Monday, December 31, 2018

Roman Catholic Eucharistic Adoration “A Great Response to a Contemporary Need”

Holy Cross Parish in Winnipeg marks 10 years of perpetual adoration 

Holy Cross perpetual adoration chapel

In 2008, members of the Holy Cross Roman Catholic Parish in the Archdiocese of St. Boniface had an idea for something new: 24/7 perpetual Eucharistic adoration.

They thought they’d try it just for a month, during Advent, to see if they could do it. Ten years—or 3,650 days and 87,360 hours—later, they are still going strong.

“When the idea came up, lots of people wanted to do it,” says Dawn Kautz, who together with her husband, James, helps coordinate the adoration.

“We were amazed by how quickly the slots filled up.”

For Catholics, perpetual Eucharistic adoration is a tradition that goes back to the 16th century. During adoration, worshipers sit or kneel before an ornate display cabinet, called a monstrance. In the monstrance is a piece of consecrated bread they believe is the actual body of Christ.

While there are many adoration chapels across Canada that welcome worshipers at select times, including 26 in Manitoba, there are only about 30 in the country that do it 24/7—someone is there every hour of every day, all year round.

Currently, only one is located in the province, at Holy Cross, although a second is underway at St. Gianna Beretta Molla Roman Catholic parish.

For Dawn, taking time for adoration is a way to take a break from her busy life and spend time with Christ.

‘As a busy mom of seven kids, it was hard to find time for prayer and reflection with God if I didn’t set a time,” she says.

“There is value in making a commitment, an appointment to ensure it happens.”

Dawn and her family recently moved to St, Malo; before that, she took a regular evening slot at Holy Cross.

While there, she found “peace as I sat and rested in the Lord’s presence.”

John Scatliffe is a Ministry Coordinator at the Holy Cross parish. He takes a slot each Tuesday from 2 to 3 AM.

“Adoration a powerful thing for Catholics,” he says, adding that he finds the early morning hour very peaceful.

“I think I get more out of it at that time,” the retired anesthesiologist shares. “It’s so peaceful there with the Lord.”

For Christopher Robison, retired from the air force, “it’s a marvelous privilege to be part of adoration.”

Robinson takes a one-hour slot one evening a week at midnight. During his time in the chapel, he prays, reads a devotional or meditates. “Sometimes I just sit quietly and be with Jesus,” he says.

Access to both the Holy Cross chapel is guarded by security systems with access cards. 

This is to protect the adorers, who can be there late at night, but also to guard the sacrament from being stolen—stories are told of how Satanists have tried to get consecrated sacraments for their rituals.

In addition to Holy Cross, since 2014 St. Gianna Beretta Molla Roman Catholic parish has also offered perpetual adoration.

Unlike at Holy Cross, however, it does not yet operate around the clock; the plan is to get enough volunteers to be able to do that.

For Father Darrin Gurr, the adoration chapel at St. Gianna Beretta Molla is “a prayer ministry for the parish,” along with a special experience for individuals.

“People can send prayer requests that people can pray for while they are doing the Eucharistic adoration.”

Adoration “is a great response to a contemporary need,” Gurr says. 

“People are longing for more mindfulness in life, a way to put them in the now, to know what God has in store for them, a break from the chaos and busyness of the world.”

Holy Cross is looking forward to many more years of adoration. They recently updated the security system to accommodate more card holders, and are looking for additional volunteers.

“I still find that many Catholics don’t know it exists in Winnipeg,” says Scatliffe, noting that members of any parish are welcome to participate.

At midnight one November evening, I participated with a friend at the Holy Cross chapel.

As a Protestant, I have to admit I didn’t feel any special spiritual connection through the sacrament—unlike my Catholic friend, who believed he was in the actual presence of Christ.

But I did feel a sense of peace in that quiet and sacred space. And no matter what your belief, that is never a bad thing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Godless in Dixie: Neil Carter on What it's Like to be an Atheist in the U.S. South

Neil Carter is a 44 year-old high school teacher in Jackson, Mississippi, and author of Godless in Dixie, a blog about living as an atheist in the deep south of the U.S. 

In November, following a presentation to the Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, he answered some questions about being an atheist in America today.

