February 9, 2009

Church Experiment #6: St. Peter in Chains

To begin, I need to establish a little background context. I am being completely honest when I say that I rarely drink alcohol. I am over 21 and don’t consider drinking a “sin,” so like many adults, I enjoy a social drink here and there. Every once in a while, I start to feel buzzed, so I call it a night. I almost never drink alone, don’t drink and drive, and avoid drunkenness. I served as the designated driver at a good friend’s wedding reception in December and on New Year’s Eve.

I would like to say this is primarily a spiritual thing. I mean, that’s part of it, but it has more to do with how my body reacts to alcohol. When I used to get drunk, I would get really hung over. Even now, there are days when I have two or three beers (without even feeling buzzed) and then wake up the next morning with a hangover. On Christmas of 2007, I met some friends at a neighborhood bar, had a few drinks, felt fine on my walk home, and woke up the next morning violently ill. While hugging my toilet that day, I decided to never put myself in that position again. And I hadn’t.

Until Sunday.

I had three drinks Saturday night. I hadn’t eaten much that day, so I could tell the alcohol was starting to affect me. I purchased a fourth drink, took a sip, and realized I was done drinking for the night. I walked home, went upstairs, and puked my guts out. Then, I fell asleep.

I woke up Sunday morning and felt terrible. I did get the taste of Scientology out of my mouth, and I replaced it with stomach acid and bile. I don’t remember how many times I threw up, but I do remember getting dressed for church (dress pants, dress shirt, suit jacket, dress shoes) and then yakking at 10:45 AM. Fifteen minutes before church started.

I stood up, wiped the tears from my eyes, quickly brushed my teeth, threw a piece of gum into my mouth, and was out the door. I don’t know much about the Catholic faith, but based on all those festivals I attended as a kid, I knew I was going to fit right in. Just kidding. Sort of.

Okay, moving on …

To finish reading about this experience or any of the reflections from my 52 visits, please purchase the full book here.


Liz said...

When I toured around Europe, I remember tears coming to my eyes on several occasions when entering places like Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The magnificant beauty of these places really caputres the "bigness" of God. And the art in these buildings is an incredible worship of God.

I recognize the amount of money (and labor!) it took to complete these incredible places of worship; however, I do think Catholic churches create an atmosphere of reverence for God that many contemporary churches do not. Sometimes in our attempts to make God relate-able, we end up humanizing God.

Christopher Day said...

Growing up Catholic, this was definitely an interesting read. A few thoughts:

A.) Where in the world were you Saturday night and why wasn't I invited?

B.) I, too, love the ambiance of the Catholic church. The tradition and reverence are unmatched. Unfortunately, for me, that's as deep as it ever got. I never really found a way to WORSHIP there, but I always found ways to go through the motions. Oh, and you get to drink real wine in church. That's hard to beat!

C.) Coming from a former Altar Boy, when in doubt make the Sign of the Cross. Head, belly, left shoulder, right shoulder. Done with or without holy water. It's always a crowd favorite.

DanThoms said...

I must admit, whenever I'm in an old church I just keep thinking about how much I want to steal the windows, banisters and pretty much everything else and have them installed in my house. As for the Rosscroads video, I see your point and I'm torn, I do think it was pretty funny though.

Micah said...

Why tell the name of the next church you're going to visit? There's no possible benefit and plenty of downside.

Steve Fuller said...


Just curious...what's the downside?

I mostly do it because I feel like many people reading the blog are "along for the ride," and they like to check out the next church (its web site) before I visit.

Anonymous said...

Steve, this journey needs to become a book. Look into it. I was raised Catholic. Liz's comments are spot-on. Keep on writing; I'll keep on reading. LML

Dan Kalbach said...

And also with you.

John Arns said...

Steve, I grew up Lutheran and my dad's family was Catholic, so I relate to all that you said. I went to a funeral a few years ago at St. Peter in Chains, complete with the swinging pot of burning incense. I too feel God's presence so strongly in a Catholic church. And especially in that church. So huge and ancient. And I kept getting the strange feeling that I was in a movie set in New York City.

Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington gave me the same impression. It's open for self-guided tours throughout the week. Pretty interesting.. it contains the world's largest stained glass window in a church. Enormous.

I like Liz's comment about Catholic churches creating an atmosphere of reverence for God. There's a sense of humble respect in the Catholic church that I like.

A Modern Ancient said...

The sad thing for me with Notre Dame is that it is basically a museum, not a church today.

I also grew up Roman Catholic (there are actually 23 different rites in the Catholic Church and the Latin/Roman rite is only one of them... although it is the most widely used by far). I left and then almost came back to it as a "revert." It was the very fact that the sanctity of their church's inspired so much awe in me that I felt I needed to give it a second chance.

So I began researching everything I could. I found some weird connection to this guy who had been a Presbyterian minister and then became Roman Catholic and is now the head of the Franciscan University in Stuebenville. His name is Scott Hahn. I wrote him a letter and ended up spending an entire afternoon at his house just throwing out question after question. I read every book he has written as well as a ton of Catholic theologians and the catechism.

Ultimately, I learned that every single part of the mass is based in some sort of history and has a theological meaning. Even when they stand, sit, and kneel MEANS something. The problem is that most "cradle catholics" don't learn the meaning so it becomes simply going through the motions. In the U.S. today, the most vocal Catholics are the converts/reverts. I think over half of the shows on EWTN are run by former protestants (a lot of them based in Ohio in fact).

