School’s OutPosted: June 10, 2009
Below is a column I wrote on summer church that appears in the current issue of The Living Church. I’m not positive but I would wager that Alice C0oper has never before been quoted in the publication’s 131 years. Enjoy (or not). But here it is:
JUNE 14, 2009 • The Living Church 23
In 1972, punk-rocker Alice Cooper released his single, “School’s Out,” with the chorus “School’s out for the summer; school’s out for ever.” And for a generation, it was the last-day anthem of school kids everywhere. I certainly remember singing it with my middle-school friends as we raced triumphantly out of our final class with pencils and notebooks flying everywhere.
And then we all looked forward to a lazy summer with, as Alice puts it in his inimitable style, “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks, out for summer, out ’til fall, we might not go back at all.” That was back when the “lazy, hazy days of summer” still meant something. Before we started over-programming our children down to the precise moment each morning when we lather them up with sunscreen.
Unfortunately, some of us keep this “school’s out” mentality toward church. The “last day” often coincides with the parish picnic or Pentecost or some other year-end event. And we live into the old adage that says “Episcopalians are the only ones God trusts enough to take the summer off.” Which is, of course, absurd; a caricature of another era. A time when everyone who was anyone was an Episcopalian. And the moneyed classes left to summer (yes, it’s a verb in this case) on the Cape or the Vineyard or Bar Harbor.
Clergy often unwittingly feed into this mindset. And it’s because we could use a break! But canceling all programs during the summer, offering flat and uninspiring liturgies, and recycled sermons sends the wrong message. It puts the church on auto pilot, which is hardly an engaging way to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ. And it merely affirms people’s decision not to attend church during the summer.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. The summer months offer a wonderful opportunity to try out new things: Introduce some supplemental liturgical texts; hold a “Mass on the Grass” in the courtyard; let licensed lay preachers have a turn in the pulpit. And at the heart of this is the unstated declaration that the incarnational presence of the divine never ceases; that Jesus is with us everywhere and at all times. The summer is a wonderful chance to model this to the world.
That’s not to say there isn’t something nice about slipping into amore relaxed way of doing church once the vaunted “program year” ends. The ceiling fans are cranked up, leading to that low-level hum that pervades the silences; perhaps only two lessons instead of three are read; there’s lemonade available at coffee hour in a big, crystal punch bowl that someone’s grandmother donated decades ago; choir members confuse us by sitting in the pews rather than in the choir loft; when the rector genuflects, you occasionally catch a glimpse of bare leg which shocks you until you realize he’s wearing shorts under all those vestments. There’s a nice, gentle rhythm to summer worship. It’s just that gentle need not translate into uninspired.
The last few summers I’ve put up a bulletin board in the parish hall and encouraged parishioners to post church bulletins from far-flung locales. The purpose is twofold: to encourage folks to go to church when they’re away and to see literally how we spent our respective summer vacations. It’s proved pretty popular as we try to outdo one another with exotic destinations. The only requirement is that you actually attend the service. Sneaking into an empty church and snagging a bulletin from the previous Sunday decidedly does not count.
Enjoy church this summer at home and wherever your travels may take you. And remember that even though school may be “out for the summer,” church is not.
Our guest columnist is the Rev. Tim Schenck, rector of All Saints’ Church, Briarcliff Manor, N. Y., and the author of What Size are God’s Shoes: Kids, Chaos & the Spiritual Life.