What is your religious background?

I was raised Southern Baptist and was saved at the age of 15. I graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary in 1998 with a Master's degree in Biblical Studies and relocated to Atlanta in 2000 to be a part of a small but international network of home churches. I was there for ten years.

I started helping with new church plants in 2004, and wrote a book about Christian community in 2007.

I left it all in 2009.

Was there any one specific thing that pushed you from belief to unbelief?

It was a death by a thousand cuts. I feel like I always lived with an inner skeptic. But toward the end there were a couple of primary factors, such as getting around more and seeing just how diverse Christian belief really is, and yet seeing how convinced everyone always is that their theology is the only right theology. 

That inspired me to ask myself harder questions about why I believe what I believe.

Also, my evangelical tradition stressed having an intimate, personal relationship with God. Yet after two decades I realized that I had to supply both sides of the relationship. The moment I quit "making" God real, he disappeared entirely.

One day it dawned on me that if I can't really point to anything objective, anything outside my own head that could validate the existence of this invisible person, then maybe I needed to think some more about why I believed what I believed. 

The rest just kind of added up from a dozen unanswered questions that made a whole lot more sense the moment I considered the non-existence of God as a better explanation than the previous religious answers I was given for everything.

What happened after you told others you were no longer a believer?

At first, I kept it very private. But in 2012 one of my students discovered I had liked a Facebook page about atheism and asked if I was an atheist. I said it wasn’t relevant to the class, and she said “why didn’t you say no?”

Soon after, the principal pulled me aside to ask me about it and later transferred me to another class. When the year ended, my contract was not renewed for the next year—no reason was given, but I knew why.

It also affected my family, driving an emotional wedge between me and my wife. A year later we decided our differences were irreconcilable, and we filed for divorce. 

Coming out as an atheist also fractured relationships with friends. They believed I was going to hell for rejecting Jesus. Some of them saw me as a project to bring back to faith. Some friends even staged an intervention.

Do you think that was because of where you live, in the U.S. south?

Yes, it is largely because of the central place religion plays in the life of people in the Deep South. 

Granted, rural areas all over the country have the same quality to them, the same culture, but down here it's even prevalent in our big cities. The first thing people do when they move to a new place in Mississippi is join a church.

People around here take religion very seriously. It's the most important thing about you in their minds. So coming out of the closet as an atheist is a problem.

You use the terms "come out.” Is that terminology common for atheists?

Quite common, especially among people who de-convert from evangelical and fundamentalist Christian families. 

Our families don't take this news very well at all. They all believe we are going to hell for rejecting Jesus, and they also are quite shamed by our departure. It hurts their reputation among other church members, and most of them feel very strongly that we are supposed to "come back."

Keeping this to ourselves saves us a ton of grief from our families, and in many cases it may also be necessary for protecting our jobs and the cohesion of our families. 

Has the election of Donald Trump, and the rise of the Christian right, made things more challenging for you?

Significantly. It would take a long time to flesh out just how badly his ascension has polarized public discourse in my country, but it's been like a giant toxic wedge that has emboldened the most racially intolerant, bigoted elements of our country to come out of the woodwork, as we say.

Do you know atheists who have left other religions?

Yes. I have a number of ex-Muslim friends. I know fewer who have left Judaism. Most Jewish folks I know were always pretty secular to begin with.

What advice would you give to atheists about interacting with people from the evangelical community? And what advice would you give believers for dealing with an atheist?

I always advise atheists who have very religious family to keep it to themselves until they are so financially and socially independent from their families that they could weather even the worst treatment as a response. 

The nicest, kindest people will turn mean overnight (or at least passive-aggressive)when they learn their family has "turned from the Lord." It's a scandalous, painful thing for them and it brings out a side of them that you can only see after you've "left the fold."

I advise people to build up a strong enough social support network that they have people to turn to for help when they need it. Only then will they be ready for the worst. 

And if their families surprise them by being consistently gracious, then it still didn't hurt to be prepared for the worst. Take your time and become more secure in your beliefs before you make yourself transparent to your family.

As for Christians, take time to listen to us and don't assume you already understand what makes us tick or why we stopped believing. 

