Monday

further adventures in church shoppin'

So this Sunday Jon and I went together back for a second week to the church he belongs to - a Presbyterian church. I'm checking it out and deciding if I want to sign on.

This time we took the two youngest Granju offspring (I'm not going to make H go to church with us. He can go if he wants to) and they went to their respective Sunday school classes - for middle schoolers and third graders.

E. seemed to really like his class, especially after he discovered that his friend Eva from school was in the class.

But J. was a bit freaked out by the middle school class...and I am too if she is accurately describing the general "hellfire and damnation" tone and message of the class. I suspect she wasn't exaggerating ho weird it was since when we went to retrieve her, the class was still finishing up, and when I peeked in the window, the teacher and all the other kids except mine were praying with their heads down and one hand waving in the air. J. said the class reminded her of the school in the movie "Saved."

This is Not Good. Not what I want for the kids, and not what they are used to. Jon assures me it's an aberration - that this church is really progressive and not Baptist-y at all, but the whole hand waving praying thing was very viscerally disturbing.

24 comments:

erin said...

We used to go to the Unitarian church, but have found everything we want in this wonderful, welcoming, progressive, pacifist, silent service in the forest:

discoveret.org/wknoxfriends/index.
html

erin said...

Let's try that again:
http://www.discoveret.org/wknoxfriends/index.html

I also love the Quaker traditions of feminism, anti-racism & decision-making by consensus, & the very laid-back, unpretentious ways of doing things.

Mr. C. said...

Help me with the "arm waving" thing...were they waiting to be called on to pray? Or was this (presumably) an expression of the spirit within them?

Anonymous said...

oooh first fight first fight. get yer ringside seats right now!!!!

katie allison granju said...

Nah, we won't fight about where we go to church.

We'll save our first fight for something important, like how I keep stealing his towels and dropping his newsmagazines in the bathtub...

Jon said...

To reiterate, it's not just that it's an aberration with the whole hand-waving thing. I've been in the Presbyterian church all of my life. I've been to conferences hundreds of miles away and have done tons of youth stuff. I've *never* seen anything like this. And Katie can testify that the church is pretty progressive. The first day I visited it, a gay couple joined the church. I'm not really sure what to say in their defense. But I guess I have to make some phone calls this week to figure out what's up and what I can do about it (my greatest fear: them saying "why don't you teach the class?").

Anonymous said...

You could always become a Branch Davidian...

Anonymous said...

That is very unusual for the "frozen chosen". The Sunday School teacher must not have been raised in the Presbyterian church. Way too evangelical.

Liz, staunch Presbyterian

Anonymous said...

If this is a Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Jon is right and Jane's teacher is an aberration. Take some time to read about PCUSA - looks like they have good materials online. Like Jon, I would characterize the church as progressive, open-minded, and intellectual in nature. The Presbyterian Church in America is a whole other thing, however, and is Presbyterian only in its organtization (synods, elders, etc.); the rest is Baptist (not that there's anything wrong with that). I was raised in PC USA, and, after a long journey involving many doubts, many different churches, and even many different religions, I have returned there. And I am a left-wing liberal nut.

Anonymous said...

i'm a progressive christian, a member of the ucc, and i personally would have no trouble with my child being in a hand-waving prayer service with a bunch of middle schoolers, if that was how those young people were genuinely feeling called to express their faith. i'm the church school superintendent at my very very progressive, open and affirming ucc church, and what i hear our young people saying is often that they want to be allowed to be more demonstrative, more emotional, more spontaneous and spirit-filled in their expressions of their faith. i think that's wonderful. indeed, i would be thrilled for my child to be part of a hand-waving prayer, if that felt genuine to her.

on the other hand, if this is something being imposed by the teacher, and does not feel real or heart-felt to the kids, then that's not good.

and certainly "hell-fire and damnation" is no good at all. but sometimes we mistake some of the trappings of evangelicalism -- hand-waving, a certain vocabulary of faith, a type of music and testimony, etc -- with the theology of fundamentalism, when the two are not necessarily the same. it is perfectly possible to be a progressive evangelical -- indeed, i find myself becoming one, with no apologies.

mamamarta

dedanaan said...

Forget about formal churches all together. If you want to get closer to God (or whatever you want to call Him/Her), spend an afternoon in the mountains. It's good for your soul and your health, and nobody passes around a collection plate or criticizes what you're wearing.

Jon said...

The church is PC(USA). And that's a good point about being "frozen chosen."

My thought was that they are trying to be "hip" or something, but I don't want any part of it.

Yes, if the kids did it themselves, that is obviously fine, but I don't see them doing it themselves on Sunday morning, and I did see the teacher leading.

I just have to screw up the courage to call someone. After I figure out how to tell them what is exactly wrong.

