Lately, I’ve noticed a dangerous trend growing among Coptic Orthodox faithful: we treat Church services and events as though they are products that we consume, i.e., things that we are free to accept, reject, or even modify.
For example, let’s say a parish has a weekly meeting for parents of young children. The idea is that, every week, these parents will come to the Church and hear the Voice of God in this service. What oftentimes happens, however, is that parents will wonder, “What is the topic going to be today? Who will be the speaker?” Based on these answers, they will decide whether to attend the meeting (i.e., consume the product) or not.
This mentality should hardly be surprising to us living in the 21st century, because we’re used to making such decisions in almost every aspect of our lives. When we turn on the television, we are met with a Program Guide to help inform our decision as to what we would like to watch. When we go to a restaurant, we are presented with a menu full of endless possibilities and customizations to suit our preferences. Even casual chains like Chipotle operate within the model of consumer choice so that no two burritos will turn out the same.
The problem with this mentality within the Church is that it is not faithful. Indeed, one might even say it rejects the work of the Holy Spirit. Are Church services, events, meetings, and retreats consumables? Do they need to be marketed like products? Many people might agree, because we live in such an age, but I would like to take a step back and ask the question, “Is this right?”
Why do we go to Church? Is it to continue our consumer lifestyles, or is it to meet the Living God and hear His Voice? If the answer is the latter, then how can we reconcile this consumer mentality with Church services? Is God not able to speak to us in that meeting run by our least favorite priest? Is God not able to fill us with His wisdom in that lecture on a topic we care little about? Moreover, what if God wants us to carry this Cross of not having our perfect atmosphere in the Church so that we might learn humility and obedience?
The problem with questions like, “What’s the topic? Who’s the priest? Who’s gonna be there?” is that they potentially close our hearts to the Living God Who is able to reach out to us in ways we would have never imagined.
We are in desperate need, dear brethren, of leaving that consumer mentality at the doorstep of the Church and entering in all humility, saying with Abba Isaac the Syrian,
Grant me to know You and to love You, Lord, not with knowledge that comes from the exercise of study accompanied by dispersion of mind; but make me worthy of that knowledge in which the mind beholding You glorifies Your nature in the contemplation which steals from the mind awareness of the world.
So, what’s the topic? Who’s the priest? Who’s gonna be there? In the end, who cares? God is there, and hopefully, so are you.