The Book of Romans
I remember my Dad saying that reading the book of Romans had changed his life. Dad had to leave High School and go work with the Civilian Conservation Corp where the money they earned was sent back to help their families. Dad had to work his whole life on a landscaping nursery. I guess he felt he didn’t deserve or get any respect because of his job, even at church. But then Dad read the book of Romans which said in part:
Gifts of Grace
Rom 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
Rom 12:4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:
Rom 12:5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
Rom 12:6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;
Rom 12:7 Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;
Rom 12:8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.
I think it was this part of Romans that helped Dad to understand that even if he wasn’t a businessman or lawyer etc, that he could still help his community and church with the skills he had. Dad took care of the church grounds; mowing the grass tending the gardens and planting new flowers and plants. He also became an Elder in the church and was a member of the men’s group which helped to take care of the church. He became so good at prayer that he became the Chaplain of the mens group and whenever a prayer was needed Dad was called upon. Dad loved his church and was very proud of it.
I wish I could become the man my father was. I will not attain that but I will keep trying.
This is a lot of miscellaneous memories of church and miscellaneous thoughts on the differences between church as I remember it and todays church.
First some memories of the church I grew up in (St John Presbyterian in Tampa FL). One of those memories was one day after church a group of the men were standing outside talking and Manual Beiro said to my dad “Henry you’re a cracker and I’m a Cuban and we are going to be friends; and they were. Also friends in their little mens group was Mike Casenueva.
One week mom and dad met a couple men (they may have been father and son) who were visiting our church and they were from out of town. These men were invited over to our house for a nice Sunday meal and conversation. At this point I don’t remember a lot about these fellas but I do know that their lives were enriched by attending the little church in Tampa – St John Presbyterian. In todays world most of us (yes I include myself) would not invite strangers like these over to their house. Too bad.
Once in a while the Pastor Dr Walter B. Passiglia would stop by for a chat. Pastors today do not do that anymore. You are lucky if they say good morning to you on Sunday.
There was also a choir and an organ to lead us in song and we all knew those songs and we could participate in the service by singing. Today instead of an organ or choir there is what they call the “Worship Team” and it may consist of 4 guitars, a drum set and an electric organ (which doesn’t sound anything like those marvelous old organs we used to have. Plus they sing modern songs which none of us recognize or can sing along with. If I wanted a modern entertainment venue I would just tune into HBO or such. But alas I have tried a number of churches and it is always the same -modern service & new music.
In the old services I grew up with the alter had a podium and that is where the preacher stood to give his prayers and sermons; nice and formal. In todays services there is no podium; the preacher wears a wireless microphone and wanders around looking very casual. Plus for us members things are pretty casual also as we no longer put on aour Sunday finest, people are likely to come to church dressed in Jeans and sweat shirts.
Up in my dresser I have a pocket New Testiment that was given me by one of my mom’s relatives (a Baptist Minister) when I was preparing to go overseas in the Air Force. I am not claiming to have always read it but I did keep in with me through the years everywhere I went (Thailand, Guam, Plattsburgh New York, Florida). That small gesture helped me to keep Jesus and church in my mind slowly taking root and growing. It is too bad people today don’t reach out to people to plant that seed; todays world would be a much nicer place if they did.
I’ll end this with a picture of St John Presbyterian in Tampa FL.
This is the church I grew up in many, many, many, many (is that enough?) years ago.
A small church but with a congregation that worked tirelessly to serve the community. Besides the church building on their property they have a Walk In Clinic for those that can’t afford health care, a group home for developmentally disabled adults and a learning center.
Anyone looking for a church home would do well to give St John a try and if I were to still live in Tampa it would still be my choice. With that said the folks who were the backbone of the church (Mike and Olga Casanueva, Manual and Hortense Beito, and my mom and dad Charlotte and Henry Knight); of course there are others but right now these come to mind first.
Here is a link to their new website, please give it a browse and consider them for your new church home.
Yes, I am going to start whining again. I do miss the old hymns and wish they would sing them once in a while. I am getting somewhat used to the new music and the guitars and things but I look around sometimes and none of the congregation is singing along with the new music; I always thought that the hymns were interactive and it was good that the congregation sang along with the music; I sing along with the words on the screen but it just isn’t the same.
I liked the old churches like the one I grew up in that had a pulpit that the minister stood at while giving the sermon. In todays church the minister just wanders around with the wireless mic they use. Yep, the wireless mic actually is good as everyone can hear better no matter how close they sit.
The minister used to wear a robe or a collar or something so everyone would know he was the minister and being neat and formal is kind of nice.
With all of that said here is a short video I just found that I think all of us old whiners should watch or listen to:
From the blog I read called “Beauty Beyond Bones”. I don’t know the writers full name but let me tell you she has the best and most interesting blog posts. A young lady who has deeper and more interesting thoughts than I have even on a good day. Without further ado I am going to copy it and past it in here because I think it is a subject that the world needs to think more about.
Is Christianity Dead?
