By the Rev. Canon Betsy S. Ivey
Asked by The Hive to write a piece, my thoughts turned to preparing for Easter. As a priest I immerse myself in Lenten preparation for Jesus’ resurrection, but I didn’t always prepare for Easter via Lent. I was born into a black Southern Baptist/Presbyterian/ex-AME household. I attach my social location to give context to my memory, but I think it will be reminiscent for most middle-class mid-century memories of Easter.
My very Protestant mid-century household’s Lenten practice was eating fish instead of meat on Friday and giving up chocolate — for Jesus. Holy Week was set aside for the major push of preparation for Easter: the last pieces of the Easter Sunday finery were bought; hair appointments for the morning of Good Friday were confirmed (we maintained a vigil from twelve to three); Easter Egg dye was procured; and, parts in the Sunday School Easter pageant were rehearsed ad nauseum. The pinnacle of Easter for me was putting on the crinoline that made my new Easter dress stand at attention. The whole outfit was completed with a ribboned straw hat, pearl-seeded white gloves placed oh-so beneath the flap of my gold-clasped purse, and black patent leather maryjanes with the swing-back strap. Our family walked proudly from our Studebaker into church finely bedecked. We, like all the other families preening in their Easter finery, were the picture of having made it in America. As Harold Bloom observed, we were worshiping the religion of America (1). Many of our seasoned church leaders still define church by this period. Despite the fifty-year blurring change of the world from 1969 to 2019, the Church did not change with it. Each day brings new stories of church closings, and the scrambling of denominations to rethink ministry.
Our churches are closing because the religion of America has died. It began its death when the Civil Rights and other liberation movements exposed that the message of Jesus was about healing the illness of our country we had created within the religion of America. We tenaciously clung too long to the belief of crinolines and black patent maryjanes while the battles of poverty, racism, and sexism burned holes through our fabricated belief. When our belief became myth, our churches began to have less meaning. Awareness awakened us to the myth, and we padded our ministries with outreach hoping it would be the cure. Our children were born into our awareness, but didn’t buy into the myth. They walked out of church with the bishop’s confirming hands fresh on their heads, did not look back, and became spiritual. The emerging ministry of church growth is sticking fingers in the holes of the gushing depletion of endowments that are heating and lighting empty pews until we can convince the kids to come back.
Hence we have the Jesus Movement and The Way of Love calling us to refocus on the center of our true religion – Jesus Christ. He was always the antithesis of crinolines and black patent mary-janes with the swing-back strap, anyway. We are the rich young man whom Jesus told to sell all his goods and give his money to the poor. We need to let go of our goods. The kids will come back to church if we rebuild the Church on the foundation of the Gospel: God really is the champion of the poor. There’s still time. God has given us a new Resurrection, and if we live into it, Easter will never be the same.
(1) Bloom, Harold. The American Religion. Chu Hartley Publishers LLC. 2nd Ed. 2006.