Sunday, March 14, 2010

Divine Affirmation, or Coincidence?

"One generation's spiritual convictions become the next generation's traditions, which can become the next generation's inconveniences."

Because I was late (as usual...but I'm rarely alone in this, and no one seems to mind) to church today (not so much because of Daylight Savings Time, as because of the amount of time and chocolate involved in the creation of this blog in the wee hours last night), I missed the beginning of the message. My friend M. shared it with me afterward, including the above quote from one of the ministers.

It seems a young woman of the church in another state was asked by a stranger why she wore the prayer covering, and she couldn't give an answer!

So today's sermon (by a highly respected visiting minister) made sure that THIS flock had good, short, scriptural summaries of some of the basic tenets of the church's doctrine. It was as if God were dictating to me an outline for this blog in the coming months, and reminding me of the real reason I'm doing it:

Because I know exactly why I wear the rainbow covering...a far broader and more complex host of reasons than "it's a conviction". Over time I will share many of those reasons.

The aspects of Old German Baptist doctrine which he highlighted included: Baptism--a kind of "burial" and resurrection. The prayer covering--to be worn all the time, based on Corinthians 11, as a sign of submission to the divine order (God--Christ--men--women--children), and because we never know when we might need to pray. No women speaking in church or at Annual Meeting (though they have a say in local church affairs, I was glad to hear). Love Feast/Communion--including preparation visits by pairs of brothers, footwashing, unleavened bread, a full reenactment of the Last Supper including a meal AND the (unleavened) bread and wine (not grape juice). Not "closeD" communion, but "close" communion, i.e. communion only with those who are truly in full fellowship.

I should explain that I've been attending the Old German Baptist church south of town for a full year now. The Old German Baptist church, proper (not the Old German Baptist New Conference, which divided from the Old last summer...but that's another story), is one of many branches on the complicated family tree of the Anabaptist denominations. The early Anabaptists split off from the Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed churches in the mid-1600s, a diffuse radical movement of courageous individuals who read the Gospels for themselves and tried to follow Christ's word faithfully, even to torture and death at the hands of the "official" Christian churches. Anabaptism evolved through the centuries by way of many schisms, resulting in what we know today as Amish, Mennonite, Church of the Brethren, Brethren in Christ, Old Order River Brethren, Hutterite, and many splinters, sects and divisions of these.

The Old German Baptists are a Plain denomination...not nearly as Plain as the Amish (George Foreman electric grills, minivans, elaborate buttons, and fancy print synthetic dress fabrics are clearly acceptable), but still distinctive. The women wear stiff gauze prayer coverings tied firmly under the chin, and caped dresses with long straight sleeves and hems well below the knees. Black bonnets and capes serve as cold weather wraps. Men wear characteristic full beards, no mustache, and hair cut straight across the back of the neck. Black vests and broadfall pants, collarless coats, and white shirts make the men's attire as somber as the women's dresses are colorful. Despite the name of the denomination, church is in English.

I made regular attendance there my personal Lenten discipline last year...sort of ironic, because Lent does not seem to be observed in the Plain churches. Even before I became a Christian, I liked Lent. Just my kind of religious holiday--an excuse to step out of the relentless march of mainstream consumerism in some manner for a few weeks.

Over the years I've found Lent to be a great way of "trying on" new habits that I think will make me a better person. It's easier to say I'm going to change for 6 weeks (and then just keep on going if I like the spiritual fruit of that change...or not) than to proclaim an open-ended change and then change back when it doesn't work out quite so well. Sometimes it takes me awhile to figure out what my discipline will be, like this year--I just figured out it's writing this blog. Last year, the trial period was a resounding success, and I try to attend as often as I can gird myself for the 30-45 minute drive.

Why this church suits me will hopefully become more clear as I blog on. It does seem like an anomaly, because of my relational and sexual history and deep roots in Women's headstrong approach to life in general.

One reason--the first reason, perhaps, and maybe the only reason I need, is that every time I go there, I feel like God has given the message to the ministers just for me. I hear exactly what I need to hear, in each moment, to reaffirm my faith in a God that perplexes me.

As in the quote at the beginning of this essay.

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