Earlier this week, a friend and I were discussing amusing laws and restrictions. He had shared a joke about someone interrupting a church service; I off-handedly mentioned that it was actually illegal.
(#176 in the Canadian Criminal Code; Obstructing or violence to or arrest of officiating clergyman [sic])
This led the conversation in the direction of weird laws and rules… for example, it’s illegal to waterski between dusk and dawn. (#250) There was a web search for weird laws. There was much laughter. And there was much contemplation about what had happened to inspire such regulations! We kept saying ‘there’s GOT to be a reason for that!’
Undoubtedly, there is.
The interupting of clergy in religious service sits under the heading of Disorderly Conduct: here in Canada we have a legal expectation to be free to worship without having our clergy detained (I suppose that after worship, if needs be). The waterski example clearly is a call for safety. So there is a reason.
The reasons can be found with a litte thinking, a little consideration, and sometimes a little research. Local laws and customs are the same – designated swimming or toboganning restrictions seem odd, but aim for safety. Provincial laws forbidding the sale of butter-coloured margarine were instituted to protect the dairy industry.
In the church, too, we have a number of traditions, canons, practices, that may seem confusing. Yet, they all have a reason, they all serve a purpose, they all have a history.
Part of the church’s reality, I suspect, is that for many people these reasons are unknown. As a society, this so-called ‘post-Christian’ society, we have lost much of the collective knowledge of Christian traditions. So some of our ways can seem as foreign/incomprehensible/silly/&c. as civil laws (no cows in the house in St. John’s? No dead horse dragging on Toronto’s Yonge St on Sundays? What?!)
Part of our opportunity, as church, is helping people to understand why we are doing what we do. Our liturgical colours don’t just change when we feel like it; our Eucharistic wine isn’t watered down because we’re cheap; the Bishop’s mitre is not just a pointed fashion statement. I could go on! And I suspect we all could – there are traditions we all share, there are unique traditions for each community and congregation. They are part of who we are, they are part of how we worship, and they are important.
And there’s a reason for them. So maybe we need to remind ourselves of what those reasons are, and share that – with regulars, and with newcomers. This learning could provide the opportunity to enrich our experience with God and with one another. It could help us to appreciate even more the rich history of our faith, the beautiful traditions of our worship, the engaging means of putting our belief into our lives.
They are our ways; they are good and holy and have stood the test of time. They may seem weird at first, but there’s a reason for them.
That reason can only help us to better embrace the experience, to enjoy the benefits of communal worship and feel more engaged into loving service. The more we know, the more we can love.