I was raised an Episcopalian. In the South, in the 50’s, the Episcopalians were the movers and shakers and the intellectual elite. The Methodists had overcome their Holy-Roller past and had become solidly middle class. The personal magnetism and powerful oratory of Peter Marshall had put the Presbyterians on the map in the South. The Baptists were mostly lower class, but were moving up fast. The rest belonged to this, that or the other smaller protestant groups that I couldn’t tell apart. Back then, them that didn’t believe slept late, but didn’t mention it otherwise. Roman Catholics and Jews kept a very low profile. The Klan was still around.
In the Episcopal Church, the Book of Common Prayer of 1928 was used. The services were calm, dignified, rational and comfortable rituals. The sermons were somewhat warm, fuzzy and gentle exhortations to live the Christian Life. Usually not spelled out in detail. Sermons were also mercifully short.
I never really understood some of the thinking of the protestants. I used to go to church with my best friend, whose family belonged to one of those “sola scriptura” fundamentalist sects. I spent most of the service wondering what on earth the preacher was doing, other than trying to get more money in the plate. This was perhaps not entirely fair, but I didn’t have any background that would enable much deeper understanding.
They had the choir singing, usually pretty decent stuff. I rather like some of the more spirited protestant hymns to this day. And I really do like gospel music – both black and white – but that’s another story.
After the choir, they had this, that and the other prayers and announcements, but the main course was absolutely the sermon. Now, this preacher would really get all kinds of wound up. He would whoop and holler and jump up and down and grab the pulpit and duck down beside it and then jump up and pound on the bible. And sometimes I could follow him. Usually it seemed he was yapping about what would send you to everlasting hellfire. I seem to remember him as being somewhat fond of describing the torments. But – to be fair – this is 50 years later and is a bit fuzzy here and there. When he got exhausted/wound down – seemed to take about the same time every Sunday – then the choir would sing to the chink of money hitting the plate – mostly he liked the “quiet” money. Then another prayer and the choir would sing it closed.
One thing that I am quite sure of is that he would race around to the front doors at the end of the service so he could shake everyone’s hand as they left. I became convinced that this was a necessary part of the ritual. I clearly remember that at least every other person would shake the preacher’s hand enthusiastically and declaim “That was a real sincere sermon, preacher. Real sincere!” That to me has always been the most puzzling feature of all. Why is sincere so great?
Adolf was quite sincere in his hatred of the Jews. The Klan is sincere in its hatred of blacks. Farrakhan is sincere in his hatred of whites. Osama sincerely hates America. Satan is extremely sincere in his hatred of humanity.
Hatred is one the most honest and sincere of all human emotions. It is not, however, a Christian virtue. When we are infected we must pray and fast and strive to eliminate it from our souls, no matter how sincerely we hate.
So, why is sincere a Christian complement? Huh?