Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Zombie Threat

I have taken to reading Vestry minutes from St. Paul’s. Minutes for the past few meetings are posted on the bulletin board outside the church office, which assures that few parishioners will ever read them.

One item from the June minutes caught my eye. Under the label “Other Reminders” in the Senior Warden’s Report, we find this:
  1. We need owners for the Vestry Retreat Action Items
    1. Consider modifying our current services to incorporate some of the elements of Refuge.
Regular readers know that I was never a fan of Refuge, and I’ve written numerous posts about the service. (See, for example, my essays on the first and last Refuge services.) In reviewing my many comments about Refuge, I was struck by the fact that, over two years, Refuge never really got better and never developed a substantial constituency. It certainly never became the region-wide destination of which its backers dreamed.

In 2012, in my post on the last Refuge service, I wrote, with a certain sense of relief,
I attended the final Refuge service on November 18. (Officially, Refuge services are suspended, but I don’t expect them ever to resume at St. Paul’s.)
Well, the failed (and ill-considered) experiment that was Refuge is not resuming. However, the senior warden’s report for June suggests that there is a threat that, zombie-like, Refuge (or “elements” of it) may return to infect other St. Paul’s services.

What is this all about, and who is its champion?  Why is the issue being raised now? Which of our “current services” is vulnerable to the Refuge zombie?

The rector is responsible for Vestry retreats, and the senior warden is his right-hand man. Moreover, Lou was champion of Refuge and is responsible for the liturgical abomination that is the 8:45 service, so it is a fair guess that Lou is animating the zombie.

Because the venue for the service changes and because its two venues are very different, I suspect that the Saturday service is safe. The 8 o’clock service is a bare-bones, time-limited affair with a congregation not looking for innovation. Surely it is immune to the depredations of the zombie. That leaves the two principal Sunday services as zombie targets.

The 8:45 service already resembles Refuge in some respects, such as in its use of a full service booklet and its commitment to non-traditional music. This service, too, is under severe time constraints, so that, other than adding decoration and turning down the lights to make it harder to see, it is unclear what Refuge elements could be added. (On the other hand, could the service really be made worse?)

That leaves the 10:45 service naked of zombie immunity. As the final Sunday service, it could run longer without serious difficulty, and it is the service least changed by the arrival of Lou at St. Paul’s. (Lou has altered the time of the service, eliminated lighting changes, introduced unnecessary stage directions, and varied the presentation hymn, but the service remains a prototypically Episcopalian.) What elements of Refuge could be incorporated into it? We could, I suppose, print the full service in the bulletin, thereby assuring that hardly anyone at St. Paul’s uses or learns the prayer book. We could change the music. (This is the scariest prospect.) Given the number of worshipers, I think it unlikely that we could change our method of distributing communion elements or encourage people to wander around trying to make sense of inscrutable displays of unlikely objects. Might we place candles everywhere? Is anyone thinking of projecting images during the service? Heaven forbid!

I don’t really know what might be proposed at the Vestry retreat, but I hope that the Refuge zombie can be put out of its misery. The best advice I can give Vestry members to dispatch the zombie comes from Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide: “The brain must be obliterated, by any means possible.” Good luck with that.

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