My Cup (of Joe) Runneth Over

Another podcast script found while digging through files …

So I’m filling the car with gas on my way to Vespers last Saturday when a woman approaches me saying she’s on her way to church and asks if I can spare two dollars.

I said, “Sure – what, you need some candle money?”

“Oh no, she replies, I’m gonna get a cup of coffee.”

As I give her the dough, I ask: “Your church charges for coffee?”

“You betcha! We even have buh-REE-stuhs now! It’s much better than those worldly coffee joints — what, you know, I mean, it’s like: Coffee and the Lord!”

At this point, I got a queasy feeling and stammered: “Uh, you wouldn’t happen to be Eastern Orthodox would you?”

“Oh no, silly!” She said. “I’m a Vanilla Jordan-Water, Spirit-infused, Forever-with-the-Lord Frappuccino Christian! I like ‘em with a Cherry on top! Heehee!”

With that, she thanked me – and hurried off,

Now, ahem, don’t get me wrong: I like coffee and all. But … hmmm.

Which got me thinking: Coffee AND the Lord? This gal couldn’t wait to get to her church for the coffee. And, knowing how Converts can be so very zealous for their new found Faith, I was hoping she wasn’t Orthodox.

You know what would happen, dontcha?

That’s right, someone being too cute by half would name the blends after Saints:

You’d have the St Thomas Cup … so good for ya you’d doubt it was Real.

The St Augustine Blend … it starts out a little bitter, but finishes good.

The St Nicholas Nip … guaranteed to make you love children and slap a heretic.

The St Maximos the Confessor Cup … so strong, you’ll be the last one standing.

Seven Sleepers of Ephesus … ahem, Decaf!

Sinner that I am, I’d, no doubt, stick with the ol’ standby: St Moses the Black.

But, this is just a fantasy do not try this at your church!

Which reminds me … a friend of mine once ordered a drink at a fancy restaurant, saying: “I’ll have a Bloody Mary without the Vodka please.”

The waiter said, “Oh! You want a Virgin Mary!”

“No,” he replied. “The Virgin Mary is the mother of the Creator of the Universe. I just want some spicy tomato juice minus the alcohol !”

Honestly though, in our churches, some people dread the Coffee Hour that follows Liturgy — not because we serve just plain ol’ regular and decaf, but for other reasons. Like, oh, you know: the people!

For example, a while back, I received an email for someone stating:

I find coffee hour to be the most uncomfortable part of church-going. The homily or sermon runs a close second, because you never know what will be said … Coffee hour is more like a myriad of mini-sermons and homilies going off all around you, and so often they can be far more unsettling than anything occurring at the front of the Church …

Well! At least the sermon’s not ranked first worst!

The author goes on …

Some [at coffee hour] want to talk about other religions, usually with negative anecdotes, jokes, or stereotypes. Often they’ll claim they “can”, because they used to be part of such religions, or have family members that are. Somehow it is then felt that any such behavior is justified. This is particularly poisonous in mission environments, but really anywhere, since almost anyone may have family or friends who are adherents. For these folk, though, the Faith is about being in the right group. Some want to talk about jurisdictional differences, in essentially the same way. Others prefer to frame it as Christianity vs. the world, but too often the world is fitted with unfair and unproductive stereotypes, and it becomes just another excuse for belittling “them”, whoever them happens to be.

In the immortal words of E.T. – OUCH. I mean, I often resemble this criticism. But, in my defense, never so much at Coffee Hour as in, say, Catechism Class. Forgive me; it’s a common temptation for those in ecclesiastical recovery (i.e., zealous converts).

Yet, his complaints against Coffee Hour continue …

The “political” want to talk about events in the diocese as an institution, often citing what “we” (by which they mean some informal faction or power group) want to accomplish, and frequently referencing some problem that needs to be fixed. If you didn’t know better, you might think these folks were appointing priests, the way they talk about making sure the “right” attitudes, or “right” groups are favored, and we keep the “wrong” attitudes and groups from gaining ground. The Faith, for these folks, is about the triumph of one faction over another. The collectors of pedigrees will approach you and request your bio or “conversion story”: “cradle or convert?” “how long?” “where?” “how?” “with whom?” They want to understand your “place” in terms of a grid of credentials, biographical facts, trivialities, and presumably other factors, often to determine your compatibility with themselves.

