It feels like Summer is starting to come to an end. Labor Day is past, schools have started back, and we even had a very brief taste of cooler weather to come.
Even though I don’t get a summer break (now that I am no longer in school and since I don’t have any kids in school), I find that the pace of my summer still tends to differ from the rest of the year. I work at a non-profit in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood (where there are several universities) and things slow down during the summer when all the students are gone and many people are on vacation. But now the students are back, the parking is once again horrendous, and I find myself looking to reset from my summer schedule and get back into my routine.
At St. Brendan’s, we too are getting back into our regular routine. It is a joke that Episcopalians don’t come to church during the summer. And, I must admit, I only made it once in July and twice in August. So for me, and for lots of folks, fall means getting back into the routine of going to church. St. Brendan’s still has a lot going on in the summers, but often to a slightly different rhythm. Now the choir is back, Sunday School has started, and this Sunday, September 23, is our first children’s liturgy of the fall and our annual ministry fair. (During the ministry fair, we showcase many of the ministries going on at St. Brendan’s so everyone has a chance to see, and get involved in, all of the ministries going on!)
(St. Brendan's children singing a song during a children's liturgy)
There are several reasons I try to make going to church a part of my Sunday routine. First, when I make going to church a habit, I find it is much easier to get up on Sunday morning than if I only go once in a while. It is easy to slip into the mindset of “Well, I didn’t go last week, what is one more week…” or “I have lots to get done today; I just don’t have time.” But if church is part of my Sunday routine, I find I am less likely to come up with excuses not to go. Like any habit—be it going to the gym, watching less TV, or attending church—once you commit to making it a regular part of your life, it gets easier.
Second, when I spend less of my mental energy just getting myself to church, it is much easier for me to find a few moments for mediation and spiritual reflection at church. During my busy schedule, having this time to reflect really helps me reset and prepare for the next week. The Rev. Jennifer Andrews-Weckerly shares a similar sentiment in her blog post, “Finding Grace in the Routine…” She writes, “When we fall out of the routine of prayer, we find connecting with God more difficult. When we fall out of the habit of going to church, we find our weekends are missing something valuable. When we fall out of the pattern of regular learning and serving, we find our relationship with God is not as deep as [we] might like.”
Ever since I was a child, I have thrived on routine. You might say I found that routine kept me rooted. At my request, my mother even wrote out daily schedules for me on snow days and during summer vacation when I was young. Though I have learned to be (somewhat) more flexible in adulthood, I generally find that having a routine helps me focus my day. Not surprisingly, that is also one of the things I enjoy about the Episcopal liturgy.
I have heard Episcopal liturgy, with its repetitive structure, critiqued as “rote.” Some say that reading the same prayers and responses every Sunday doesn’t leave room for spontaneous, heartfelt emotions. I would disagree. I find that, in part because of its repetitive structure, the Episcopal liturgy provides a rich foundation for personal prayer and reflection. For me the liturgy is more rooted than rote.
(St. Brendan's adult choir)
In her memoir Girl Meets God, Author and theologian, Lauren Winner, explains why she chose the Episcopal Church. She describes Episcopal worship thus: [the] “liturgy is dull, and habitual, and rote, and you memorize it, and don’t think about what you are saying, and it is, regardless, the most important thing on the planet. It is the place you start, and the place you come back to” (my emphasis). She also writes: “[An]other familiar thing [from her Jewish past], when I first walked into an Episcopal church, was the prayer book, the habit of fixed-hour prayer, the understanding that you were saying more or less the same liturgy as Anglicans around the world, that you would say the same prayers every morning, every evening, over and over and over, till you knew them by heart, and long after that, till they were rote and boring, comfortable as your best friend’s kitchen and familiar as flapjacks.”
Now, I disagree with Winner on the dullness of Episcopal liturgy, but the part of her experience that resonates with me is the centering and focusing effect of the repetitive worship and the foundation it builds for spiritual reflection. I find that as I repeat prayers I have known by heart since I was a child, I am better able to focus on their meaning. And, as my life and the world around me change, I continue to come to new understandings. Just as my life is strengthened by routine, so my faith is strengthened by saying prayers, singing music, and participating in liturgies that connect us across time and place.
I enjoy vacations and holidays as much as anyone—especially now that I don’t get a three month break during the summer! But I am also content in returning to my routine, to the habit of going to church, the habit of prayer.
I am centered and renewed by coming to church to pray this prayer, then to move out into the world and return to church to pray this prayer again the next week:
Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage
to love and serve you
with gladness and singleness of heart;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP, pg. 11)
Grace and peace,
A member of St. Brendan's since 2014, I enjoy being a part of this welcoming and giving community of faith. However, I am not a theologian, biblical scholar, or official spokesperson for The Episcopal Church. If you read anything on this blog that is inaccurate or contrary to the teachings of The Episcopal Church, please consider it my error and let me know! If you have questions, comments, or ideas for future blog posts, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.