Monday, August 13, 2007


Church doesn't get much better than last night at Ocean Grove. It's good to go down to Jerusalem-by-the-Sea at least once a season to visit that Hagia Sophia of camp meetings, that Cane Ridge colossus, The Great Auditorium. Careful calculation however is necessary; as it's quite depressing to find that venerable holiness pulpit selling out to stale Seminary trends. Almost as depressing is seeing it host a Willow Creek simulcast to provide - gulp - long-term future direction. Not that there's anything wrong with what God is doing in suburban Chicago; but there does seem to be something wrong, perhaps very wrong, with thinking God must be up to the same thing everywhere else. For more on the heritage that Willow Creek will never have, consult this decent book.

But last night we hit it right. I knew so when the speaker opened her message with a story of a recent research stint at Harvard, not to show off that she'd been to Harvard, but to show that Christians have what Harvard, in this case, does not. Pippert related her psychotherapist professor describing the "psychodynamics" approach which was able to accurately diagnose that the source of a patient's problems. In the case under discussion, the patient hated his mother. Pippert raised her hand and asked what might we then do to help the patient forgive and love his mother. The professor said that was too much to ask, as diagnosing the problem alone is already much to ask. "If you want changed hearts, you're in the wrong department." Following Pippert's anecdote, she delivered a beautiful and intelligent message on Christ's encounter with his disciples in the resurrection, which did in fact change hearts. How encouraging (and rare) to find a Christian not whipped (read: dumbstruck, infatuated) by the Ivy League.

The service was closing communion for the 139th annual camp-meeting, and whoever is running the Great Auditorium is wise enough to lift their Eucharistic liturgy straight from the Book of Common Prayer. The Eucharistic minister who gave us the bread and (of course) grape juice, had the audacity to grab my wife and my hand after we knelt at the altar, look us dead in the eye, and vigorously charge us to rise in the name of Christ "and be well." It was a very Methodist audacity that... cut us both to the heart and ministered to us profoundly - a big risk in pastoral manner that, in this case, paid off.

Such was almost as powerful as the Eucharistic minister at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue last week. When she pointed me with a full-armed gesture towards the altar to receive communion, I felt like she was St. Peter ushering me into heaven itself. It didn't hurt that the Bertrand Goodhue's reredos at St. Tom's surpasses, according to one art historian, any Gothic sculpture in Europe, let alone the U.S.

Two Sundays, two opposite poles of the denominational spectrum: Grassroots Jersey holiness Methodism and the highest of high Manhattan Anglo-Catholicsm, merging thanks to the wisdom that gravitates towards time-tested Eucharistic liturgies. Exciting times these. Especially (perhaps only) when the aforesaid denominations can be caught offguard.