St. Margaret’s Anglican is a little red-brick church half covered in vines, at a slight bend in Westminster Avenue. When one walks through the door on Sunday, they are given a booklet so that they can read and sing along with the service. But after coming here almost every week for nearly eight years, I know all this stuff from memory: the Confession, the Apostles’ Creed (said), the Nicene Creed (sung), the Venite, the Kyrie, Preces, Nunc Dimittis, the Eucharistic Prayer #5 from the Book of Alternative Services.
Some Sundays I just kneel or stand there and the words pass through my mouth and I don’t really listen to what’s being said. These liturgical orders of service are just markers on the journey through the morning. When it’s over I can get to the business of figuring out what to do about lunch, and hopefully falling asleep on the couch watching football.
I’ve had a weird relationship with God and the Church growing up. A child of parents who rejected their own parents’ mainline Protestant denominations (which, by the 1960s, were beginning to see the emptiness of their conviction and intellectual prowess reflected in the emptiness of their pews), my parents were born again in the late-’70s twilight of the Jesus Movement.
That’s where I come from. Tambourines, speaking in tongues, plexiglass pulpits. In my teenage years, I spent Sundays worrying I wasn’t raising my hands to Heaven convincingly enough, and the rest of the week worrying I wasn’t doing enough to live up to my baptism at age 10 in the indoor pool at Camp Arnes. Then there was the Jesus fever of the Bible camps I went to, where you felt pressure to make up a story of how you’re a rotten sinner, even if you’re only 13 and live in a good family.
How does this thinking affect you later in life, when things can get real hard and you really sin? If God was mad at you for saying bad words or coveting your friend’s hockey cards, what would He say when you really screw up; when you actually do things that hurt people who love you; when the compromises and temptations of the real adult world are around you every day?
Traces of this upbringing will forever linger, but what has changed for me is the understanding that it’s ultimately not about me and my weaknesses or strengths, but about the strength of Christ and His victory over death. I can be as weak or as strong as I want, but the triumph over death isn’t contingent on what I do because it already happened on the Cross.
Going to church, even a beautiful and thriving church like St. Margaret’s, is not always easy. Like C.S. Lewis said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.” Indeed, I’m usually hungover Sunday mornings. The sermons are sometimes long and boring. People often make tedious announcements from the lectern at the end of the service. Some parents let their babies cry and their toddlers run around in the back. But, the people here sing the ancient hymns like they mean every word. They especially do at this time of year.
“Let His church with gladness
Hymns of triumph sing
For her Lord now liveth;
Death hath lost its sting.”
There’s a value in just showing up and physically doing something; in performing a task or repeating an action even when you’re not emotionally feeling it. This might seem hollow and hypocritical, but if it was up to feelings at any particular moment, day, or year, I would hardly ever show up to this or any other place. And so I kneel, stand, sing, sit down, and walk up to the Alter and kneel again, taking the bread and wine and signing myself with the cross.
Sometimes on Sunday mornings the words just fall out. Sometimes out of nowhere, a few of them will jump up and hit me in the face.
“Fill us with the courage and love of Jesus.”
I don’t often have much of either, and that’s why I keep coming here.
Robert Galston likes to write about Winnipeg, urbanism, and other very, very exciting topics. Follow him on Twitter @riseandsprawl
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