Home > Church, God Project > Claiming Sanctuary in Christ Church Cranbrook

Claiming Sanctuary in Christ Church Cranbrook

I watch a lot of movies. Not much of a secret, it was the original premise of the Project.  In movies—especially those in which someone claims sanctuary in a Sanctuary—the churches strike awe in you.  The architecture and design instill the grandeur of God, you walk in and you think, “Why not become Christian? They have awesome stained glass windows?” (Where else are you gonna find Superman finding Polar Bears on his way to the Fortress of Solitude? And hello to the three people who got the joke.)  Finding these awe-inspiring, conversion-inducing Churches isn’t easy in the real world.  Most churches, obviously, are not like the movies.  With a 24/7 Priest living in the Sanctuary waiting for the falsely accused to pound on the ancient, intricately carved wooden doors shouting at the top of their lungs, “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!”  I’m not sure if Christ Church Cranbrook has a Priest living in the Sanctuary, but you can’t walk in the building without thinking you just entered a holy place.  The insanely long sanctuary, the high altar at the front, the stone arches, with the seemingly never-ending roof trusses, and, of course, the stained glass.  When you walk into a church like Kensington or Shepherd, you don’t get a feeling of awe from the building.  When you walk into Cranbrook, you want to convert/repent/rededicate/whatever Christians do these days right then and there.

Of course, I forgot that Episcopalian churches are the brothers of the Catholic Church who just doesn’t talk to the family anymore because of that really awkward summer, and now only shows up for holidays.  And like Catholic services, you need a playbook to know exactly when to say what and when to kneel (luckily, they do provide one, the overall playbook and the script for today’s game).  However, like the Bible, the playbook is open to interpretation.  At some points, you can kneel, sit, or stand.  You think this would be a personal choice, but like most things in life those around you influence your actions.  For example, you can’t kneel if the person in the pew in front of you chooses to sit, unless you want to make out with their neck.  Not breathe down their neck, as that would imply room between you and the person, but as in your lips touch their neck as you talk.  So, unless you half kneel/half sit or stand, you just gotta suck it up and sit.  I had to suck it up and sit because the middle-aged woman in front of me has a strict no kneeling policy.  Kinda killing the mood, woman.  I’m just saying.

I have mixed reactions to the rituals, though, because they aren’t new-user friendly.  Eventually, in any field, accessibility becomes a heavy debate.  Has the field become too esoteric for others to easily start up and join?  Does making something more accessible equate to dumbing down the message?  I think rituals have their place; they can accent the reverence and importance given to a doctrinal point, or passage of scripture.  Like everything, they can just be motions or used to a highly effective degree—it’s all about the language of the sermon.  But, even with the playbook, the nature of the sermon is hard to wrap yourself around.  In a church like this, I think community is more important than at a megachurch, because at a more contemporary sermon you can get engaged on a superficial level.  At a sermon heavily steeped in rituals and repetition you need something else allowing you to connect to the Church.

Christ Church Cranbrook recognizes this and offers something I always hear about, but never see: a Sermon after-party; the Reverend who gave the sermon answers questions in their fellowship hall/chapel.  The Sermon after-party is open to anyone, and they can ask anything.  I didn’t participate this week, but hopefully next week I’ll have time to sit in.  I like the idea, it shows Cranbrook is concerned about the message connecting, and doesn’t want the ceremonial trappings to get in the way.  They don’t let you get trapped in the awe-inspiring architecture, or the reverence of the ceremony, at least one page of their bulletin had announcement for several round-table discussions about the Episcopalian Church and addressing their teachings to the community.  From the search for a new Lector to how the Seminaries are preparing new graduates to deal with racism in communities (nothing about their stance on GLBT issues, which I want to inquire on).  And then another page dedicated to upcoming outreach events for the surrounding communities (special emphasis on Pontiac and Detroit, it seems).  I’ve been to a lot of Churches that obfuscate their behind-the-scenes work—church politics can be ugly and unwieldy.  Cranbrook, on first impression, seems to strive for a transparent process in all elements of their operation.  Something I never expected to see in highly regimented and structured Church setting.

