Were they ever solete?
If several years of working jobs which have occasionally-to-frequently required my attendance on a Sunday morning have taught me anything, it is that the world and the church are on two very divergent paths, unmoored from one another. Where in another time I would have been critical of the church’s widely-held bomb-shelter Christianity, and this Pollyanna-esque mindset certainly exists within fundamentalist and Evangelical circles across the doctrinal spectrum, the reality is that culture is moving in inverse proportion to church and religion as a whole, as well.
While there is no doubt that things on Sundays remain at a more deliberate, less frenetic pace–FOOTBALLFOOTBALLFOOTBALLFOOTBALLFOOTBALL Sundays notwithstanding–there is an entire segment, and perhaps a significant plurality, of Americans who will never set foot within a church building not merely because they don’t want to, but that their work lives wouldn’t let them even if they were willing.
To be sure, shift work has been part of American life as long as there has been shift work. Someone was going to have to work the days and hours that were culturally deemed undesirable. As culture and religion have unmoored themselves from one another, though, that minority of people for whom Saturdays and Sundays were nothing other than a moniker on a calendar has only grown. As we change from an agricultural and manufacturing- to a service- based economy (for better or worse), the weekend has become significantly devalued. The more people spend, the more demand there is to have people there to take the money, answer the questions, monitor the parking lots, help the next person in line. In a brazen demonstration of an imperial commitment to the domestic weekend, we tried the denial game by outsourcing much of customer service to Asia, where weekends presumably do not exist. That project has largely failed.
Someone’s got to be the next available representative. If we can’t–or won’t–understand them, then we want someone to forfeit their right to Saturdays and Sundays to take their place.
New unsung American heroes.
As Sunday service attendance continues a downward trend, and McChurches continue to pop up, subsuming failing churches and otherwise whitewashing the present deteriorating condition of the American church in ways that would leave Ceausescu envious, someone has to ask the fundamental question: have we service sector-ed the church into a place on the margins?
I’ve mentioned it many times here before: there’s a reason it’s called a Sunday morning service.
A service. Some people use the drive-thru to get their overpriced coffee, some go to get their oil changed in 10 minutes or less, others take advantage of doorbusters, expect a pizza in 30 minutes on their doorstep and others go to participate in worship simulacra once or twice a week. The attraction isn’t the reality of religion, exploring the depth dimension of human existence (borrowing from Tillich) but the idea of being provided something of value with minimal time or capital investment. And pastors wonder tithes and offerings are down. (Talk about being forced to work on weekends!)
In elevating the weekend, then elevating weekends to a place of retail sanctity, Western civilization has made vestigial religious practice–Muslims on Fridays, Jews on Saturdays, Christians on Sundays–vulgar. Is it really any surprise that retailers have begun to trample on the vestigial sanctity of holidays? Should we really be upset that stores have begun opening Thanksgiving night for [crappy] Black Friday deals? Is nothing sacred? (That’s a rhetorical question.)
Give Catholics credit: Saturday night and daily masses are decidedly innovative, recognizing and responding to the needs of parishoners. Would that Evangelicals and fundamentalists recognize the changing landscape and respond by 1) unhooking themselves from Evangelical liturgy; 2) defending the fundamentally-good idea of a weekend by allowing families to enjoy themselves on Sundays and, perhaps, connect naturally with others in their neighborhoods; and 3) move and flow with culture, not profaning themselves with the ordinary (or worse, the political) but realize that there are more opportunities to minister to and serve the community at large than they allow themselves by being a slave to a routine that neither serves pragmatic purpose nor attends to the needs of the communities they claim to serve in the first place.
If it’s Sunday, serve a damn good brunch. Or at the very least have better coffee.
If Christians exist to serve–and Jesus said that we do–then serve. Serve boldly, unapologetically, graciously. If society has passed us by, that’s our own fault for bringing a sickle to a smartphone world. We can do better. We can be better. And that’s the only hope culture has for a turnaround, which is to say that’s the only hope we have for a turnaround. Nevertheless on divergent paths, ours is still a shared fate.
I write this as someone who is in a sterile office building on a Sunday morning, at a desk, manning a phone. You’ll have to pardon me while I act as the next available representative.