Monday, January 19, 2009

Church Service Humor

Humor is a strange thing. The unexpected in particular context becomes the source for much humor. Church is no exception. Church services are full of their do’s and don’ts, liturgical rites…and wrongs, that when something out of the ordinary happens within that sacred space and time it can be hard to stifle the laughter…itself mostly inappropriate for the context.

I can think of several events that stand out in my memory as irony or humorous in an ecclesial context.

Once, when I was younger, probably around 7th grade or so, in my home church of Alton Reformed, a man a few rows in front of me attempted to cross is legs. As he struggled to lift one leg over the other, his boot hit the wooden hymnal rack ripping it, along with the two hymnals and bible, from the pew directly in front of him sending both crashing to the floor in the middle of a sermon. What made this even funnier was his attempt to stifle his laughter in a series of curled over convulsions which reverberated through his family and the rest of the pew.

Another more recent experience took place at Good Shepherd in Sioux Falls. This was our Episcopal home for nearly 3 years before we left Sioux Falls for Grand Forks. There were 2 boys who often would show their support for their favorite NFL football teams by wearing their jerseys. Apparently one of the boys was a fan of Mushin Muhammad from back in his Bears days. Also, in the Episcopal tradition, one goes forward to kneel to receive the Eucharist. What struck me as funny was to see Muhammad kneeling for communion every few weeks.

In the film, Keeping the Faith, Edward Norton’s character calls out to a parishioner that is fleeing his early attempts at preaching saying, “Its customary to leave after communion.” This came to mind as this past week at Sharon Lutheran Church here in Grand Forks. During the pre-Eucharistic prayer the woman directly in front of us reached into her coat pocket, pulled out her keys with the automatic start. A short series of beeps and her cold car would be warming for her arrival once we got through the messy details of the Eucharist and prayer…and the Vikings weren’t even playing until later.

A good friend, who is normally very sure worded offered up two humous mis-speaks that still make me laugh. The first on a service trip in college to Coney Island, William offered prayer for the group and in the midst thanked God for “bringing us to the island…(long pause)…of Coney.” At which the prayer was concluded by all with laughter. A year later, I visited my alma mater one weekend as he was doing pulpit supply at Alton’s Presbyterian Church when he thanked God, this time for the wonderful “lentil” season they were having.

I’ve seen bats swooping during baptisms, women get hit in the face with a beach ball by an overhand serve, and a pulpit supply compare David’s moodswings to Kirstie Alley’s ever changing waistline (actually the last two were in the same service…a horrible, horrible church experience).