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On Priesting: I’m alone a lot. And that’s ok.

When I started this up I wanted to do the Church equivalent of a Gear review site. But then I realized that would involve my own money, which there is very little of. I still intend to talk about Church Supplies, but It’ll have to wait until I’m a not-quite-so-broke churchman.

What I can do frequently and for free is talk about what I do. And it’s become very obvious that this needs to happen. The Priesthood needs more priests talking about what we do, and I don’t mean simply complaining that we’re overworked (We are), or that we’re underpaid (That too), or endlessly feeding the cycle of “Why the Church is/is not dying” click-bait. (Please, stop it.)

We need more of us talking about being Priests. Loving it. Living it.

So here goes:

I’ve become convinced that a big part of why I got into this is because I love being in churches by myself. Which is helpful, because 90% of the time I’m at my parish I’m by myself. I serve a parish that, like most other parishes in the country, is horribly underutilized during the week. We need to fix that, but until we get serious about treating Churches like public spaces, they’ll continue to stay mostly empty during the week, and Priests will continue to hang out in empty churches.

For the moment, I’m ok with that. Not only because I’m an unrepentant introvert, but because there’s never a time where I’m able to see a church as truly empty. They’re always a part of that great choir. Always home to the tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is resting, candle swinging overhead. Letting you know that the light is still on. Christ is still with us.

It’s a privilege to get to stand in the middle of that. To be the one who keeps the candle lit and the Sacrament stocked. There’s a pocket of holy silence, of eternal vigil, and I get to tend to it.

Some Priests loathe having to stay on top of building maintenance and upkeep. I’m not one of them. If we take sacramentality seriously, if we take bread and wine seriously, then we can take brick and fiberglass, copper and wood just as seriously. The Benedictines are pretty clear that it was ora et labora, not ora vel. Part of being catholic is to deny any Manichean dualism that says otherwise. Material matters. Buildings matter. Bodies matter.

And I can say that by standing by myself in a building that, at that moment, is performing no other function than to be a roof over an altar and a tabernacle.

Sometimes I joke about having a key-ring like a custodian. Heavy and with a jingle you can hear from a mile away. But its an essential part of what we do. There are the I DID NOT GO TO SEMINARY FOR THIS moments, (They mostly involve poop.) but they’re few and far between. And this is, in fact, what I went to seminary for.

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One thought on “On Priesting: I’m alone a lot. And that’s ok.

  1. I do like an empty church as well. Even (perhaps especially) in its empty state, there is something moving about being in a space set apart for a single purpose: worship.

    Which is why I’m confused when our solution to an underutilized church is to think that we should use it for more meetings, fairs, hootenannies, whatever. A church with a meeting going on it in is still underutilized. The only purpose that can truly utilize a building set apart for the worship of Almighty God is that: worship. Prayer. Praise. Proclamation. Sacrament.

    It’s the same as with our dining rooms, when we pass by and say “we really don’t use this room enough.” The sentiment is not let’s put a television in here, but let’s have a meal in here, as is intended by the table and chairs. And as with our dining rooms, an underutilized church is a subtle rebuke to our priorities, to an impoverished Christian discipleship that devotes only an hour of its week to adoration, that cares nothing for the spiritual discipline of the daily office, of (for some of us) daily mass, of a more regular corporate devotion.

    Even still. Nothing wrong with an empty church. There are two Episcopal churches in the town I grew up in. Both are unlocked all day, ever day. They stand ready at all times to shelter the seeker, who may wander inside and fall to his knees, unable to articulate an inchoate hope that the God of the universe is indeed as almighty and merciful as the church believes. Those churches are the embodiment of our witness, and they stand sentinel when we are absent and articulate the faith of the generations when our evangelism is weak.

    The shame is not when a church is empty; the shame is when it is locked.

    Like

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