on being a catholic church

On a recent Sunday in worship I could not help but notice how very catholic our singing has become. A gathering song by Fanny Crosby, blind author of over eight thousand gospel hymns and songs was followed by an opening hymn of praise from Ambrose of Milan, the fourth century doctor of the church who introduced hymnody to the western church. The Singers (our choir) offered the contemporary hymn “In the Quiet Curve of Evening” as a haunting and inviting choral introit. There was a sung Kyrie from the intentional Christian community at Iona and the “Asithi Amen” from Africa. The chorus of the traditional French carol “Angels We Have Heard on High” provided the Gloria. A hymn by Joachim Neander rooted us in the Protestant Reformation while a setting of Psalm 91 by Michael Joncas connected us with twentieth century liturgical renewal in the Roman Catholic church sparked by Vatican II. Our children led us in singing the Lord’s Prayer with embodied actions. The text for the day from Isaiah 40:31 brought to mind a popular chorus – “Those who wait upon the Lord” – and when it was sung we told the story of its author, Stuart Hamblen, the once famous singing cowboy, among the first of Billy Graham’s converts, whose transformed life surprised and confounded many in his time.

One might call such a variety ‘eclectic’. The word most in vogue to describe a diversity of Christian traditions, theologies and practices gathered in a congregation or denomination is ‘inclusive’. At University Hill Congregation we have been recovering the word ‘catholic’ (with a small ‘c’) to name the surprising diversity and variety that God in Jesus is calling together in our community. To use the adjective ‘catholic’ in this way is to be reminded of the dictionary definition: “including a wide variety of things, all-embracing.”

The tragic schism that created two camps labelled Protestant and Catholic has made it difficult for many Protestants to think of themselves as catholic. This is regularly a point of confusion when giving the newly baptised their certificate of baptism. The certificate clearly states that we have been baptised into the Holy Catholic Church. Many assume that we are baptised into the United Church of Canada or, perhaps, the Protestant Church. It is often a surprise to learn that in our baptism we become part of the church catholic.

Those of us called to follow Jesus as members of The United Church of Canada are reminded of this schism and scandal whenever we see the denomination’s crest with its Latin motto: “Ut Omnes Unum Sint” – “That they may all be one.” Taken from Jesus’ Farewell Discourse (John 17:21) it implores God to cultivate a unified people, whose mutual love will reveal God’s extraordinary love for the world. Fostering a deep desire for a unity that is diverse and for variety that testifies to the one Body of Christ is necessary, steady, long-term work in our congregations and denomination. The mending of the deep wound in the Body of Christ that led to the ‘us’ and ‘them’ now embedded in the words ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic’ is the slow healing activity of the Holy Spirit in our time.

At University Hill Congregation we sing our catholicity. Rather than speaking of hymnody as ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ we describe our music as catholic. We draw from a wide range of cultures and theologies and styles, seeking not simply to sing “songs we like” but, rather, to be invited into the rich and complex fabric of the universal church. We are reminded of the Eastern Orthodox tradition that on any given Sunday the most orthodox (literally: “rightly praising”) Christian community in the world is the congregation in which the greatest variety of theology and politics and ethnicity comes to the table to receive the one Body and to serve the same Lord.

We have a dream. We have a dream of the day when strangers will be shocked – even scandalized - to see so many cultural, political and social differences bridged in the cultivation of a gospel people, sign of God’s new creation dawning. We have a dream: “Ut omnes unum sint” and, as our aboriginal neighbours say, “Awke Nia'Tetewa:Neren." That is, "All my relations.”

No comments:

Post a Comment