Allow me to introduce myself. I’m your friendly neighborhood pest. I live in the pipe organ—except on Sundays when this very nice lady comes and plays it. It’s much too loud and windy when she actually fires it up, so I camp out in the piano during services. Lately that hasn’t been a picnic either because Nice Lady sometimes comes and pounds on those ivories as well—usually fairly staccato-like. That’s fine unless you’re running for your life across those strings trying to avoid the flying hammers. I now know why they call the piano a beat instrument—when they start playing, a self-respecting church mouse has to beat it.
Usually I don’t mind the services. A carefully measured blend of hymns and single-serving contemporary songs are dished up so that everybody gets something of what they want and nobody gets everything they want. Sounds reasonable, but I’m not so sure it’s working. I think I can sense something beyond the four-part harmony, the friendly smiles, and the (occasional) raised-up hands. I sense a restlessness that swells and ebbs in many souls but never in sync; it’s chaotic and unpredictable.
I thought that staying together and worshiping together would unite their hearts. But now I have an uneasy suspicion that it’s not necessarily so.
We church mice pick up on stuff like that because it’s in our genes. We descend from a long line of notable organ-bellows chompers. After all, it was Great-Great-Great Granddad who brought down the pipe organ in Oberndorf, Austria, on Christmas Day in a.d. 1818. That forced Herr Gruber to use a guitar to play the new Christmas song he’d composed together with Herr Mohr. The rest is history. The congregation loved that unplugged performance so much that the song shot up on the charts like a bullet. The title? “Silent Night, Holy Night.” No lie.
Anyway, not to brag, but I have mousy relatives in churches all across this continent. We compare notes on stuff like this once in awhile. We’re very well-connected, us church mice. There’s one of us on almost every church office desk. When the pointer on the big blue screen hovers over something like “AOL” or “Compuserve,” and my cousins get a sharp poke in the left eye, they activate something called a dial-up modem. We church mice don’t like that part much so we voice our displeasure with a noise like “ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-chchchchchch, hooty-hooty-hooty, grrrrrr, beep-beep—YOU HAVE MAIL!” Church mice stay in touch.
I was telling you about my kinfolk. I have an uncle who lives in a fine half-century old church. He tells me his Sunday mornings are double trouble because they have two separate services—the one a bit different from the other. One sports more wrinkles, the other more sweaters. Both services rock. They put out more pure sparkle than the time Uncle bit through the cord of the overhead projector, leaving everybody in the dark.
But my uncle thinks the discontent that birthed separate services more than a decade ago is still there all the same. He thinks that’s strange because both services are built from the same recipe. One has a dollop more of this. The other a pinch more of that. But people still frown when they mention those people in that service. My uncle expected that separate services would give people sufficient freedom to unite their hearts for the rest of the week. Now he thinks he may have been wrong about that. Then there’s Aunt Bee. She tells me she didn’t sleep much last week. Seems her church was invaded by a bunch of men and a few women who talked a lot, argued some, and consumed tons of roast-beef sandwiches and gallons of coffee thick as diesel oil at forty below. It was some kind of regional church meeting. These folks had accepted the kind invitation of this congregation to meet there so they could come to their anniversary service celebrating a half-century of serving and worshiping God together.
So here’s the irony that blew my aunt’s furry socks right off. In the evening everybody got together and had a wonderful worship service of thanks to God for this church’s fifty years of being one congregation. Everybody participated. But that very afternoon that congregation had asked the regional church meeting for permission to split right in two. Why? It wasn’t doctrinal differences. It wasn’t a conservative/liberal thing. The reason for the bust-up was worship. Along with changing worship styles, discontent had risen to the point that it blew the dike. Both groups still love each other. They hope that cutting each other loose will allow each group to find the peace they crave so they can get on with being church.
My aunt figures that’s not likely. Few divorces result in a clean break.
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