Anonymous said...

i'm not sure what you mean, jon, about the kids not doing it themselves on sunday morning. do you mean in worship? because that is *never* going to be a safe space for kids to express that kind of spirituality, especially around adults who, like you, obviously find it objectionable. and i would still argue that it's okay if someone is leading, as long as the *kids* find it an authentic expression of their faith. shouldn't *that* be where you start asking the questions?

mamamarta

Anonymous said...

one more thought -- as a lay church leader and as a church school superintendent, i would just suggest that it might be a better approach if the two of you approach this with openness and lots of questions, rather than storming in telling folks what's wrong and why it's not okay. that's not usually a terribly productive approach. just my 2c from the other side of this discussion.

mamamarta

katie allison granju said...

I won't be doing any storming ;-)

I don't even belong to the church. I was just checkin' it out. I really think the Unitarian Church might be the best fit for me...

dedanaan said...

I attended the Unitarian church on Kingston Pike around 10 years ago for a short while. I found it kind of stuffy and lacking a good sense of community. However, there was no arm waving, fire and brimstone, and the atmosphere may have improved in the past decade. I still recommend the mountains, but if you're dead-set on a church, give them a try.

Jon said...

re: the kids not doing it themselves on Sunday morning, I just meant that seeing them sitting in their seats with one arm in the air looked ... contrived. They weren't looking particularly moved. The first thing in the morning part related to how most people are sleepy and not as moved early in the day. As for finding it objectionable, our kids felt it more objectionable than I did, which is part of the reason I know I need to do something: if they're going to take the church seriously, instead of having the craving to watch Saved every Sunday, something's going to have to be done one way or another.

And it is also a personal bias of mine. I can't stand the arm-waving stuff. I think it's more an expression of feeling good about yourself than feeling close to God. There's a ridiculous smugness to it, too. I think religion should be kept more to yourself instead of put on display for the world to see. And what are they going to learn when they realize that the adults don't do that in worship?

And you're right; I'm not going to go storming in to talk about it. I guess I'm going to call the associate pastor, who's a friend of mine, and tell her that I feel extremely uncomfortable with what's going on and let her know that our family pretty much can't join the church with that going on (for practical, not pig-headed reasons).

Anonymous said...

i hope i'm not beating a dead horse here... this is just a very interesting conversation to me.

personally i'm much more interested in someone's theology than in their expression of that theology. i believe in a theology of radical inclusivity and extravegant hospitality. in short, a theology of love -- of the decidedly unsentimental sort. i believe that for those of us who are christians and are seeking to walk with christ, we are more likely to meet christ in the stranger who is very different than we are, and who often makes us uncomfortable.

in my experience, that sort of theology can be expressed in many varied ways -- through silence and hanging out on mountain tops (thomas merton comes to mind), through hand waving and alter calls (many though certainly not all churches in the african american tradition come to mind), and through staid, middle-class, main-line protestantism (my own ucc church comes to mind). conversely, a theology of exclusiveness and hatred, one that is self-righteous and smug, can equally be expressed in all of those ways.

to me it's all about the message, not the medium. personally, i'm very interested in reclaiming from the christian right many of the modes of faith expression -- especially language and worship style -- that have become unfortunately conflated with the radical agenda of hatred and exclusion those folks espouse. there's just no reason that progressive christians can't embrace and welcome a wide range of worship and expressions of faith.

i'm very curious to know what your pastor says. please let us know!

mamamarta

Jamie said...

I've been thinking about this post and I find it troubling. It sounds like your objection at this point is to the style of prayer more than to the content of the class. What's wrong with saying, "Some people like to pray that way; we do it differently in our family." I'm puzzled that you would label this "Not Good."

Imagine reading a blogger who posted something like, "...and the Sunday school teacher was nursing her baby! In class! That's just Not Good. It was very viscerally disturbing."

Or a blogger who said, "...and the (female) teacher's "wife" came in and kissed her on the cheek. That's just Not Good. It was very viscerally disturbing."

I suspect that in both of those cases you would see a need for tolerance and an opportunity for education. Why not here?

katie allison granju said...

You make a fair point. I have no objection o the teacher doing it, but it looked like she had encouraged the entire class to do the exact same thing.

But you make a good point.

Must ponder...

spiney said...

Jamie said...
What's wrong with saying, "Some people like to pray that way; we do it differently in our family."

Except it wasn't "some people" - it was everyone in the class, presumably under the instruction of the teacher.

Anonymous said...

spiney, if everyone in the class had been standing in a circle holding hands and praying, or sitting with heads bowed in silent prayer -- at the direction of the teacher -- would that have been a problem? even if there were some in the class for whom that was not the way their families pray?

mamamarta

Anonymous said...

One excellent thing about the UU church on Kingston Pike is that they have a great children's program. We've been involved in the teen program and love it, love it.

spiney said...

>spiney, if everyone in the class >had been standing in a circle >holding hands and praying, or >sitting with heads bowed in >silent prayer -- at the direction >of the teacher -- would that have >been a problem?

Maybe - If you can show me a Judeo/Christian religious tradition that doesn't involve head bowing for prayer. That seems pretty standard across the protestant religious experience.

Hand raising, on the other hand (sorry), is certainly a less-common religious expression, particularly in the higher churches (which KAG has indicated is her historic church).