Thursday, July 13, 2006

If parishes didn't have churches...

...I'd want nothing to do with them.

At least that's what I've told people over the years. I know fellow-Catholics for whom the parish is the center of their social lives. In Washington, membership can become a status symbol of sorts, like joining a country club or the local Moose lodge. Because of this, and the transient nature of the area, continuity in parish life is difficult, as every six years the place is completely reinvented in the incoming pastor's own image -- for better or for worse. It starts with re-arranging the furniture in the sanctuary, as if they were deck chairs on the Titanic, along with some spin on "what the Church says," as if that changes every six years too. Next thing you know, old Mrs McGillicuddy is relieved of handling the flower arrangements after umpteen selfless years, in favor of the alleged improvement known as "the environment and art committee."

A similar incident occurred at the parish in Ohio where I grew up. The mother of one of my fellow-altar boys used to handle the cleaning of our cassocks and surplices for many years, until she was unceremoniously relieved by the new pastor, presumedly as part of his initiative to bring the sleepy old place into the forefront of "the spirit of Vatican II." Now everybody holds hands across the aisle during the Lord's Prayer, and looks perfectly ridiculous. Just goes to show how we can all be complete jerks and keep on smiling. Nice, huh?

In more than a quarter century of living in the DC area, I've belonged to eight Roman Rite parishes. It's not that I like moving from one to the other, so much as my address has changed a few times since the marriage tanked, and belonging to one within "spittin' distance" simply becomes more practical (if not simply the way things work). I'm never around long enough to be part of the "in crowd," no matter how often I roll up my sleeves to help with anything. The irony is, in nearly all that time, I've also maintained membership in the local Byzantine Rite parish, where I go every Christmas and Easter. Call it sentimental reasons; after all, my son was raised that way, and I keep hoping he'll agree to tag along once again.

Earlier this week, Professor Philip Blosser over at Musings of a Pertinacious Papist, wrote a post entitled "Parish vs Church?" in which he (pertinaciously) muses:

"The Protestant seems to be saying (though this is an obvious overstatement): 'I love my parish: it's my church I can't stand,' while the Catholic seems to be saying: 'I love my Church: it's my parish I can't stand.'"

Part of this has a lot to do with the nature of the Church herself as universal. In other words, one is a Catholic first, and a member of a parish second. Still, if our Faith is more than a set of rules or "being good," but a way of life and of viewing the world, then a parish church serves us well as the focus of our community life (which explains why, in cities like Chicago, neighborhoods are identified by the name of the local parish). To put it another way, why bother joining the Masons when there's always the Knights of Columbus?

I'd like to hear from readers about their own parishes; what's okay, what's not okay, what life in one means to them, and what they remember of it "back in the day."

Discuss. Preferably here.

1 comment:

Consanescerion said...

I'm in the diocese of Orange, CA, which has been in the news off and on. There's been several homosexualist scandals, as well as pseudo-excommunication for kneeling during mass.

I find most parishes are fine (doctrinal and functional), but the diocese is amazingly askew on several levels. This always follows when you have a liberal bishop. The Catholic Church is feudally decentralized, so most people have little to do with their diocese unless they're in leadership positions.

So the view from this part of the country is: Most parishes fine, Diocese awful, Archdiocese (LA) a horror, Vatican wonderful. Odd.