Wednesday, January 17, 2018

We Go to an Early Service

St James Episcopal Church, Fresno, California
Saint James Episcopal Cathedral, Fresno, California
To be honest, we went to Saint James because it was nearby, and the service started at 7:30 am. I’d worked 11:00 pm to 7:00 am the night before, so an early service meant I’d get to bed earlier -- which sounded very good. Many churches don’t offer an early service, but I didn’t feel like I could stay awake for an 11:00 am service.

There are plenty of other reasons people choose early services: those kids’ soccer leagues that play on Sundays, or Sunday work schedules (next Sunday morning, Mindy has to be at work by 10:45), not to mention (though I guess I’m about to) the NFL playoffs -- after church I heard a few guys discussing whether that afternoon’s games would make an Eagles - Patriots Super Bowl matchup. (I’m hoping for Vikings - Jaguars myself.)

The Reverend Canon Keith Brown acknowledged during the service that there was something different about the 7:30 crowd from 9 and 11 o’clockers. He mentioned that those who attend the early service tend to arrive early, while people at later services tend to come late. That was true the morning we visited; a number of people were already seated, all quiet, when we arrived around 7:25. A moment later, Keith said, “I’m sorry to interrupt you while you meditate or pray,” but he wanted to encourage worshipers to ponder the calls of Samuel and Nathanael in the morning Scripture readings. “These two important calls are your homework for the next four minutes,” he added.

Keith referred to those who come to that early service as “active contemplatives,” people who want both to be Mary and Martha, to be still and to work simultaneously. Keith said that's his own tendency as well, and that by looking at the faces in the congregation, he could tell that many could relate.

A little later, during the sermon, Keith did talk about those calls to ministry, which are found in I Samuel 3 and in John 1. He discussed the importance of listening to God’s call and also answering God’s call. He also talked about the importance of having other people in our lives who help us discern God’s call.

We noticed another distinctive in the earliest service of the morning (called the Contemplative Eucharist): it had no accompanist. Later services include hymns and songs, but this one doesn’t. Even so, the service isn’t without music. As it says in the liturgy, “A proper preface (to the Eucharist) is sung or said on all Sundays.” When Keith leads the service, it is sung, because he loves music.

After the service, I asked Keith how the other morning services differ from that first service. He said that people in later services tended to be more involved in social activism, and that the later services have a younger crowd.Most at the service we attended were roughly our age(that would be “not young”) or older. No children were in attendance at the 7:30 service, but we saw several arriving for the 9:00 worship.

We mentioned our project of visiting churches and bars, and he kindly said he hoped we’d be back at Saint James more than once a year. He also sent a very nice email the next day, which
is the kind of personal follow up we’ve really come to appreciate.

The saying is the early bird catches the worm. Frankly, I haven’t gone fishing for a very long time, so my interest in worms is minimal, but being early has other benefits, such as an encouraging time of worship at churches like Saint James.