Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Church kvetching

When I shared the comic about church bulletins last week and asked for comments from people as to what ought to be in church bulletins, a lot of people thought that bulletins were a good place to list the church's "do's and don'ts," so to speak. Everything from admonitions against chatting in church to lists of approved and unapproved groups, apparitions, etc. was mentioned as possibly belonging in this bulletin category.

The truth, of course, is that we're all human, and as human beings we have an unfortunate tendency to make mistakes, from the colossal and embarrassing to the minor and disconcerting. And the way a parish, or its pastor, handles the human tendency to err can range from the kindly and humorous to the angry and amplifying--and each has the potential to impact churchgoers for good or for ill.

I enjoyed Deacon Kandra's recent post about cell phone incidents, for example:

Some parishes take pains to make announcements before mass — “Please silence your cell phones” — which has the unfortunate effect of reducing the Sunday liturgy to something like a night at the movies. We have small signs posted at the doors of the church, making the same request, and notices appear in the bulletin periodically, but it doesn’t seem to do much good.

At my parish a couple years ago, as the ushers were preparing to take up the second collection, there was a quiet moment and someone’s cell phone started playing the “Mexican hat dance.”

The priest, without missing a beat, said: “That’s a reminder that we’re about to pass the hat…”

They were still laughing as they headed to the parking lot.

God has certainly graced that priest with a quick wit and a gracious disposition; I'm sure his parish appreciates those qualities!

On the other hand, well-meaning priests can occasionally err themselves. I recall a priest at an Easter Sunday Mass who meant to compliment the congregation for their spirited participation in an Easter hymn, one of those rarely sung outside the Easter season; however, his bright, "Not bad for once a year!" was the cause of spontaneous laughter on the part of the regular parishioners, lost in a sea of those who only came at Christmas and Easter.

The priest's unfortunate phrasing was, like most "cell phone" incidents, fussy baby/escaped toddler moments, too-hard kneeler launching experiences, and other sources of church kvetching on the part of the easily offended, completely unintentional. And I do think the best way to handle such things is to remember that they are unintentional, that people do not mean to have these embarrassing accidents in church, and that when the wail of a two-year-old whose chin has just made contact with the pew in front of her shatters the blessed peace of a moment at Mass, it is not the end of the world, or even a serious interruption to the Holy Sacrifice.

Of course, there are sources of church kvetching where the kvetchers might have a point. Adults who are chatting together inside the main body of the church immediately before or after Mass might be reminded to keep conversations outside; general reminders as to dress and conduct at Mass are not out of line; a gentle discouraging of the "parking lot Grand Prix" is always appropriate--provided all of these are coming from the parish pastor, not from self-appointed kvetchers who see Sunday Mass as an opportunity to collect talking points for their weekly gripe session with Father or to take names and descriptions of offenders for future scolding.

Because, as Our Lord reminded us, we human beings are awfully inclined to run with tweezers toward the specks in the eyes of others while remaining totally oblivious to the giant planks obscuring our own countenances. Perhaps the truth is that many of our instances of church kvetching occur not so much because we are concerned with possible offenses against God's majesty, but because we wish to preen our own sense of self-righteousness (because, after all, we ourselves would absolutely never...oh, wait, is that my cell phone???).


Susan Kehoe said...

A visiting priest to our parish told us about a priest who gave a rant from the altar about cell phones.

Not long after, a cell phone went off during mass again. Just before he began to rant again, the priest realized that it was his cell phone.

Heh. god never misses an opportunity to humble us.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I sometimes forget about my cell phone, because it hardly ever rings. But it would be embarrassing if it went off in the middle of a worship service.

As far as funny incidents go, I like the one about the evangelical missionary in Central America who went down there without knowing a word of Spanish. To get to know the place, he went to a Catholic church service, was seated up front as a guest, and simply mimiced whatever the man next to him did.

Near the end of the service, the priest was making some announcments, and the man stood up, so the missionary did too, and everyone gasped, so he sat down.

On the way out, the priest said "You don't speak Spanish do you?" The man asked "Is it that obvious?" Well, I announced that the Rodriguez family had just had a baby boy, and would the proud father please stand."