Well folks, another Christmas is in the books!
Christmas 2K16 is officially behind us. The eggnog has been consumed. Gifts gifted. Food coma endured. And for those brave souls who took on a real tree this year, its pine needles are officially all over the floor and will be mysteriously appearing in random crevices for the next 4 months.
Ever since I was of “appropriate age,” my family has always gone to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It is one of my favorite memories and traditions. The caroling at 11pm. The candles. The trumpets. For the past, say, 15+ years, we have been going, and every year, we’d always get there right at 11:00, throwing elbows, and staking out our pew, as it is always standing room only. And don’t even bother coming at 11:15…because there will be no parking and you’re guaranteed to be standing – two deep – in the back.
But over the past couple years, I’ve noticed that each Christmas, we don’t have to arrive quite as early. And the full-court-press/box-out/battle-to-the-death to get and save a pew has ever so gradually deescalated.
Until this year.
When the church was half empty.
For Midnight Mass. Christmas Eve.
There wasn’t a snow storm. The zombie apocalypse hasn’t happened….unless of course, I am terribly mistaken about that one..
And I couldn’t help but ask myself, as I looked around and saw several dozen teenage boys counting the ceiling tiles, looking as though they wanted to die…is our faith on life support?
Are we experiencing the decline of faith and church as we know it?
Is Christianity dead?
And that friends, is not the type of thought pattern you want to be mulling over while in church, literally celebrating the birth of Christ.
As with everything in life, looking in the mirror is a hard thing to do. Facing the truth, acknowledging and accepting it…is an exercise in extreme humility, to say the least.
But let’s call it how it is…we are experiencing a decline in Christianity. Look it up. Pew studies. People identifying as Christian. Church attendance. Prayer. Christians actively living their faith are going down. Especially in Gen X’ers and Millennials.
And that. Is scary.
Leafing through the church bulletin after mass, I was almost in a fog. Nevermind the fact that it was nearing 2am and I had just come off a 7am flight from NYC the day before…but my mind was just swirling after witnessing the stagnant, lifeless state of my once vibrant and spiritually ablaze childhood parish. So I was numbly flipping through the pages.
And there was something that caught my eye.
There was, of course, a big “welcome” section in the front. Offering Christmas greetings to parishioners, out-of-towners, guests, non-Christians joining us, etc. All nice. Great.
And then there was the line, “We are your church family and are here for you!”
And I hate to admit this, but I’ve got to be honest….that really rubbed me the wrong way. It felt painfully disingenuous.
There’s a stereotype about “church people.” And I for one, hate even giving the time of day to negative stereotypes about people. Because they’re always hurtful and typically untrue.
But desperate times…
There is a decline in our faith, and it’s time to not mince words and take a cold, hard look in the mirror. Because like it or not, we are the face of the church.
But the stereotype is that “church people” are incredibly “judgey” people. That they prance around all hoity-toity and look down on “non-church people” and scoff at their “heathen ways.”
How are we going to fix that?
Because I can attest to the fact that that stereotype is, for the most part, false.
But the commonly accepted (albeit misconceived) notion is that church is a boring, out-of-touch institution that is full of either judgy snobs, dowdy/orthopedic-shoe-wearing shut-ins, or “Jesus-freaks.”
And people don’t want anything to do with that.
So they just don’t come.
And I want to pause here for a second. I know this is only one factor. There are a lot of other issues – people having different priorities, having other interests, adopting “spirituality” while leaving behind “religion.” Not to mention the church’s often unpopular stances on hot button social issues, such as abortion and the sanctity of marriage, etc. This stereotype is only one contributing factor.
But you and I…we have a personal responsibility.
We have a job to do: and that is to change that stereotype. Turn people’s minds around. Change their hearts to be open to Christ and open to faith.
Is Christianity dead?
Only if we let it.
You can’t give away what you don’t personally have.
And if I want to share Christ’s love and have it be attractive and inviting to another person, I need to have it in my heart myself. I need to have His love be overflowing in my own life, so as to attract another person to Him. And attract them back to church.
The pathetic church attendance on Christmas Eve…I partially blame myself. Because I ask myself…how am I personally fighting to set the record straight on how a “church person” looks and acts.
Because I’m going to be honest…(and I hate to admit it)…but I don’t really wear my faith outspokenly on my sleeve, for fear of being labeled a “church person.”
And I am filled with such shame typing that out, but it’s true. I don’t want to be labeled as “weird” or “out of touch” … so I keep my faith private. Let that be a personal part of my life that is between me and God.
But I realize now, that I am part of the problem.
My faith can’t be hidden. I can’t just be a silent by-stander as my church is red lining, in desperate need of rebranding and resuscitation.
I’m going to go out on a limb. For God. Invite someone to church with me.
Because at the end of the day, if Jesus can stretch out His arms and die on a limb for me, I can go out on one, for Him.
Tomorrow is Christmas and I am wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a great new year. And by the way please do attend the church of your choice and thank God for everything we have and the beautiful world he has given to us.