Don't assume you know better than we do what we are thinking, and please believe us when we say we truly don't believe in spirits or ghosts or gods or afterlives anymore. 

They have the hardest time accepting that. They think we are lying to them or else to ourselves. 

I wish most that they could understand that changing our minds about God is usually an intellectual response to questions or realizations of things that make us see things differently. 

It’s  not a moral failing. We aren't "rebelling against God" even though they are certain that's how it should be seen.

We cannot help the fact that we've stopped believing and as far as we are concerned it wasn't a choice we made at all. It just kind of happened whether we wanted it to or not. 

I wish they would stop reframing it as a choice on our part. We cannot choose to believe something that no longer makes sense to us.

Click here to read what it's like to be an atheist in Manitoba; it isn't easy for some here, either.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Not Always Easy to be an Atheist in Manitoba

HAAM booth at the University of Manitoba.

Is it easy to be an atheist in Manitoba?

In our increasingly secular society, you would think so. Who cares what people believe—or don’t believe?

But for some Manitobans who have chosen not to believe in God, that’s not the case.

In November I met some of them at the monthly meeting of the Humanists, Atheist and Agnostics of Manitoba (HAAM).  

They had gathered that evening to hear a presentation by Neil Carter, a seminary graduate, former church planter and now author of the Godless in Dixie blog.

Speaking via the Web from his home in Mississippi, Carter, 44, said there were a number of factors that led him to leave his evangelical faith to become an atheist.

These included “seeing how convinced everyone always is that their theology is the only right theology,” and his own inability to have the kind of personal relationship with Jesus his tradition promoted.

“One day it dawned on me that if I can't really point to anything objective, anything outside my own head, that could validate the existence of this invisible person, then maybe I needed to think some more about why I believed what I believed,” he said.

When he “came out” to his family and friends—a term atheists use a lot to describe what it’s like to tell people they no longer believe—Carter lost his job as a public school teacher, his marriage and many friends.

While those who grow up in non-religious homes may find it easier to be publicly atheist, people who “deconvert,” especially from more conservative religious groups, find that the news isn’t taken “very well at all,” he stated.

“They believe we are going to hell for rejecting Jesus, and they also are quite shamed by our departure,” he said.

When Carter left his faith, some people saw him “as a project,” to bring back to belief in God. Some of his old church friends even “staged an intervention,” he said.

These are the kinds of responses that can cause some atheists to keep quiet, he added.

“Keeping this to ourselves saves us a ton of grief from our families, and in many cases it may also be necessary for protecting our jobs and the cohesion of our families,” he said.

This is especially true in the southern U.S. where he lives, a place where religion is woven into every part of life—family, friendships, business, education and politics.

“People around here take religion very seriously,” he said. “It's the most important thing about you in their minds.”

For members of HAAM, things are not nearly as difficult in Manitoba. Yet only one person I spoke with was willing to go public for this story—they wanted to be anonymous, or only use first names.  

“My ‘coming out’ wasn’t as dramatic as Neil’s, simply because I didn’t talk about it with anybody,” said one woman.

When she did ask questions about faith, she was “met with anger and lectures from family members, so I stopped talking,” she added.

Another man agreed. “I'm still not very comfortable making my atheism public,” he said, adding “I have friends and family in rural Manitoba and am reluctant to be open because of that.”

Arthur grew up Roman Catholic, but later attended an evangelical church. He also keeps his atheism quiet—something he feels has prevented bad experiences.

“People can be nasty if you say you aren’t a believer, they can react badly and you can be ostracized,” he said.

He knows some people who “have been rejected by friends and family for being atheists,” he added.

That’s why many local atheists like coming to HAAM’s monthly meetings—it’s a place where they can be open and feel safe with others who share their views.

Plus, as Arthur put it, the meetings are a great place to socialize and experience community. It’s the one thing he misses about church, he said.

For Peter, the social aspect is also one of the things he most appreciates about the group.

“Losing that social connection was the biggest loss after losing my faith,” he said. “I was glad to find a community of like-minded people.”

Click her to read a Q & A with Neil Carter that goes deeper into his experience as a de-converted evangelical and atheist in the deep south of the U.S.