Saturday, March 17, 2012

Segregation within the Church

As a former Lutheran, I remember going to church on Sundays to see the various ways as to how to divide the congregation.

First, there were three services which were out of necessity. The church was too large to accommodate all of them into that one place for just one service so there were three. Of course, I can hardly recall any one time where the church was full at one of those services to justify having two more. Still, it went out.

Then, the three services were given different characters. The 8:00 was "traditional", the 9:30 "blended" and the 11:00 "contemporary." But even after that, it was not uncommon for elements of the "contemporary" service to work their way into the "traditional" service. I remember walking out a few times when the music between the Epistle and the Gospel began with a drumbeat. Very few kids would be present in any of the first two services (see below).

During the 9:30 service there was a fellowship hour in the gym. People could get donuts, coffee, and orange juice. Kids would run around and play while adults would talk. Also during that time, there was Sunday school for all ages and bible studies. There were some bible studies which focused on the lectionary readings for the day; others which catered to women; others still which catered to men. So, the congregation was further divided.

Outside of Sundays, there were men's groups and women's groups and youth groups all of which had meetings and outings and did works of charity...but never together. I didn't realize it then, but this had potentially harmful effects. Not only did the congregation not know about and interact with the other 2/3, but it perpetuated the idea that every person needs something different from the church so the church needs to cater to it. That is the essence of the modern "church growth" movement and it is now infiltrating Orthodox churches, which must stop because it is rooted in egoism.

In my current church family, a Ministries Vision Team has been charged with creating all sorts of new ways to further divide up the congregation. Yes, we still all pray together at one Liturgy on Sunday and during the other offices and liturgies of the year, but shouldn't the fruits of our prayer be continued together outside of the church? I would say yes. Why have children do the works of the Lord apart from their parents? Why have husbands do the work of the Lord apart from their wives? Why have brothers do the work of the Lord apart from their sisters? Why have the elderly do the work of the Lord apart from younger? If we can all pray together then certainly we can do the Lord's work together. Why perpetuate the myth that we can only reach theosis with those in the same age group or of the same sex? Is the Body of Christ not one?

I was formerly the advisor to the teen group at my church. As much as I tried to get them involved in the church's liturgical life outside of Sunday's liturgy I was rebuffed and told that because they were younger they wouldn't want to do more because it's not fun and it's not focused on them. This was coming from Orthodox parents! I couldn't believe that Orthodox parents would actually think that going to a Vespers once in a blue moon would be considered detrimental. But, many of these cradle Orthodox parents have been influenced by modern "church growth" and Protestant ideals which their spouses, who came from these traditions, bring with them to the marriage and from their friends.

This influence must stop. I don't know how to do it, but I'm all ears.

My thanks to Fr. Peters for the article he quoted which got me thinking about this.


  1. It's the priest's job to stop this. If he cannot or will not, you're in trouble and I don't know what you can do about it, either, except pray. And keep a Christian attitude in your own heart toward everyone.

  2. Anastasia,

    My priest is actually behind the start up of all or most of these ministries. For years, before he became Orthodox, he was an evangelical missionary in Europe and I believe he thinks that these "church growth" methods of the evangelicals are successful and must be reduplicated in the Orthodox world.

  3. Hey Chris,

    Sounds like you could use a speaker at your parish to give a talk on the ministry of the Church body in full. Speakers usually rev up the people to either get motivated straightaway, or at least dialogue about improvement.

    Nobody needs to tell you how much children and teens are psychosomatically geared to worship liturgically compared to old folks. But it sounds a lot like the parents are making their views known under the guise of their children's care for "fun". Fine. Start holding services/reader services for the adults. There shouldn't be any complaining about the fun or focus, given their perspective.

    If the parish is liturgically dead, the last thing I would suggest is to form a reading group--and pick a book after everyone commits to at least give it a try. At the first meeting, bring a photocopied sample of something like Fr. Schmemann's Intro to Liturgical Theology. Make it a juicy, enticing part. Once everyone is interested, and before they are turned-off by the title, start the book.

    And yes, of course, keep praying for God's mercy and guidance, that His will might be accomplished.

  4. Just in case, I want to make it very clear that the problems I see are what happen outside of the Liturgy. I think, liturgically speaking, our parish is on very solid ground. It prays together especially on Sundays. I, of course, would like to see more people come out for Vespers and Orthros and for the additional Lenten services, especially the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified. We can always use more "catechesis" for the faithful on the importance of both the liturgy and the offices.

    My objection that I tried to state here is the adoption of "church growth" models which have defined Protestantism and modern Evangelicalism over the past 20-30 years. Well intentioned they may be, the side effects segregate the congregation into tiny compartments. Why do we "need" a men's ministry and/or a women's ministry? Why do we "need" a kid's ministry? Why do we "need" a teen ministry? Is the body of Christ not one? Why are we dividing it? To suggest that different demographics cannot come together in common cause has been debunked time and again yet the "church growth" models which propose these segregations continue. That must stop because what has happened in the Protestant churches is that the kids go to one service, adults to another. I don't want our children to go to Sunday school while the adults go to Liturgy. That's not fair to either group and it is wrong.

    But back to ministries: Maybe a kid can't work an electric saw when doing repairs to an outdoor garage. But, I'm sure, he can be taught to measure. Let's stop singling out people by what they can't do and bring them into our ministries for what they can do.

    Sorry for the post within a post; I just wanted to make sure that everyone knew where I was coming from.