I grew up in a very congregational church, in a church that kept its attachment to the wider church, the United Church of Christ, in parentheses (literally) and in small print, left to languish at the bottom of the front of the bulletin every week, probably unnoticed by almost everyone. The church was fiercely independent, and though it had a preacher who had a flair for the drama (half of the lights in the sanctuary were turned off just before the sermon in order to highlight the pulpit, and him in it), it was not an especially liturgically minded church—at least that I can remember. There was Christmas Eve and Holy Week, of course, and Pentecost, but my memory is dim to nonexistent on the other big days of the Christian year.
The church I serve now, Old South, is not especially tied to the liturgical calendar either, although I’ve been there long enough that they are catching on to what’s not in the liturgical calendar—Mother’s and Father’s Day, the 4th of July, etc. “Yes, we know, Susan, that the 4th of July is not on the liturgical calendar, but can’t we still sing a patriotic song during worship? There are some in the hymnal, after all.”
So, it came as a surprise that, during a recent Worship Team meeting, there was some enthusiasm for Trinity Sunday. It’s turned into a whole weekend thing at Old South. There’s a “Trinity Potluck Breakfast” on Saturday (which, sadly, I will be unable to attend because of Maine Conference responsibilities, but I’m looking forward to hearing about how the “trinity” is expressed in french toast casserole and fruit salad—will everything be in threes?).
The Worship Team meeting also included some conversation about actual Trinity Sunday. Enthusiastic suggestions filled the conversation: We’ll sing trinity hymns! Let’s sing the old Gloria Patri (we left behind the traditional Gloria, with its “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” about a year ago)!
I couldn’t help but feel all of my decade of work with Old South slipping away, that though they have gone along with my “new age” language, and my attempts at including hymns from the New Century Hymnal (though we have retained the Pilgrim and still sing at least one hymn each Sunday from it), that they really just miss how we used to do it, which somehow, to the extent they are willing to reflect on what is the truly complicated and mind-boggling subject of the Trinity, it’s really just all about “Father, Son and Holy Ghost (or Spirit).”
Here’s the question: do I just, in the words of everyone’s favorite frozen princess, “let it go” and go headlong into the past, bringing back all of the traditional language? Or, do I use the occasion to talk more openly about the trinity, and the limited language we use to express such a massive concept?
I’m not sure, yet, though it is now Thursday before Trinity Sunday. I also realize that I may be overreacting. Perhaps this is just a brief visit to the past—even though I feel like they ought to be ready to shake off the past without wanting to go back. But, it lingers with me.
I think it lingers with me, and bothers me as much as it does, because I can’t help but feel that this church—a church community that I have come to love, trust and rely on— is more eager to wrap itself up in the comfortable, fuzzy and safe, rather than truly venture forth into new territory. It is more willing to settle into the comfort of a well-worn faith, with its familiar (even if not well understood) language, rather than think deeper, more disruptive, thoughts about what it means to have a transformative faith—that isn’t just about transforming someone else, but about transforming each one of us and all of us together.
For me, it’s not just about singing or not singing the old Gloria for one week, but realizing that that the “old” Gloria, though so familiar that it rolls right off the tongue when I hear that music, no longer has deep meaning for me. It is no longer what I want to sing to express my praise and wonder at Creation, and my part in it. It is no longer how I wish to sing to and speak to the God I worship. And, it certainly isn’t something that elicits enthusiasm of any kind.
My hope is that when we sing that old Gloria on Sunday, that there are at least a few others who find that it just doesn’t quite fit anymore, that it just doesn’t express the faith that we feel now. My hope is that at least a few catch a glimpse that we have experienced transformation, and that will inspired us to continue to move forward—in ways that are life-affirming and wondrous.