Church envy. I've had it. I'm thankful for the words my friend Jennifer shares with us here. Explore church envy. Are there things you appreciate about other traditions you could incorporate into your own personal and church life? But also, realize your church heritage offers its own traditions too.
by Jennifer Love (intentional traditions.com)
I stared, mesmerized, as she tumbled the green glass rosary beads between her fingers. And I was jealous.
Growing up in a Southern Baptist church, in the south, in the 80s, I remember studying what seemed like the rich traditions of other churches, particularly the mysteries of Catholicism. Isn’t that the church that was most often portrayed in movies? It had to be important.
I had a strange fascination for all things Catholic.
The long dramatic aisles, in beautiful, ancient stained-glass filled cathedrals.
The prayers every just seemed to know and say in unison.
The pretty beaded necklaces with Jesus on the end. (We were told for some reason that our crosses had to be empty.)
We didn’t have hundreds of candles lining our altar.
We never went forward with purpose to light one in someone’s memory.
Our pastors and Sunday school teachers didn’t wear certain collars or robes.
We had no talk of vows or special places for the most devoted followers to live.
Even the neat, singing sisterhood that almost tempted Maria to not choose the man she loved in Sound of Music.
It all seemed so foreign and mysterious. And yet, they talked about Jesus too. But in a way that seemed a million miles from anything I’d ever seen at a small, country church.
Their ways just seemed so much older and richer. More like the way things were “meant to be” and I wondered if our family had made the wrong choice. That we were missing out.
I remember asking,
Why can’t we go to church like that? There just doesn’t seem to be anything special about what we do at church? We have no traditions!
But did we?
We had matching patent leather purse and shoes, white tights, and knee length dresses – the uniform for church in the 80’s.
We had folded Sunday school papers with cartoons and crossword puzzles to occupy us during “big church” and marshmallows for snack.
We had broken Saltines and grape juice for the communion that was cautiously passed down the rows on heavy pewter trays.
We lived in tobacco country so our Deacons, who were also tobacco farmers, gathered outside the church doors to smoke every chance they could get and we had to run the gauntlet through their smoke to get outside. (I learned later this whole scene was odd.)
We played hide and seek and jumped on the broken tombstones out back until we were chased away. We didn’t understand why this made the grown-ups so upset.
We had potlucks, children’s choir, VBS, Bible memory club and a church softball team.
We faithfully read about brave missionaries who left everything and gave everything to become one with a village and passed around what resembled molded plastic rice bowls with a money slot. These single ladies who braved life with the tribes were my heroes, and at 5 I raised my hand to become one of them. They seemed the equivalent to the nuns that wore the funny black hats and loved God so much they lived at church.
When I was in middle school, we went to a huge family reunion up north and it was held in the basement of my great aunt’s Catholic church. I’m pretty sure it was the most eager I’d ever been to attend a family reunion. The dark halls, all the red velvet, the kneeling benches and huge paintings of priests lined the walls. I stopped and pointed to one who looked particularly old and had the largest pointy hat.
Who’s this guy?
I asked loudly. Apparently, I was far too old to not know that answer. My mother lowered my arm and whispered,
It’s the Pope!
She hurried me away. I’m sure everyone behind us was staring in shock. I hadn’t meant to embarrass my mother with my enthusiasm to understand.
As I reflect on what we did have as a community and a church in those days, maybe we did have traditions after all. Traditions that formed me, inspired my devotion and instilled in me Scripture that I still know. The generosity of potlucks and the reverence of making Sunday unlike any other day of the week. Sometimes traditions are hard to see when you are caught up in the allure of what someone else has, just like in any other realm of life. But they were there. And they were special.
Jennifer Love is an author, teacher and speaker, mostly about creatively weaving the Bible into family traditions and finding God in prayer. She lives among the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia with her husband and 2 boys. She still enjoys knee-length dresses and marshmallows. You can find her at www.intentionaltraditions.com.