Reverend Heretic

As my regular reader(s) know(s), although I don't believe in God or the Bible (I believe in the Bible in that I know it exists, I don't believe that it is literally true), I do go to church every Sunday. That is because I am a singer, and I get paid to lead the alto section of a church choir.

The church is one of those urban churches that is in danger of becoming obsolete - at one time, the neighborhood was upscale, and the wealthy white Protestants who lived nearby attended either this Congregational church or the older Congregational church down the block. But as the city changed, the white protestants moved out to the suburbs, and the number of people sitting in the pews on Sunday began to decrease.

Most of the big churches in Hartford have paid section leaders, and church members make up the rest of the choir. My church is different, primarily because of the choir conducter. She is a great conducter, and she picks great music, but her challenging and perfectionist personality has driven all but the musically trained members from the choir. So our entire soprano section (except for 1) is paid. I'm the only paid alto, our entire tenor section is paid, and we only have 1 paid bass. We are a choir of mostly non-believers, just there to earn a buck.

On Sunday mornings, we get there early, warm up, practice the hymns, and any anthems/offertorys we have for the day. When the service starts, some of the ringers pull out books or knitting (we sit in the back of the church in the loft, so we're not visible to anyone when we're sitting down). I occasionally write - Sio (who sings with us in the alto section) often does her homework. Until it's time to sing, we keep ourselves occupied.

But yesterday, I found myself listening to the words of the sermon. The current minister is officially retired, but he is acting as the Interim Minister until a permanent one can be found. (There were controversies surrounding the previous 3 ministers, but I keep my nose out of church business, so I can't fill you in on what the controversies were). He's a lovely man, very funny with the children (Monkey adores him), with a truly inspiring past (he worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., and was very involved with the Civil Rights movement).

I don't know if the Rev. knew about Huckster Sunday or not, but his sermon suggested he was well aware. He talked about how, since he retired, he's attended services at hundreds of churches, temples, and mosques. And he talked about the mega-churches - he said he was so impressed by the numbers of people in the seats, the multi-media presentations, the powerfully delivered sermons. But he started to notice the empty messages that were presented therein. He met preachers who bragged about preaching the Whole Bible as the literal word of God, but most of the sermons pulled one or two specific verses out and talked about nothing else, while ignoring the verses that the people in the pews (and indeed, the preachers themselves) were violating (including one about how women should not wear gold or pearls). He bemoaned the way these churches served fear as a main dish, while ignoring the message of love that Christ delivered.

After the service, I had to tell him how much I enjoyed his sermon. I told him how I felt Christianity has been hijacked by people who are using it for political gains. He told me that he writes a column in addition to his sermons, and he often dances around this issue, but he is wary of pressing it too hard, of using bold language, because he thinks it would make his flock a little defensive. And then he leaned close, and made a confession: "I'm a heretic, and I'm glad to know, after talking to you, that I'm not the only one."

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