April 13, 2009

Church Experiment #15: Holy Cross Immaculata

In the most anticipated Easter church visit in the last century … Barack Obama attended St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.

In slightly less noteworthy news, I chose Holy Cross Immaculata (www.hciparish.org) in Mt. Adams—one of my favorite Cincinnati communities.

In other words: Catholicism, part two. This time, no hangover.

I wrestled with the decision all week and then settled on Holy Cross when I realized how fitting the visit would be.

I became a Christian a couple hundred feet from my seat Sunday. In November of 2000, while living in a studio apartment in Mt. Adams, I prayed God would change my life. That first year, I walked up the Immaculata steps (the same ones thousands of people use every year to “pray the steps”) and talked to God. The view of downtown Cincinnati is amazing from that spot. There is also a statue of Jesus nailed to the cross that I stared at for long stretches of time, contemplating my new faith.

In other words, if there is one spot on this planet I would retreat to if I needed time alone with God, it would be Holy Cross Immaculata in Mt. Adams. It felt like the perfect place to spend Easter Sunday during my experiment. [Side note: That’s also where I proposed to my wife on December 22, 2009. She and I have been back every year to celebrate the occasion, so needless to say, Holy Cross Immaculata will always hold a special place in my heart.]

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


DanThoms said...

Don't feel bad about not taking communion. Your really not allowed to. You have to believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation to take communion in a Catholic church. That doesn't keep everyone around you from thinking that your just some sort of pagan though :)

Ruby Red Slippers said...

I think a Catholic service is one of the most beautiful. It is very ritualistic, but as an outsider, it makes you aware, and appreciate every moment. If I attended every week, maybe it wouldn't be so moving to me, but on the occasions that I have attended a Catholic service, I see the beauty and the respect given to God.

Steve Fuller said...


Yes, there are parts that are definitely very beautiful. I talked a lot about that beauty when I visited St. Peter in Chains. I just noticed for the first time this week how the rituals really made me feel like an outsider. And since it was Easter (and I was taking a seat from someone who was standing), I felt kinda bad.

My instinct is that most churches would want outsiders to feel safe and welcomed. But many churches have that "club" mentality that actually makes new people feel uncomfortable.

Liz said...

I really liked how dressed up everyone was. I know some of that is attributable to it being Easter Sunday, but I don't really like the sloppiness you see at other churches. I know, I know-it's comfortable and welcoming and generally creates a more relaxed atmosphere. But, being dressed nicely for church, to me anyway, is respectful...and it was nice on Sunday.

And the cutest twin boys were in these ADORABLE little suits complete with caps and green jackets. So cute.

katy said...

I taught at a Catholic school for one year, and we had mass weekly. Talk about intimidating, but after I was a little more familiar, I began really finding meaning through many of the rituals. Also, instead of scooting so others can take communion, you can walk through with the others, just do not take, bow your head, and you can be blessed by the priest. I didn't mind these "extra" blessings in my week :)

Ruth said...

I agree that there is something about the majesty and regality of the buildings and the somber sense of the awe of the “ancient” eternal God in the Catholic tradition that hits some things about God where we humans can slip into viewing Him too commonly. I don’t want to be an “easter scrooge”, but there is something else that I think dampens the power of the resurrection of Christ being made manifest in the present reality of His people, and that is continuing to call the celebration of His resurrection by the name of a pagan god/dess: “Easter”. These rituals and traditions that have been incorporated into mainstream Christianity have made it just that: mainstream, not radical and set apart as God has always been from all other gods: His people enabled to do things like call down fire to consume the altar when all the prophets of Baal could do nothing. The more my passion for Him increases, the more offensive it becomes to me to hear “happy easter”. I just find it sad what we’ve been reduced to, in reducing His most powerful day with another god’s name. Yes, we should celebrate the historical significance of His resurrection, and the future hope of ours! And in the present, I believe there is much more resurrection power that He desires to entrust His people with in the earth who are willing to stand radically apart. I have truly been learning the reality of loving Jesus because He first loved me, and He has given me a passionate love for Him. Thanks for this format to allow me to express what’s been screaming in me. Praying that He continues to move us to all that we are made for in these last days.

Steve Fuller said...

I forgot to write this in the post - while many places have rituals that visitors have a hard time understanding, all other denominations I have visited (Lutheran, Anglican, etc.) have been very good about explaining those rituals in their programs. I always felt welcomed there because they knew the rituals were confusing for guests. It wasn't that way at the Catholic churches. They seemed to nonverbally communicate, "We do a bunch of stuff you won't understand that will make you feel unwelcomed. And if you don't like it, tough, don't come back."

I am not saying that was the message they intended, but I am saying it was the message I received.

steeltownmama said...

Growing up in a Catholic church and school made us learn quickly the traditions and rituals that go on in a mass. By the time I was old enough to think about what it all meant, I was doing the motions without even thinking twice. I think that's the way it is with Catholics. We are born into it and learn it quickly and don't really think about others that may be there as visitors or new to the church. I don't think that it's done on purpose.

