“I Hate Church”

The other day I was listening to my WLP showcase CD in the car (I promise, this is not as geeky as it sounds; I was trying to decide if our choir could handle one of the pieces for Christmas Eve) when Alex suddenly piped up from the back seat, “Hey, Mommy, this is the song we sang when we walked at church.”

It was Steve Janco’s “Draw Near,” and we did indeed sing it while “walking”—to Communion. I got the teensiest little shiver at this glimpse into my son’s head—a glimpse that reveals that despite the number of times we hear “I hate church!”, something he has experienced there actually made a connection. And that gives me hope.

Hope is something I need. Church is tough for kids—for adults, for that matter—and doubly so because it’s 100% aimed at adults. Our parish offers children’s liturgy, but not every week. The rationale is that we don’t want to create separate communities within the community. If the kids never attend church with the Big People, they will grow up disconnected from the larger community. Besides, the problem is larger than liturgy that goes over children’s heads.

What is the problem? In short, the problem is that familiarity breeds contempt…and virtually everyone, even a liturgy geek, takes for granted what we do every week. Taken for granted, liturgy becomes something we do by rote, with our minds & hearts elsewhere. In place of ritual, we have repetition; in place of prayer, glib recitation that skips off the lips without ever penetrating the ear, much less the heart.

That’s the problem. The solution is twofold: good liturgy and an invested assembly.

Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Good liturgy requires a long-term view. You need priests who are committed to the process; you need skilled lay people with a gift for oratory and hospitality and reverence; you need money for trained musicians…and trained musicians frequently have no pastoral skills or sensitivity. (That may sound harsh, but I am a trained musician. Trust me, we’re a self-centered lot.) You need staff members and a music ministry and assembly members who have been catechized to participate, who don’t put the blinders on when we go outside their preferred musical style. You need people who are willing and able to read the documents thoughtfully, without imposing their own biases. The documents leave a lot of latitude, but some people run roughshod over them, as if latitude equals no rules at all. Others ignore what latitude is granted, on the misguided premise that everything about the Church was better a hundred, or two hundred, or a thousand years ago, and everything would revert to Ye Goode Olde Days if we just put things back the way they used to be.

I’m talking about Catholic worship specifically, but remove the documents and substitute pastors for priests, and the rest of it applies across the denominational board. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and with great frustration, because my son “hates” church. I try not to attach too much importance to this, because he’s four. But I’m a liturgist at heart. I dream of having my whole family leading music together. Alex on drums. Christian on piano. Me singing and playing flute. Nicholas and Julianna singing, playing guitar, whatever it is they end up being good at.

So when I hear, “Church is BORING,” it hurts me…because Alex is right. It is boring. And it isn’t supposed to be. How do we bridge the gap between repetition and ritual? Between childhood and mature understanding? How do I keep “I hate church” from becoming a mantra that he rides right out of the Church?