“We like to meet others in the Faith who (share a particular credential).” It really is an American, Protestant-inspired way to approach meeting people, so you can’t really question it without seeming to question innocent attempts to get to know you – i.e. hospitality itself. The fact is, however, it reflects the attitudes of a particular cultural group in a particular period of history, and makes a lot of the rest of us uncomfortable. At it’s heart, though, it is suggesting that the Faith is primarily about conversion, and the facts, attitudes, and concepts associated with it. Again, the Faith is seen as a matter of becoming a member in the right group. The cult of personality types want to talk about the priest. “Isn’t he wonderful?” Or the bishop. “Have you met him? He’s wonderful.” If the priest happens to be out of town, they make repeated and profuse apologies, as though somehow prayer was less than the fullness of prayer, because the priest was absent. You’ll often hear these folks throw around words like “authority”, “obedience”, and “submission” when they disagree with something.

The other version of these are the ones who are discussing how wonderful someone is as a means of discussing the flaws of a lot of other people. They’re setting up comparisons. The assertion is that the Faith is about being connected to the right personalities, or power structure (the word authority is often thought to mean the same thing as power, and so is used in that way.

The builders want to talk logistics: headcount, the building program, funding, construction, delivery, manpower. The result of their labours may be good, but they’re conveying an attitude: the Faith is matter of growth, numbers, and building of institutions – of getting from point A to point B. Again, they may be doing very good work, but they’re also the ones counting heads, tallying everything – they’re the most likely to interrupt your prayers to shake your hand, talking over reader, choir, or priest if necessary, believing it will make you feel welcome.

There is also the mundane approach, which can be a little more palatable. Some want to talk about the four keys: job, house, family, vehicle, and the things necessary for acquisition, upkeep, and maintenance on these. They’ll talk about the office, the new gutters and landscaping, the son’s soccer team and the last family camping vacation, and the benefits of the new dual cab truck. Nothing wrong with these things, but often the complete absence of any discussion of the day’s prayers, readings, hymns, psalms, etc., the almost glaring absence, makes this approach notable. It screams out by its omissions.

There are the quasi-scholars, also. These are trying to have a discussion about the actual goal of the Faith, union with the Creator, but it so often is lost in a discussion of this or that book or writer or, again, authority or personality. It’s not much different than when adolescents discuss the musical groups they like. This or that person gives me a particular feeling when reading it; I heard that author has “problems” or is influenced by this “school” of doctrine. This is easily related to the discussion of issues. Should we or should we not engage in ___ controversial practice. Did you hear so and so speak; he said ___; do you think that’s true? And often these pet theories attributed to various persons become a platform for one’s own pet theories: “Personally, I don’t fast, because I don’t think ____.” It isn’t a discussion of the Faith, but a discussion of items appearing on a menu of Faith, and which ones I prefer or don’t eat. The Faith, in this approach, is a matter of personal theories and individual positions.

The other kind of “political” crowd wants to talk about campaigns, wars, and events in the governmental politics of the homeland, with an invariably tacit assumption that there is a particular correspondence between the articles of Faith and certain platforms of politics. They may be going off in favor of a war, or about welfare, or about “liberals”, or about thinking this or that candidate is a “man of god”. Which god? So often the positions being described are in fact the diametrical opposite of the words Jesus spoke in His Sermon on the Mount. One might suspect that’s why the correspondence of religion and a particular political platform is generally assumed or implied rather than asserted explicitly. There’s probably a place for organizing activism and engagement with the culture in a Church, but perhaps it isn’t actually during coffee hour. The danger here is in creating an atmosphere in which it feels impossible to adhere to the Faith without adhering to a political agenda that presumably represents it. On rare occasions, you’ll find a discussion of praxis or of the meaning of the Faith. The Faith, in this discussion, will be its own justification for conversation. Too easily, however, these discussions descend into occasions for pride of expression or experience. The moment you hear “God just spoke to my heart”, you know you’re in the midst of this type. No, he didn’t. If it was private, and happened to you, it was private and for you. If it happened at all. These things are best worked out with one’s confessor and spiritual counsellor and parent.

