The Sacred Hour
The Sacred Hour
In my relentless search for a five halo service of worship I have studied the Internet websites local churches have posted to advertise their wares... er, specialities for God's sake. One of my small discoveries concerns the stated hour of worship, how varied it is in this 21st Century.
In the 20th Century, the first three-quarters of it anyway, everyone knew that the sacred hour of Protestant worship was 11 AM on Sunday morning. From the redwood forest to the lights of Broadway the church bells summoned the faithful at the same hour. Oh, yes, Roman Catholic Churches with their crowded menu of Masses filled the Sabbath morning from early on to pretty late, and may even have offered a Saturday service for Sunday golfers. But mainstream Protestantism, from Baptist to Episcopalian, praised the Lord and passed the communion cup at the penultimate hour of the first day of the week.
My how times have changed! I went looking this morning for a local church in which to pay my respects to the deity and pay my tithe to that deity's human representatives. I fancied an Anglican Church within five minutes of our home. The Holy Eucharist, I managed to decipher after some heavy pondering, would be presented at 9:30 AM... or earlier, but not later! Why I am barely awake at that hour, still trying to drag myself to my coffee cup, and in danger of stabbing myself while slicing a bagel.
Serving as pastor of a suburban church in years past, I found myself in the hot seat on several issues, but few as volatile as the hour of worship. Many of the disputants had but one thought in mind: their own convenience, what would best suit their lifestyle on a Sunday morning. One parishioner was quite forthright, insisting that the earlier the service the better, because then he could get worship out of the way and have the rest of the day free for personal pursuits. I would have feigned indignation, except for the mitigating thought that, at least, he went to worship when the majority of others just spoke well of Jesus but only occasionally paid much attention to him.
I was brought up in the post-Depression and World War II era, when gas was rationed and, besides, we owned no car and I walked a mile or so to church, which argued for making a morning of it, Sunday School, church, and fellowship hour. Some habits are hard to break. Even now in my state of unfettered church loyalty, I find myself lingering after worship in someone else's church, to chat up strangers and sample the local punch. If there's no Coffee Hour, I feel as cheated as if there were no sermon... and, maybe, more so.
So the suspicion lingers, that 9:30 AM as the opening of the sacred hour is just another accommodation of the Word to the world. Not having any interest personally in the Scottish national game, I couldn't tell you if there's an 11AM tee-time at the local golf course, but... well, you can guess what I'm thinking. Or maybe there's an early bird special on brunch at one of the nearby restaurants. The mall's Rain Forest Cafe is filled with young families in the forenoon. Probably fixing up the suburban palace is the biggest priority. Home Depot is open on Sunday, but when I've been there I've seen no one toting a Bible or wearing a tie... which tells you, probably, more about me and my antiquated notions of church attire than it does about the holiness of the construction supermarket's clientele.
In fact, the churches in my corner of the kingdom conform to no detectable notion of what the sacred hour should be. Clearly it shouldn't be 11 AM. But it could be 9:30, 10:00, 10:15, 10:30 or Saturday at 5. It is as if Protestant churches had conspired to match the Roman Catholic schedule, collaboratively if not singly. I've always said that the great divide in western Christendom was narrowing; and that I only hoped that as Catholics became more Protestant and Protestants became more Catholic, we would have the decency to greet one another courteously while passing in the opposite direction.
The bright side, if there is a bright side, to this modern development is the boon it provides those addicted to worship. It would be possible in my hometown to hit three of four different churches on a single Sabbath. If one wanted to assure oneself of salvation, that might be the way to do it. As for me, once is enough, just, please, start later and be sure to keep the coffee hot.