Doing Church

As the service began, I was agitated. My husband and I had seated ourselves in our chairs, he in his overstuffed armchair, me in my rocking chair. I had set up my laptop on a folding table with the volume up. He followed along on his iPad. I was in real clothes and jewelry. He was in his t-shirt and shorts. Every Sunday since sheltering-in-place began in March, we have “done church” this way: together in our house, together online with others.

But I was having a hard time focusing. A couple of days earlier, Donald Trump had “ordered’ states to reopen churches as essential services. As my priest said forcefully yesterday morning, our church has never shut. Our priest has made a Herculean effort throughout this virus to create community for us with God present among us, even though he himself had a terrifying bout with COVID-19. I will always remember these services, when other, more routine Sunday mornings might not have made it into my memory bank.

But this morning, I was angry at Donald Trump, at best a non-practicing Christian, thinking he had any right to tell me how to worship (he doesn’t even go to church; how dare he tell me how to do church?).

I have always been an ardent lover of God and an ardent supporter of the constitutional mandates against mixing Church and State. I am well-aware that if the state ever establishes a religion, it will not be mine. I belong to a relatively small Christian denomination that held an outsized role during the founding of our country but does no longer. My Episcopalian beliefs are not the anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-politics of Christian fundamentalists whose efforts to influence politicians have made them the “default” version of American Christianity.

Because of my Episcopalian beliefs, I was acutely aware I could not proceed through church mad at Donald Trump.

But how to get past it?

I have learned that when something obsesses me it does no good to try to ignore it. Better to imagine into it. So, yesterday morning, I imagined Donald Trump actually at church. I saw him standing in our circle in his odd stance with his weight too far forward, his arms hanging limply at his side. I saw him awkwardly sway to the music as he tried to interpret what he was supposed to do in this unfamiliar environment. I saw us going over to encourage him in a non-COVID-19 way, patting his arm.

As a result of this exercise, my antagonism toward Donald Trump receded (I’m sure it will flare back up as soon as I read his next foolish utterance), and I went to where I often go, which is, what if I was free to not carry judgements against others?

My judgements have two phases. The first is strongly held beliefs. The second is the judgement of those who violate those beliefs. I disagree with about 98% of what Donald Trump holds dear. He violates my beliefs, and he has the microphone to amplify those violations. I have no intention of giving up those beliefs. The question is, can I work for those beliefs without judging (and deeply disliking) Donald Trump? Can I, as Jesus instructed, fulfill the greatest commandment of all and love my neighbor as myself?

I don’t know, but for about 5 minutes in church on Sunday morning, I did.

Doing church

attending church online, church during COVID-19, social distancing church

Comments (9)

  • Save this one. I hear your voice in this so I know it is from the heart. And it resonates with my own experience.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Yes, Joe, I know I’m being honest when I really don’t want to hit publish on a post…Then I remember my mentor saying if you want your reader to trust you in nonfiction, you have to turn the rock over on yourself

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Susanne, I think of you whenever we sing a really difficult hymn in church–that time you said you found it endearing that churches think you can pick up a hymnal and sing a song you’ve never heard before. <3

  • Virginia L. Watkins

    Oh my dear Ellen. I am printing this out and keeping it in my erstwhile journal. Thank you for this gift. I am not sure though that I can go where you went for even five minutes because of the people I try to serve and the misery ‘leaders’ like Trump and his hate-filled and hateful ilk combine to inflict on the more vulnerable and needy among us. But thank you for a moment of grace, dear one.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      What an honor, Lynn. Yes, you see the devastating effects of the failure to love one’s neighbor as oneself. My heart is with you, and I look forward to when I can see you again. love to you

  • Thank you for your depth and honesty. It is so difficult to deal with how to love someone that you know is causing hurt or harm. I tend to work my way to pity for them, which is not exactly love but, at least, gives a break from anger.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      The break from anger is an accomplishment, I think. It leaves space for something else to happen between two people that would lead the person to quit hurting others. This is all theoretical, though, when applied to someone I’m not in relationship with. So, for me, the moment in this blog post released me to move forward with things more important than being mad at him. (So good to see you today!)

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