My advice? Say nothing. Drink your coffee, move around a lot, leave early, remain alert and circumspect, and try to stay as silent as the grave when at all possible. And immerse yourself in the pieties of your Faith. Pray a lot. Liturgize a lot. Stay out of the other stuff. At least, that’s what I’m doing my best to do.

Now here’s where, thanks to the witness of Church History and my own personal struggles, I have to disagree with my fellow Misanthrope. Look, this whole Coffee-Hour thing used to be part of the Liturgy … well, almost. You see, a meal was part and parcel of the Eucharist in the early days of the Church:

These love feasts were apparently a full meal, with each participant bringing their own food, and with the meal eaten in a common room. Early Christianity observed a ritual meal known as the “agape feast” held on Sundays which became known as the Day of the Lord, to recall the resurrection, the appearance of Christ to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the appearance to Thomas and the Pentecost which all took place on Sundays after the Passion. Jude, and the apostle Paul referred to these as “your love-feasts”, by way of warning (about “who shows up” to these). Following the meal, as at the Last Supper, the apostle, bishop or priest prayed the words of institution over bread and wine which was shared by all the faithful present. In the later half of the first century, especially after the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, passages from the writings of the apostles were read and preached upon before the blessing of the bread and wine took place.

Such meals were widespread, though not universal, in the early Christian world. The earliest account of what can be seen as one of them is that in 1 Corinthians 11:20-22, where it appears associated with, and given the name of, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The service apparently involved a full meal, with the participants bringing their own food but eating in a common room. Perhaps predictably enough, it could at times deteriorate into merely an occasion for eating and drinking, or for ostentatious displays by the wealthier members of the community, as happened in Corinth, drawing the criticisms of Saint Paul in the passage mentioned.

Over time – especially in the 4th and 7th centuries – rules or canons were even written to try and temper the bad behavior prevalent at some of these Church meals.

Source

So here we are, where we are. Some contemporary Christian groups participate in Agape meals on rare occasions, to experience this historical form of the Eucharist. Many Christians, however, after celebrating the Eucharist, now routinely participate in a sharing of light refreshments and conversation in an informal gathering that is functionally an Agape. This post-Eucharistic gathering is often called “fellowship hour” or “coffee hour” and is regarded by many clergy as a particularly opportune time for engaging adults in Christian education.

As one priest has noted …

Having a communal meal after the liturgy is an ancient practice that goes back to the time of the Apostles, and is mentioned in several places in the New Testament, where it is spoken of as the “agape meal” or “love feast”. This meal and the fellowship that goes with it, is an extension of the liturgy, and so all who can stay should do so. We live in a part of the country in which we encounter few Orthodox Christians outside of the context of Church, and so we need to endeavor to strengthen our relationships with one another. The parish is an extended family, and we should work to make our ties with each other strong, so that we may encourage one another to live for Christ, in a world in which that is increasingly difficult to do.

Essentially, the Liturgy is not over after we leave the confines of divine service of the Church.

Rather, the Trapeza — meal — even Coffee Hour is very much a part of our communal life together in Christ.

True, it might not be as ordered, uplifting – or DIVINE – as our Eucharistic worship; I mean, hey, that’s why it found it’s way to the Parish Hall in the first place. But it is still part and parcel of our walk with each other in Christ.

Listen: Whether you’re a Vanilla Jordan-Water, Spirit-infused, Forever-with-the-Lord Frappuccino kinda Christian – or just plain ol’ hot-n-black, our time to work this all out together is brief, especially over coffee after Liturgy.

All are welcome. Those who think otherwise might want to, oh, try a little spicy tomato juice sans alcohol – or, at least, lay off the coffee.

Many thanks to OrthoPraxy.

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