You don't have to signal a social conscience by looking like a frump. Lace knickers won't hasten the holocaust, you can ban the bomb in a feather boa just as well as without, and a mild interest in the length of hemlines doesn't necessarily disqualify you from reading Das Kapital and agreeing with every word. --Elizabeth Bibesco

Saturday, February 9, 2013

My Religious Bucket List in Chicago, Part 3: St. Mary of the Angels Catholic Church

I label what my Woman and I have been doing lately as "church shopping," but it really isn't. I think of church shopping as that sometimes frantic search for a spiritual home. It's stressful. When we do it, even before I step into a church, I'm judging it-- it's too far away, I don't like their politics, the architecture is ugly. Whatever. I'll own that I've done that. And that's not to say that sometimes those things aren't valid. But it's stressful. At least part of me really wants every church to be the one where my soul belongs, so my needy self is arguing with my judge-y self and it's hard to just settle down and breathe.

This, however, is not church shopping for us. It's a pilgrimage-- a journey to sacred spaces. That's how my Woman and I ended up at St. Mary of the Angels Roman Catholic Church in Bucktown. We didn't need to agree with their politics or even truly feel welcomed for it to be sacred to us. It was such a release. Usually, when I'm in a Catholic church, I can't relax-- I'm worried about being "outed" as gay or Episcopalian or I'm too busy fussing about their politics. But for Christmas Eve midnight Mass in St. Mary's, I just relaxed. It was wonderful.

The church was beautiful, the Mass was actually at midnight, the music was wonderful and the people-watching was great too. We sang several great Christmas hymns, including one in Spanish that was apparently a classic and I loved. It wasn't a super high Mass or anything, but it was quite traditional and in that elegant, historic building, it was easy to envision being a part of "the Communion of Saints," as we say in the Apostles' Creed. A girl could get used to that.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My Religious Bucket List in Chicago, Part 4: Mormon Lake Shore 2nd Ward

On the note of visiting places of worship where we don't necessarily agree with their politics, my Woman and I decided to visit a Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints) church. Neither of us had ever been to one before and, while both of us disagree with some official Mormon policies and theologies, we wanted to try something new in the interest of ecumenical understanding.

Since Mormonism has a moderately strong sense of modesty, once we decided to go, I immediately started fussing about what to wear. (I know, I should have probably been prayerfully preparing my heart for the pilgrimage, but there you have it.) The little FAQ on had this to say about clothing: "You’re welcome to wear any modest clothes that you feel comfortable in. But just so you know, most men wear suits, sport coats and shirts and ties, and women wear dresses or skirts. Children also typically dress up." Now, most of the clothes I'd wear to church on Sunday probably meet Mormon standards for modesty, but I wasn't sure they'd meet them for dressiness, if that makes sense, so I started to fuss about wearing something dressy.

I ended up in a cute, strappy dress from H&M that went down to my knees with a t-shirt under it, a sweater over it and a gorgeous hat that my Woman got me for Christmas. What I didn't find out until later was that when I had it tailored, the tailor (who did an incredibly bad job), managed to make the dress, which had always been on the short side for me once I sat down, even shorter. Oh well. At least I was wearing thick tights, too, I guess. My Woman, too, found a nice dress and amended it to be modest by Mormon standards.

When we got there, we fidgeted in the car for a while before going in. I don't know why we were so nervous, because it's not like we haven't attended a bunch of different worship spaces, but we were. When we finally went in, we were greeted by a woman who assumed we were visiting from another Mormon congregation. (It felt a little bit like relief-- we'd passed! But then we had to explain that we were Episcopalian, because we weren't even sure what room to be in for the service!)

Once they knew we were strangers, people were super friendly. The lovely woman, who turned out to be the President's wife, explained to us the basics of the service and offered us seats next to her. We declined-- what if we were accidentally rude?-- and took seats near the back behind a family or families with 4 small children. That might have been the best part of the service for us! The children playing, reading religious magazines and eating crayons were absolutely adorable. We're suckers for kids smiling at us too, so we spent much of the time waving and making faces at the children-- which is what we do when we're in our own church!

Much of it was just what you'd see in a Protestant church, or similar anyway. We sang lots of hymns and someone preached. However, we sang all the hymns seated and the preachers were a young couple from the congregation. Now, I hate having to stay seated when I sing, but I loved that they had this young couple preach. We learned from the President that they rotate and different people speak every week, which I think is an awesome way to encourage community participation.

It totally threw us off our game though when it was time for Communion-- "the Sacrament." Now, I'd like to think I've seen my share of Communions. I once participated in a (Presbyterian) Communion led by a man who wasn't ordained, using a loaf of Hawaiian bread for the host. The Presbyterian church I grew up in commonly used tiny pieces of Wonder Bread and shot-glass-sized cups of grape juice. I've also been to churches where they would not place the Host in my hands, but had to put it directly in my mouth.Other experiences run the gamut of everything in between

Still, however, I wasn't prepared for the Mormon version of the sacrament. They used bread and water. My Woman and I were both floored. We'd never even heard of it before-- and I like to think I'm sort of up on religious differences. There were also rituals that I'm sure we screwed up-- like my Woman tried to hold the Communion tray by it's base and the guy who was the Mormon equivalent of a Lay Eucharistic Minister flinched trying to pull it away from her-- apparently we were only supposed to hold the handle. All in all, though, we survived and no one looked horribly offended. We spent the rest of the service listening to the sermon and trying to discreetly make faces at the children in front of us.

On our way out, the President greeted us-- he'd invited us to stay for their classes afterwards, but we couldn't stay. He handed us a notecard and explained that it was the contact info for a special Mormon singles church-- my Woman and I almost didn't make it out of that conversation without giggling. It was super, super sweet of him, but so misguided. Clearly, he thought, "Here are two single women (because we would have brought our man with us if we had one) who love kids and are moderately interested in the Mormon Church. Obviously, I've won the evangelism lottery-- I just send them to a singles' group, they meet nice Mormon boys and have Mormon babies." And honestly, who could blame him? I would never assume that two women showing up at a Mormon church were engaged to each other. So we've kept the card-- I don't know exactly why. Maybe partly as a reminder to be aware of misguided evangelism in our own lives, maybe partly as a reminder that they are nice people in spite of what their church did for Prop 8, or maybe as an outreach idea-- I totally would have gone to an Episcopalian singles group when I was single. Anyone want to start one?