Today I went to the cemetery and attended a service at the church. The former is something that I do quite regularly, cleaning family graves, lighting candles and whatnot. Usually, I want to have it done before the All Saints' Day, but the last weekend was very busy. The latter is something which I hadn't done in about five years. It wasn't as bad as I dreaded, but it reminded me why I started to avoid church in the first place: the priest was just standing there and reading from a book I read and know already.
I miss the former priest. He was telling stories, you could feel that he connects with people. Not in that "praise be, fellow hunam" kind of way, just a guy with busy Sundays. He was there to give hope, solace and a moment of reflection. He provoked people to think and loosely quoted* philosophers during sermons (all of which ended with some question to mull over). I wasn't (and aren't) much of a believer but kept going there out of curiosity. And for fun. Imagine that, someone going to church because it's fun and stimulating, and isn't from the Flanders' family. Suffices to say I was devastated when I heard he died. He couldn't have been older than fifty.
And, you know, he wasn't opposed to me on such grounds like my doubts about God and religion. Most people (my age) always seemed to despise me for much less of a difference.
Anyway, the one we have right now can be made almost completely redundant by a list of passages and a communion dispenser. Everything else I can see and do with memory alone. It's just sad if nothing else. After trying to talk with the new guy, I can already see that his influence will end on reminding me of someone very different.
I guess it's enough melancholy, church-going and rambling for quite a while. Let's say, five years?
* - I don't know how else to say it. It wasn't as much 'dumbing it down' as stripping away all the hoity-toity cliquish jargon and replacing it with human speech.
My wife experimented with Unitarian Universalism for a while. Her local church was where Robert Fulghum really made his bones. When we moved down to California we tried the Santa Monica branch; they had an interim minister who, while we were there, was informed that he'd be remaining interim, thanks very much.
We probably attended a dozen services. The minister mostly snarked at the congregation's history, pointing out shit like it was the only congregation on the West Coast that didn't protest the Vietnam War'n'shit. Services were effectively sitting in a pew, being hectored for things we had nothing to do with, listening to an awkward performance by some loser street musician doing a bad cover of an old folk song and then eating donuts.
I'd seen Fulghum do a sermon at her own church. It was night and day. There's a thing about UUs - they're super-awkward about God. That super-awkwardness can either be addressed and embraced or it can be the elephant in the room in every.goddamn.sermon. Compare and contrast with the Pentecostals - those guys are all about Jesus. They're there to reinforce their belief system and everything they do and everything they say is about it. Makes a hell of a difference.
I guess this is my point: the pastor's job is to embody and reinforce the fundamental beliefs of the congregation, and to strengthen and distill the spirituality of the crowd. Whenever the pastor and the congregation are out of sync it's weird. I would suspect Catholicism is in a rough place right now all over the world... and a priest that doesn't know how to handle that is going to make it worse.