J23 Building Meetings

Wow…  As if I didn’t have enough to write about already, I can count on good ol’ John XXIII to give me more inspiration to process my thoughts over my blog.


In an effort reconcile and move forward, I have begun attending student activities at J23 again.  Since my resignation from Spirit Fire last December, I only went to a handful of TNT’s (Tuesday Night’s Together – our weekly event) and basically disconnected any involvement with the student group.  I was still active within John XXIII – (by playing in choir at Saturday night Mass, being the chairperson of Pastoral Council, and serving on UMAC), and I have been active in Campus Ministry (through my involvement in NCSC), but this has been my first attempt to get involved in Campus/University Ministry at John XXIII.


I went to TNT for the first time last week, and tonight was my second time. I also went to an event called “Reel Justice” which examines Social Justice issues through film.  TNT is…  well it’s not your father’s TNT – definitely different, but I’ve been sticking with it. The potential exists and I’m anxious to see where things go.


Then there was tonight, which got pretty interesting to say the least.  A discussion that was a long time coming finally came full circle, and it was brought out in tonight’s TNT.  With of the commotion surrounding our church’s building campaign and identifying the student needs.  This was related to my posting a few weeks ago about the UMAC emails that were floating around in regards to the "student representative" and the survey that he alleged to have taken. 


Originally I had no intention of speaking.  The group has gone through a lot of turnover (even more-so over the last year) and I can count on less than my two hands how many people there actually know me.  This was my second time this year and I didn’t want people to ask "Who does this guy think he is?".  Also I don’t want people to think I have an agenda.  At the same time, when people starting making statements that were inaccurate I couldn’t help but jump in.  I ended up speaking a lot, which I’m not sure was well-received.


The building committee presented what they were planning to do in Phase I (expansion of our lounge, entry area & bathroom renovation), then briefly talked about their following phases in the 5 phase project.  This building renovation has been a long time coming, and it’s still going to take at least 10-15 years (if ever) to happen.  I appreciated the plans that were presented, they were well-planned with the intention of still allowing the church to be fully functional throughout the construction process, to continually demonstrate that progress is being made, and to not disturb the worship space until the final phase (with the construction of a new worship space from the ground up, then converting the current space to a Church Hall).


What made it hilarious is at this point everyone wanted to talk about was concerns with us not touching the worship space in the first phase, then offering feedback regarding specifics in the worship space – specifically whether or not to have kneelers.  For those who haven’t been to J23 – we don’t have kneelers.  We’ve never had them at the chuch for various reasons:

  • We don’t have much space and multifunction our worship space for many different activities (Thanksgiving & Student dinners, Dances, Extra Classroom/Meeting space, etc).  Because of our limited space we use fold-up chairs
  • Even if we had mobile kneelers we would have no where to store them because of our limited space/multi-function area issue
  • We have concrete floors and brick walls which makes our church very live – kneelers hitting the floor would be extremely loud

Throughout our church’s 36 year history we’ve stood during Mass.  The collective community has always done this (we’ve always had a few random people that are a exception during Mass), but the "to kneel/not to kneel" question has never been an issue.


Until last year when FOCUS came.  During the fall semester people primarily stood during our TNT & Sunday Mass, again with a few exceptions.  Then semester break came and 40-something people went to the FOCUS Conference in Denver.  When the Spring Semester started, all of the sudden people began kneeling during the TNT Mass.  It completely caught me off-guard when it began.  In some ways it was funny – some people knelt at the wrong times (kneeling at one point then standing after the Sign of Peace), which to me showed that people were likely doing it trying to fit in.  At this point this began dividing the community to the point that 4/5 of the students at TNT kneel, while the remaining students stand (namely those who were around prior to FOCUS’ arrival), along with virtually all of the other parishioners attending Mass – it’s almost like all of the kneelers are to the left of the alter while all the standers are on the right.


I’m not against kneeling during Mass.  I think if a church has a tradition of kneeling and has kneelers in place then they should kneel.  What I’m against is that students are defying the tradition of this specific church (and it’s 35 year history), and kneeling while it’s completely impractical (for the reasons I’ve stated above).  It’d be one thing if we were liturgically wrong, but we’re not.  Looking at the General Instructions of the Roman Missal (or GIRM), sections 42, 52 & 53 to be exact, and I paraphrase, if the environment doesn’t permit everyone to kneel, then standing is just as reverent, but the important thing is that everyone is doing the same thing in unity:

"A common posture, to be observed by all participants, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered for the Sacred Liturgy: it both expresses and fosters the intention and spiritual attitude of the participants."

During the discussion a member of the building committee asked students for the reasons in their desire to kneel.  When he posed the question there was a period of silence.  At that point I wish I had the ability to throw my voice, because I really wanted to yell, "Because our FOCUS brainwashing tells us we need to!"


Finally a student brought up the reason that he thought kneeling was more reverent and should be done.  While I cannot disagree with whether or not this individual thinks this, I can disagree with what the church teaches about his premonition, which is when I spoke up.


At this point the discussion continued and involved the various issues including many people going back and forth about whether standing was reverent, the history and circumstances of standing at our Parish, and the logistical problems preventing kneelers from being incoporated into the worship area.  I probably spoke up on 4 seperate occasions, but each time was to offer a correction based on my interpretation of the GIRM (I knew all that studying I did to train Eucharistic Ministers would come in handy), one time was to state my personal wishes for the church (regarding the "live" setting for music & proclaiming the Word), then finally to attempt to bring closure to the discussion.


What’s funny is when I say "everyone" chimed in, I actually mean primarily the FOCUS missionaries, the new University Ministry staff, 2-3 students who felt passionately about kneelers, a few building committee people (namely one other person besides the facilitator), and myself and another guy sitting at my table that were making challenging statements.  Out of the 20+ people who stuck around for the whole conversation most people were quiet and took a lot in, and I was surprised how much the FOCUS/UM staff were speaking "for the students".


One of the ending comments was one of the University Ministers suggesting we simply agree do disagree, and "pick our battles wisely".  He suggested that people should kneel if they wish to kneel and stand if they want to stand, it’s up to everyone personally.  Hindsight being 20/20, I wish I would have brushed up on my GIRM before going to this, because I could have debunked his suggestion a quote from section 42 in the GIRM: "Therefore, attention should be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice."


In the end I’m not sure if anything was resolved in our conversation.  The good that came from our 1 & 1/2 hour discussion is that this is an issue that needs to be addressed.  It obviously is an issue that has divided the community – and I’m frustrated that the Pastor has done little to address the issue.  He was present during the entire discussion, but did not offer any form of personal feedback, nor did he offer any liturgical or theological clarification.


However, this incident has again exposed issues that I have with FOCUS.  Namely that their program is driving this change, yet they can offer no concrete reasons for doing so.  Their premonitions are based on false assumptions that differ from the GIRM.  I’m sorry, but "because the Bishop wants it" is not a good enough reason to arbitrarily institute this change on an individual level.  I struggle with the fact that the main participants in the discussion/debate were either FOCUS missioners or University Ministry staff.  I felt this perception that the FOCUS students were somehow unwilling or unable to state their opinions – maybe because they haven’t pondered this issue, which leads to a bigger problem.  Are you kneeling because you truly feel this is reverent, or are you being peer-pressured by the FOCUS staff?  If these students are unable to express their beliefs now, what are they going to do when they graduate and leave FOCUS?  Is FOCUS really developing leaders for tomorrow?


Please forgive the randomness of this posting.  I have so many thoughts going through my head and the hour is getting late.