Sunday, the Most Segregated Day of the Week

P1020758Where 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.

P1010080The 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.

P1010443The 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.

P1010870As 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.  

P1020762But, 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.

P1020761This 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?

IMG_3477I 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


About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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10 Responses to Sunday, the Most Segregated Day of the Week

  1. Barneysday says:

    We left our “church” several years back. It was a large one, over 1,000 members, based in a century old building in a poor part of town. Most of the parishioners came from uptown. The church sent people and supported efforts to help the poor in The Ukraine and other places, but hired 24/7 security guards to keep the local poor and homeless off the property. They were not even welcome in the service. The church had a huge kitchen that served grand meals for special occasions, but was never considered for opening daily to feed the local hungry.

    It was as though there was a general feeling of wanting to help others, but not get directly involved or have to actually interact with a live, poor person. So all the better to send the money thousands of miles away so they could feel good about helping, just not actually come in contact with a poor person.

    I think the message resonates with younger people that the huge structures and pomp and circumstance surround old time churches have no meaning in today’s world.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      The divide between haves-and-have-nots is more than food, shelter, and “stuff”. The divide is the lack of relationship. Jesus reached out to those who had needs and directed his followers to both minister to them and to bring them into their congregations. Hmmm, I just noticed that “segregation” and “congregation” contain a similar root word. Somthing to contemplate. Thanks for adding your story to the discussion.

  2. Sometimes complicated works just fine, but I bet you’ll appreciate the quiet a bit more when you’re back home.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      I like contrasting experiences. Too much complication results in anxiety. Too much routine, boredome. That’s why your dog (hmmm, Sandy?) takes your for a walk. She knows you need the stimulation of the beach, but the calm of sitting on the bench too.

  3. The Vicar says:

    On the one hand it can be puzzling that a family heads off in different directions to meet with God. On the other hand it’s a comfort to know that there is a possibility for both diversity of experience and unity too. Whether the divides are generational , racial, theological, political, or class, perhaps there is the potential to find common ground in the midst our differences.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      I liked your comment at lunch about how our churches “train” us to be separated, by excluding different generations from the general worship services. At that moment, I looked around at the three generations of our family gathered around the table. Yes, we have our struggles, some resolved, some we are working through. But, for that meal we were all at the table, each with his or her own selected food items from the menu. Later, for dinner, we went to an Indian restaurant. We each selected something, but then put them all in the middle of the table and shared some of each. Meals and worship. Good images for how church communities should gather. No surprise that Jesus instructed his disciples at a Passover Seder meal to “Do this to remember me”.

  4. RMW says:

    Really thoughtful post. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home but as soon as I reached adulthood I found my own church in nature… I subscribe to no set religion but instead wonder at the magnificence of the universe. But to each their own and I always say if a particular religion makes somebody a better person, good for them! Thanks for an interesting read.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      I had a similar experience, and obviously find my comfort in being away from society. This occured before the “contemporary chruch” style began, thus this trend passed us by (as did much of the cyber world and cell phones).

      Ironically, my brother is a pastor at a larger, contemporary church. I do not listen to this style of music in the secular radio stations. However, give me Gregorian chant, Palenstrine, Bach, or any Baroque mass or contata and I’m quite content. Obviously, from my recent series on the Art of the Gospels, and our travels in Italy, going into a church is not a conflicted experience. But, I prefer to observe something that connects to that history, rather than a stage lacking religious symbolism, with a lounge that appears to be designed after Peet’s Coffee.

      I do not begrudge that contemporary churches use the images and sounds that abound in secular events. I do lament that the churches and people are so unaware of anything from more than a year or two ago. Even song in a gothic church as the sun sets through stained glass windows is a beautiful meditation. Such I have joined in St. Mark’s in Seattle, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, St. Thomas’ in NYC, and in England at the churches in Tweskbury, Evensham, and Worster.

  5. cindy knoke says:

    Fascinating and thought provoking! Thanks for posting~

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Thanks for the encouragement. If you are still in South Africa and attending a local church is an option with your itinerary, go. You will be delighted. Just as you showed with the photos of the children a few days ago, the people there are joyous.

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