One of the things I like about my parish is that while a few of the men come to the Eucharist dressed in jacket and tie, many people show up in jeans and sweaters. I am among the latter. It isn’t that I consider the Eucharist a casual affair, quite the opposite. But I need to step out of the costume I wear to establish my credentials as a person who should be taken seriously in the working world into clothes that allow me to present a humbler front to God.
This, I understand, is an entirely subjective rationale and might look as though I am theologizing my desire not to wear a tie. I don’t necessarily expect other people to feel as I do about it. But it has made me wonder about the non-liturgical factors that lead us to worship where we do, and I wondered if people would like to talk about that.
Some of these factors—such as wardrobe and automobiles—tell you something about parishioners’ economic achievements. I have found it difficult to worship in a sustained way among very affluent people, so that influences my choice of churches. The racial and ethnic make-up of a congregation tells a story, but it often takes a while to figure out what that story is. I know people who won’t attend a church that has flags in the sanctuary, and others who are influenced by a church’s tolerance for wiggly children, even though they don’t have children themselves.
Put aside for the moment the nature of the liturgy and the music, and whether you find the people who attend a certain parish friendly. What are the unspoken (and possibly unintentional) ways in which a congregation communicates its values to you on a Sunday morning?