I found myself unwilling to accept their assertion that they are the one, true church and that it has never erred or changed in terms of dogma or doctrine (they are willing to admit some practices have changed and still could change). I believe that the Catholic Church is the ancestor of any non-Eastern Orthodox forms of Christianity and therefore deserves a lot more respect than many protestants are willing to give it.

I could not reconcile their theology behind excluding women from the priesthood... especially considering that history is not on their side with that one. In general, I think much of their theology (and much of Christianity in general in fact) was developed through feeling it necessary to divide "us" from "them." Orthodoxy is born out of heresy.

"The arc of the gospel is bent towards inclusiveness."
-Walter Brueggemann

I have trouble with the exclusive nature of the RCC, but I also do not include the structure of the mass as part of that exclusivity. It actually inspires many to seek what is behind it, thus bringing many in. Statistically speaking, the RCC is the fastest growing segment of Christianity in the U.S. and the only mainline denomination that is actually growing... and it is not just because Catholics tend to have lots of babies. It is because people are drawn in by the mystery of the mass.

Lastly, I totally agree with the Catholic Church on the issue of worship. To them, there is no worship unless there is sacrifice. History is on their side with that one. Singing is not worship, it is praise. There are two points of worship in a Catholic mass: the money offering where the congregants sacrifice financially for the work of God, and the re-presenting (not representing as in a symbol by presenting the one sacrifice again... and NOT re-sacrificing) of Christ's body and blood (they believe literally) as atonement for sin. Protestants (except for Anglicans, some Methodists, most Lutherans, and most Presbyterians who all also adhere to some form of the "Real Presence") technically only have one point of worship... the financial offering.

Sorry for the long reply.

Micah said...

Hey Steve! The downside is that as time goes on you're more and more likely to get to a church and have people there ready for you because they read your blog and know you're coming. It means you're less likely to get an authentic experience... "mystery shoppers" only work if they're a mystery.

I could be wrong... it happens more than I'd like. But it seems like the whole thing works because of the authenticity of the experience. If people can prepare for you then it's just not the same.

Steve Fuller said...


That makes sense. Thanks for the feedback. I will consider that point moving forward.

T. Anne said...

I'm a little late to the party, I know.. Just wanted to add... I grew up catholic, trust me I know somber. When I met my husband he was attending a very boisterous Calvary Assemble church. It was great in many ways. It was the place where I built a real foundation for my relationship with the Lord. But aside from that I was a little uncomfortable with the structure of that particular church. We then moved to a Covenant Church (same born again denomination) but much calmer atmosphere, the pastor is spectacular and calm in nature as well. I think I needed a place that melded to my personality and my family's. Interesting experiment you are doing. May I ask what denomination the large congregation you attended was? The one you referenced at the top of your post. (Sorry if I've confused you) Enjoying your blog!

Steve Fuller said...

T. Anne,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

It was nondenominational. From the seeker-sensitive megachurch model.

Ryan Allen Doan said...

Man I have been to the Passion and fire worship center, and it truly is the craziest place I have ever been in Cincinnati.

Helen Ann said...

I have to admit - back a long time ago, I very much liked Catholic churches...Maybe not the services so much because I couldn't relate to them, was not allowed to take communion and all that stuff...But I love St. Xavier church downtown. It is beautiful, and reverent and peaceful. A place to sit with God, light a candle, meditate on His presence. Going to church with a whole lot of former Catholics has opened my eyes to some of the not-so-good aspects of the religion. So I have kind of vacillated toward a more negative attitude toward them. Which maybe I oughtn't have. I am a big believer in living in the world, taking in what I see and hear, read and watch, finding glimmers of Jesus in it and spitting out the bones. Weather I agree with all of their teachings or not, the Catholic faith is a Christian faith in that it teaches the story of Jesus, Hid death and his resurrection. A solid foundation for a living relationship with our Savior. Apparently their idea of grace is not the same as what I'm pretty certain the Scriptures teach, but they do teach Jesus as Messiah. Maybe I need to re-embrace the things about the Catholic church that I do like and improve my attitude a little bit. After all, none of us gets it completely right. Right? Jesus is the point.

Mindy said...

I took a class on worship while at Bible school and through that class, my own spiritual growth, and the required visitations for that class, I learned that there is a beauty to liturgy. Yes, liturgy can feel mundane and meaningless but going through the motions even when you don't "feel it" is a way to tell your heart what you know in your head...that God is still present and active.

As for hymns, they are the salvation-story in a song! There are few that make me cry every time, even as a not-quite-30-year-old.

~*~KIMBERLY~*~ said...

Steve, you crack me up. I love reading your words. Your experiences are quite interesting to say the least.

Miki said...

MAN, am I late to this party! I just found your blog, and am in the process of catching up! What an interesting experiment!

One thing I did want to mention to you, only because I find it a beautiful sentiment. I am not Catholic (I'm Episcopalian...Catholic-Lite, if you will!) but I attended Catholic school for YEARS so I kind of understand the ritual (and I'm the total opposite of you on this one, I find something so beautiful and comforting in ritual.) The crazy hand motions during the Gospel - if it is what I think it is - did people cross their forehead, lips, then chest? It's one of my favorite reminders - God is in our thoughts, our words, and our heart. That's something I try and carry with me always.

WOW, long comment. :)