governors of the time, described the Christians as being a group of generous Jews and plebs (free Roman citizens of the labor and merchant classes) who met in their homes early in the morning to sing and praise their God. This was all well and good for society, but violate Roman law, always suspicious of subversive groups meeting at night, thus the governors were soliciting advice from the central Roman governmental bodies of the time. The 6th century church of Santa Prudenza in Rome, illustrated in this picture, was built over the home of a home of an early church family, that of Prudenza, the daughter of Prudens, to whom Paul sent his greetings in 2 Timothy 4:20.
As wealthier patricians, often senators in Rome, converted to Christianity, they allowed the congregations to meet in their villas, much more spacious, and often with open courtyards where a hundred or so members could gather. These homes also began the locations of future church in Rome. St Peter in Chains, is one such church. It was literally built over the villa of the patrician who permitted a church to meet there.
With these ideas rambling about in my thoughts, I took an invitation from my sister-in-law to join her Saturday afternoon seminary class. The book for study that day was Ecclesiastes. What would a Hebrew Scripture text about the meaningless of all earthly possessions and experience have to do with going to church on Sunday?
The professor, who graciously allowed me to sit in on this lecture, started the lesson with a discussion about issues facing churches in this region. Granted, this is silicon Valley, not back-hollow West Virginia. A primary issue he saw that the students must minister to is how to connect generations. He talked about how the elderly generation’s churches are becoming empty sanctuaries, for their style of worship and teaching does not appeal to their children, grandchildren, and great-grand children.
But, then he stated, each of those generation is “hitting the reset button” of religion, by starting up their own trends. The Baby-Boomers fill the mega-churches with two services on Saturday evening and four on Sunday morning. The Gen-X & -Y are developing their own, more intimate churches. The Millenials just meet in homes, away from the structure of church buildings and bureaucracy. He posed the question if or how a church might bring these generations together for worship, learning, and companionship. The answer is not easily implemented.
This foreshadowed our own family’s Sunday morning segregation. We wanted to attend the church in downtown San Jose, at which the pastor from the church we used to attend in Georgetown, Washington D.C. was now the leader. Also, Linda’s cousin is in this area, so we wanted her to know about a church community option. My parents were heading off to the church which they have attended for decades. It was family meal day, so they would have lunch provided, while we shared a meal with the other branch of the family. My brother, the care pastor of his church, would pick up his adult son and head off to their contemporary style church, as well as have several meetings with church members before and after the services. My sister-in-law would be going to a different church, aimed at ministering to a younger generation, which she is helping to develop. I got a little lost as to where and when my niece was going to church. One family, four to five cars, four to five churches and services.
This raises the question about the relationship of individuals and the church. Is the church a universal experience, or does each church present a different experience? Is church attendance aimed at connecting people, or should each person pursue a church which meets his or her interests? How much should personal style and preferences factor into how someone decides to go this way or that on Sunday morning? Does one’s relationship to God and other believers extend beyond one morning or day of the week?
I will leave those for rhetorical introspection. Next week, we will be back to our worship in the Church of the Mountain, enjoying the fellowship with the flora and fauna that abounds in our Eden, far from the worry about which door to enter.
Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “You mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
“Who are my mother and brothers?” he asked.
Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Mark 3:31 – 34