18 October 2010

Come as you are to Church?


When I was young, men wore suits and ties to church, and women wore nice dresses. The "Sunday Best," as it was often called, referring to the practice of wearing one's nicest (or at least nicer) clothing to the worship of the Lord on Sundays. What I have been seeing on Sundays in church for the past decade, though, is a mixed bag, leaning towards the ultra-casual. We all know the casual, trendy, rock-n-roll services are all the rage in many areas now as well. Now it is "come as you are" instead of "show some respect for the Lord." The excuse made is that "God doesn't care how you come. He just cares that you come." It's a nice soundbite, but there are two main problems with it. 
Is this style of dress how we show respect for God
in his House of Worship???

 The first issue is that it bends the church to suit the individual. That's a dangerous precedent to set, but it gets repeated over and over. Now, some say that we should do whatever it takes in order to get people into the pews, and then hope they will change. It's a well-meaning, but misguided approach.

If someone won't go to church until to change various aspects of the church, and then he goes once you make those changes, why would that person suddenly expect anything to be different in the approach once he is a member?On the contrary, logic says that he will continue to expect things to be changed to suit him. Sure, there are no doubt some data points out there where some people have come in to the church this way and then had a true, spiritual conversion. And, we should try to take care of the needs of individuals in our parishes as much as we are able.

It is absolutely important to try to get people in the pews so they can at the very least have some exposure to faith and worship. However, we cannot allow ourselves to make trouble for ourselves or the church as a whole by entering into a position of having to change constantly to suit the desires of every person in the parish. Also, we cannot offer a watered-down version of the faith just to fill the pews. It is a disservice to both your present congregation and those whom you bring in. It is strength and consistency of message that ultimately will bring in those with true spiritual intent.

The second problem with "come as you are" is that it has the potential to generate a casual attitude towards worship and towards God in general. We could easily apply this to the general "dumbing down" of society, but let's stay focused on the church aspect.

When one is expected to dress up for an event and show some respect, it conveys the message that the event is indeed important and worthy of respect. On the other hand, saying "oh just come however" conveys the message that the event isn't all that important. This is traditionally how dress codes were set. The more important the event, the higher the level of dress. But, what if the "event" in question is the Holy Mass? If we tell people "come as you are," we are sending the message that the event is not that important. This has the strong potential to lead to a general casual attitude towards the mass, towards the Sacred Mysteries, and towards God and his Church in general. Why can't we have some standards in the Church, even if the rest of the world has decided that standards have gone out the window?

Someone I know told me the story of how he grew up in the rural South, going to church just as I did growing up, i.e., in a jacket and tie. He said that one Sunday he say a farmer showing up to church in overalls and remarked to his mother how awful that was. His mother told him that the farmer was poor, and he kept those overalls just for Sunday because it was the best he had to offer. This gets right to the point of what I'm talking about. Notice that I don't specifically say "wear a suit and tie," though that is what it would be for most people. What I say is "offer your best to the Lord."