Monday, December 9, 2013

Consumerism in the Church

My colleague Fr. Tim Schenck from St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in Hingham, MA (and possibly better known for originating Lent Madness), wrote a blog post today entitled "Want Fries With That?" In it, he addresses the creeping problem of the consumerism in our culture infecting how we view Church and the clergy who serve her.

Some have misconstrued this as a rehashing of east-facing versus west-facing altars of the liturgical renewal movement. Regardless of how the clergy is situated when saying the Eucharistic prayer, facing the congregation has had the unintended consequence of crashing into the blatant consumerism with which our culture is saturated.

Personally, I wouldn't change facing the congregation at the altar. I do believe Tim+ has appropriately raised the awareness that our posture can be misunderstood or overlaid with other meanings brought in from the world and the deleterious effects it can have on how we understand ourselves as the Church.

We are not purveyors of religious goods and services. We are the Body of Christ and as such a community centered on Christ first and foremost. Priests are not "sacramental Pez dispensers" who exist to dole out baptisms, weddings and funerals on demand. We are called to the cure of souls and to bring the presence of Christ to the gathered community through the sacraments.

When we view the Church solely as the place we go to "be fed," the focus ceases to be on God and it turns towards us. It becomes what we want and whether we are fed and whether or not our needs are met. What if, it's really not about us? What if it starts and ends in God? And what if this God has invited us into greater, more intimate, loving participation with God and each other in this community of faith?

This isn't to say we don't spend time discerning the community to which God may be calling us - the place where our gifts and graces can make a difference in the life of the Church. But note the focus is less about getting what I want or need, but where I can contribute toward the communal life of the risen Christ. The first approach is focused on me ... the second is on thee. Advent seems the appropriate time to reflect on our focus - is it on me, or thee?

Oh ... and I'm with Tim+ ... I will take fries with that too!

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