A May 1 Metro article incorrectly said that worshipers at Iglesia Santa Maria, an Episcopal congregation in Falls Church, sing Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" in Spanish before taking Communion. Congregants sing "Padre Nuestro, Tu Que Estas," lyrics based on the Lord's Prayer, to the tune of the Simon and Garfunkel song, whose title is titled "The Sound of Silence."
Old-Time Religion For Mainline Churches
Sunday, May 1, 2005
On Faith appears the first Sunday of each month.
Mainline Protestants sometimes refer to themselves as the "frozen chosen," a reference to the reasoned, non-emotional approach to religion followed by many Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and other non-evangelical Christians.
But what's happening in some mainline churches today is anything but cool spiritual detachment. In its place is a heavily devotional, even mystical approach to spirituality that often calls on ancient Christian practices.
At St. George's Episcopal Church in Arlington, 30 parishioners have formed an "urban abbey," a kind of monastery without walls. Participants promise to follow a "rule of life" that includes daily prayer and Scripture reading, community service at least once a month and the pursuit of a new form of spiritual development each year.
At Calvin Presbyterian Church in Zelienople, Pa., a needleworking group meets regularly to knit prayer shawls for members who are ill, bereaved or otherwise in need of prayer. When people are given a shawl, "it's like wrapping them up in prayer," said the ministry coordinator, something they wouldn't experience if they were simply told that the congregation was praying for them.
And at Iglesia Santa Maria in Falls Church, the first free-standing Latino church in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, worshipers hold hands and sing Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" -- in Spanish -- before taking Communion. The pastor, the Rev. Jesus Reyes, and most of the congregants are former Roman Catholics who find comfort in the use of incense and other Catholic ritual elements in the service but also like the Protestant aspects, such as an open invitation to the Communion table for anyone who wants to partake.
What makes these churches distinctive from others? The greatest difference is "intentionality," a communal decision to return to traditional Christian spiritual practices or to adopt practices of other religions, said Diana Butler Bass, director of a two-year study of reemergent emotionalism in these and other mainline Protestant churches.
In the 1990s, individuals who felt spiritually bereft complemented their church experience by spending a week in silence at a monastery, taking yoga or meditation classes or looking for the latest place to walk the labyrinth. Now mainline churches are bringing those practices into congregational life, and individual spiritual seekers are realizing they are not alone, said Bass, a senior research fellow at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria and author of last year's book "The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church."
"I thought I was the only one out there until the urban abbey happened and suddenly there were 29 others saying, 'We want it, too!' " said Angela Churchill, 45, a businesswoman and former Peace Corps volunteer who helped organize St. George's urban abbey.
Raised Southern Baptist, Churchill became an Episcopalian 20 years ago but found herself disenchanted with what she perceived as too much routine and too little spiritual direction. "People get so busy doing the church they forget to be the church," she said.
At the heart of the urban abbey are monthly "listening groups," where five to six members gather to share personal concerns and sit quietly until God speaks to one of them -- much like a Quaker meeting. "These groups are very powerful, providing a bond that promotes our spiritual growth as a community," Churchill said.
Many mainliners view the religious objectivity long valued by the country's oldest Protestant denominations as a liability, noting that it is one of the reasons Americans give for leaving organized religion -- or for switching to the more highly charged, rapidly growing evangelical Protestant movement.