Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Wrong Way to Reach the Nones or the UnChurched

At the risk of sounding cliche, do you know what really grinds my gears?  When my church, which I love, decides that the way to reach out to the Millennials or the Nones or just the plain old-fashioned UnChurched is to use some byproduct that has been discredited by the Evangelical Community as a way of promoting Holy Orthodoxy.  This particular program is benignly labeled as Visitors Day.

Now, before I'm labeled as some insular, insecure and greedy fool, (which I'm sure has probably already happened), I am not opposed to growing the Church or individual parishes. I am not opposed to visitors. Hell, I was one myself at one time.  What I am opposed to is using the Liturgy specifically to evangelize.  That is wrong.

In the ancient church, people who wished to be joined to the Church were not able to stay for the entire liturgy.  They were permitted to attend the parts of the Liturgy where general hymns were sung, Scripture read and the homily given.  But, after that and the cries of "the doors, the doors", people who were not initiates (i.e. the  unbaptized) were not allowed to stay.  Instead, they left and received catechism instruction from a priest while the Liturgy proceeded with the Anaphora and the consecration and the reception of the Holy Eucharist by the faithful.  Now, this was NOT done to shun such people or to make them feel unworthy, but because the Church wisely knew that full participation in her actions and communion with God was specifically for those who had been called out of the world by God to the Holy Mysteries.  Those desiring to join themselves to the Holy Church would certainly be welcome to that, just not yet.  They needed both time and instruction.

Now, though we have retained the refrain of "the doors, the doors" very few Orthodox Churches, if any, insist that non-baptized persons in attendance leave.  Things are very different now in the 21st century than they were in the 3rd, 4th or 16th centuries.  But, one thing that the Church Fathers never did was use the Liturgy to evangelize.  We simply should and must remember that Liturgy first and foremost is for those who have been called out of the world.  In short, it's for us, because we need it.  It is a gift from God which is then offered back humbly to him.  As said by the priest during the singing of the Cherubimic Hymn, Christ is the "offerer and the offered."  It is offered to us so that we may be thankful for being called out of the sin of this world.

The Liturgy is not some tool to use to reach those groups mentioned above.  Yes, it is instructional. Yes, it is beautiful.  Yes, it is useful.  But there are many other instructional and beautiful and useful means to reach the unchurched.  Why must it be Liturgy or bust?

The fact is that  my parish receives many visitors every year.  I think very few of them come because they were asked by a friend or a coworker.  Most of them are seekers and found their way to my parish by any number of means.  And that's all good.  But, for every visitor that we had, we didn't stop the Liturgy to explain to them what is going on.  We didn't call out from the solea to make sure everyone was on the right page.   Now, I grant that I don't know exactly how this Visitor's Day is going to look on Sunday.   And it could be that I am way off in my perception, but my point remains is that the Liturgy should not be used and cannot be used as an evangelization tool because it is precisely not that.  It is not for the unchurched. It is for those called to God.  To use it in such a way cheapens it and risks making it into a spectacle to be observed rather than a prayer offered by the faithful to God.  Perhaps it is time to enforce "the doors, the doors" again, but I doubt that will happen.