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Peoria and Rome: A Matter of Perspective.

March 11, 2013


The Church of Rome has been in the news a lot, lately. Ho-hum. Peoria Church is over half the size of Rome and you don’t see us stir up the whole world over a new pastor selection, do you?

Wait – did you wonder about what I just wrote? “Peoria Church is over half the size of the Church of Rome.”

Technically speaking, yes. You see, Peoria Church sits on about 60 acres, 50 of which we farm. The farm money helps keep our property in good shape.

Vatican City, the capital of the Church of Rome, is on 109 acres. Peoria Church is over half that size.

Peoria Church acreage

And I think our building is nicer.

If you take it from the perspective of membership, that’s another matter. There are approximately 3.6 million Catholics for every Peorian. So, they do have us on the attendance thing. But who tracks that stuff, anyhow?

In the religious world, the biggest story (the vacancy of the papal seat in Rome) may seem like one that doesn’t affect us here at Peoria Church. We are not Roman Catholics, we don’t have popes, and much of what we do is very little like Catholicism. Why would the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI make a difference here?

Whether or not we are Catholics isn’t really the issue: the Catholic Church is the biggest player on the Christian “game board” and what they do affects the rest of Christianity. It has been that way since the early reformers. In fact, “reformation” and “Protestantism” are reactionary labels. What did they want to reform? Catholicism. What is the “protest” about? Catholicism. It has been that way since Rome split from Orthodoxy 1,000 years ago.

Examples are legion of Catholicism’s influence in non-Catholic Churches. In Vatican II, Rome set in motion reforms that impacted liturgy, Church structure, theology, and culture. These movements directly impacted mainline Protestant Churches: they imitated many of Rome’s reforms. (In our purple hymnal at Peoria, the Eucharistic liturgy of the United Methodist Church mirrors the core liturgy used in the “Novus Ordo” mass.) Traditional symbols and buildings gave way to modern designs, a movement picked up by evangelicals. Traditional hymns and chanting in the Church of Rome gave way to folk tunes, then “rock tunes” and then politically correct versions of traditional hymns. In 1950, the most popular hymns in the Catholic Church were Holy God, We Praise Thy Name and Hail, Holy Queen. In a Catholic hymnal published in the mid-1990’s, Holy God… wasn’t even in the collection and Hail, Holy Queen was relegated to a supplement. In Protestant Churches, familiar hymns gave way to music that was unsingable on one hand or shallow on the other.

Benedict’s retirement leaves Catholicism open to directional changes. In 1955, who in the Roman Catholic Church would have imagined that by 1962, they would be saying Mass in English, eating meat during Lent (even on Fridays), standing instead of kneeling for most prayers, etc.? A new pope has nearly absolute authority in Catholicism. Whether or not he is popular doesn’t really matter. Benedict supported traditional marriage, was strongly pro-life, and advocated for deeper spirituality in the Church – positions which were very unpopular with liberal Catholics in the U.S. and other western countries. But he’s the pope, so dissent had to just live with it.

A new pope gives us reason to consider our own faith. Why aren’t we Catholics? Is it the Marian theology? Is it the high liturgy? Is it the celibate priesthood (that one always gets me)?

Maybe more importantly, as Rome does some soul searching, perhaps we ought to as well. What do we expect from Church leadership? What aspects of our faith need to be brought more into focus? How can our walk with Jesus Christ be more meaningful and intentional? What is our role in the universal Church, as a just one, little Church in an Indiana cornfield?

Let us pray with our Catholic brothers and sisters as they seek God’s guidance for a new pope. And let us thank God that He has called us to be who we are in His Body as His disciples.


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One Comment
  1. Good thoughts, Brian… A good reminder that we are, after all, one catholic (universal) Church.

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