Now I have to tell you, I do not practice the Catholic faith anymore for those same reasons. It all seemed so meaningless. The sitting, the standing, the kneeling, the prayers, the rules, etc, etc. I began to resent church and all that came with it. I still have not found my way to any church or religion and don't know if I ever will. The Catholic church tainted my view and changed my thoughts.

The only thing that I loved about going to church every sunday was the music, and to this day, I still know many of the hymns by heart and find comfort in their melodies (not necessarily the words).

Charlie in AZ said...

I just recently discovered your blog. I really enjoy following your journey and observations. I hope and pray you find a new depth and meaning to your faith.

I grew up in a "high" Methodist church and married a lapsed Catholic from a devout family. I also felt a little lost in Mass the first few times since they don't typically have a printed order of service. However, since my Methodist church used a traditional liturgy, I quickly realized my church had borrowed a lot from the mass. It didn't take too long to figure out the order of the Mass, the proper responses and movements at the right time, etc. I can totally pass as Catholic if necessary!

Ditto what Katy said, you can go up during communion. Just don't hold out your hands or open your mouth and the priest will give you a blessing instead. They also do this for children who haven't gone through first communion.

Also ditto what steeltownmama said. Catholics learn the order of mass from a very early age and from what I've seen, it's extremely similar every week.

Perhaps one of the most moving things I've seen was watching my husband and friends at mass at the cathedral in Hermosillo, Mexico. None of them ever studied Spanish in school, but because they knew the order of prayers, the music, etc., they could worship and follow along and knew what was going on the entire time. The meaning of the phrase, "holy catholic universal church" really struck me.

Todd said...

This year is the first year that I REALLY accepted Jesus and have been running and learning each day.
AND it was this year that I too, almost felt dirty saying "Happy Easter".
I wanted to think of something else I could say, but really, I could not. I wanted to express my happiness this great day, without referring to it as "Happy Easter".
I celebrated it how I felt I should, by attending Church with my children (husband had to work) and then spending the rest of the day with family.
No visits to the Easter Bunny here.
I absolutely LOVE this blog. I have shared on my blog many times that I am not sure if I am currently in my "HOME" Church or even religion, right now so this has been a source for much needed "dumbed down" information.
Not that you write dumb, just that it isn't all fu-fu'd up with words I don't get about religion etc...
Thanks for all your guys hard work and keep on keepin on...

spiritualbrother said...

Enjoy reading your experiences in different churches each week. Thanks.

Ruth said...

Thanks for sharing!
Some of the best responses that came to me after some fumbled ones were "He rules!" "He rocks!" and "He reigns!" ...Not trying to come up with a new ritual to replace the old, but trusting the Holy Spirit will move us to speak as the opportunity comes!
Blessings on all you bros & sistas out there! :)

Anna said...

As a child catholic services always seemed way more interesting than a traditional protestant church. Mainly, because of their rituals, the incense, the communion, the talk back and forth, the kneeling, standing etc. And the sermons were usually way shorter.

As a non catholic you are not supposed to attend communion, and I never had a problem with that. I often never knelt, because protestants don't kneel. I never perceived this as sticking out or strange. Maybe you are just trying to hard to fit in and not to be noticed. There is nothing wrong with being a visitors. The majority of people will welcome visitors.

Frances said...

Don't worry, you weren't baptized. That's just a renewal of baptismal vows that Catholics do on Easter and continue with through Pentecost.
I'm enjoying reading about your Church Experiment, I think the whole concept is fascinating. I am a Catholic myself, and only a new convert, so I understand your awkwardness about communion. Fun fact: you can walk up with everyone else and bow your head and cross your arms across your chest and whoever is administering communion will give you a little verbal blessing instead.

Ann said...

I'm lovin' your blog.
Several years ago I did a similar search. I was a cradle Catholic and felt like I want something "more". However, after a long search I was lead back to the Church.
I wish you the best of luck on your journey and hope it brings you closer to Christ.
BTW...just for reference..here is a good website that answer questions about the Catholic faith in layman's terms.

Great book that explains EVERYTHING about mass...

Deniz Bevan said...

Hi Steve,
In re "They seemed to nonverbally communicate, "We do a bunch of stuff you won't understand that will make you feel unwelcomed. And if you don't like it, tough, don't come back." I am not saying that was the message they intended, but I am saying it was the message I received."
Not sure how to phrase this but... I'm trying to say something to the effect that maybe the rituals are part of the mystery. One of my favourite lines in the Catholic service is "let us proclaim the mystery of faith" and I like the idea of repeating gestures that have been handed down through the centuries (though some stuff has obviously changed post-Vatican II - like singing the Our Father, which you liked but I can't stand :-)). So that, perhaps someone who is interested in the Catholic faith would see the rituals as part of the exploration or journey of becoming a member of that faith.
Anyway, I'm really enjoying your blog and the evenhanded way you've been describing your experiences in the various churches. See you next Sunday!