Interesting to note: this is the first time I can remember seeing a female Reverend preach to the church.  I know when I attended Covenant Baptist we had a female associate pastor who would teach the Children’s Church (cue jokes in 3), but I never remember her preaching to the entire congregation (jokes in 2), so I’m counting this as my first female-led sermon (and go ahead, make your best feminism and/or tongue-in-cheek misogyny jokes; props to whoever incorporates both.  Of note: I’m already claiming the “so, it was only 3/5ths of a sermon,” and, “It only made about 7/10ths as much sense as a male-led sermon,” jokes.).  It never occurred to me that a female, African-American minister preached until writing this, and it speaks volume how comfortable she and the rest of the congregation were.  Especially when Christianity is such a white, male dominated religion.  Sometimes it’s the things not said that leaves the biggest impression when leaving a church.

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  1. November 4, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    The “really awkward summer” line may be my favorite line from your blog so far. Very interesting read. I have really enjoyed all of the Anglican/Episcopal churches I have been too. Growing up Catholic definitely helped with some of the rituals.

    I once went to a small Anglican church with a group of evangelical college friends. Being fairly denominationaly mobile I assumed most people understood Eucharistic differences among denominations and didn’t even consider discussing it with them. That was until they followed me up for communion. When we got back to the pew and I explained Anglican Eucharistic theology (39 Articles) to them, two almost passed out and one didn’t believe me.

  2. November 4, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Yeah, being that my Mom is Catholic I wasn’t totally loss, I know just enough to not to look totally out of place. I wasn’t 100% sure on their Eucharistic views (and from my research, neither are the Episcopalians) so I opted out. I know I can go up and cross my hands and just get a blessing, but that seems weird to me. Of course, some people look at me funny when I skip Communion, but I’ll save that story for later.

  3. November 7, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    “But, even with the playbook, the nature of the sermon is hard to wrap yourself around. In a church like this, I think community is more important than at a megachurch, because at a more contemporary sermon you can get engaged on a superficial level. At a sermon heavily steeped in rituals and repetition you need something else allowing you to connect to the Church.”

    That’s a really interesting point. When people are simply spoon-fed through the lesson, people feel like they got their happy does of church and can leave. Something more ritual base forces people to either never connect, or talk about it and find some other way to be included.

    When I went to First Baptist Church of Rochester, I got really frustrated because my youth pastor always dumbed things down. All the lessons were pure fluff and I absolutely HATED it. (HATE.) The few times I tried to address the problem and actually talk to him about it, he always said that there were new people coming into the group and he didn’t want to talk over their heads. I think unless you’re going to talk about dispensationalism or other highly technical theological ideas, people tend to be hungrier than they are given credit for.

    “Cranbrook, on first impression, seems to strive for a transparent process in all elements of their operation.”

    Transparency! I think you just articulated something that has been missing in the average church for a very long time. If a church isn’t transparent, it can be such a turn off because if anyone knows what actually goes on in the elder meetings or how they are really spending their budget, etc., it’s like going into a church and thinking “This is such a well-built church! This building is amazing!” and the person next to saying “Um, you know the floorboards underneath here are going to collapse any minute, right?”

    Cranbrook sounds like an interesting place. I’m excited to go.

  4. Shley
    November 13, 2009 at 10:00 am

    So, I’m jealous you wentto Cranbrook. Years after year of standing in the parking lot an I never went in. Also, go to Kirk in the Woods – quite beautiful in it’s on right.

    As for making ritual more accessible having the potential to lose the message: I think you pointed out an answer when you mentioned the ability to connect superficially at the other churned you attended. Having beensteeped in ritual your whole life can make you more attached to the experience and it can make converts have something to grasp onto in a new faith. However, speaking as someone who’s experienced many a ritual service – ritual is also just one more way to hide your lack of faith. People see you doing the act, but there’s no way to tell if the belief is there too. I think that’s one of the reasons Catholicism is a religion with extreme believers and non-believers going through the motions. But ask me again next semester. I’m taking a class all on ritual.
    Also, wasn’t it the Episicapalian church that allowed homosexual pastors or was it Presbyterian?
    Go Superman and sheep!
    Apologies for any bad grammar or mispellings. Typing this on a phone is difficult.

  5. November 13, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    It was the Episcopalians who appointed the homosexual bishop. But it caused controversy in the Church, and some people agree with it and others don’t. I’m not sure where Cranbrook falls in that divide.

  1. November 10, 2009 at 4:47 pm

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