Saturday, 15 June 2013

A Church, its Cemetery, its Flock ...

Dad used to take me, along with mom and my sis, to a Church in town every Sunday. He was brought up as a devout christian and wished the same for me. Once I reached adulthood, or was rather old enough to take a communion, he insisted that I attend a course in the same church to prepare myself for the communion. I attended this and received in whatever worthiness was expected the communion for my first time. He thereafter set me free to choose to attend or find faith in my own way as I saw fit and no longer bid me to accompany him, though he always wanted me by his side when he went to Church.

At the time of his passing, I attended the same Church. My paternal grandfather, among other late members of my family are buried in its cemetery. My opinion that this Church is broken, perhaps even beyond repair, is from previous conversations with Dad and specifically what I observed at this very occasion.

There were many pastors who came and went, the paint changed, the doors changed, chandeliers were added, new buildings were built, farmland was sold. The Maharaja of the town who once granted all this land to the (Christian) missionaries for the purpose of "building" the Church and housing its Congregation were long forgotten. His name appears nowhere within the premises of this Church.

The cemetery was walled better to minimize the number of hooligans who drank in rank gatherings in there, often desecrating graves, and at times indulging in grave robbery. For a while I thought that grave things happened in a grave-yard.

As society became more affluent, the attire of people attending church showed changes and I could see this happening. More educational institutions and businesses sprang up in the once agrarian town giving jobs that paid more. The church being governed in its own way by Bishops and Archbishops who supposedly governed some diocese (rather than episcopate) saw this affluence and decided to take measures to benefit by extending itself in the name of God.

The Church of course does not consider you a member unless you pay a "monthly fee", a permit to worship God. In the absence of the receipt of this "fee" you are merely a visitor and have no rights that a congregation has (which most of the flock are unaware of) excepting that of a guest. 

In simplicity no one can be married in a Church unless they are a member and are therefore subscribers to this service. This membership is non-transferable and has timed expiry which is not explicitly stated in any document. As two are needed for a marriage, the one who is not a member shall produce a certificate of membership to whichever "recognized" church they belong to. In the absence of such a certificate, they shall pay the full sum of membership required for the number of years they should have done so as members of the congregation. However this service, like any other, comes with no warranty.

Someone, either Peter or Paul decided that all Christians will pay a tithe (origin: anglo-saxon, literally one-tenth of annual produce or earning.) This, in some congregations has become compulsory, while in others, is merely a message written somewhere in the holy book (originally Ta Biblia Hagia, repeatedly referred to as "The Bible" literally meaning "The Book".)

Once, while I was working in a different city and was just visiting my Dad, he mentioned that the new pastor had been repeatedly asking people to disclose their income so that the Church could actually verify that these monthly collections actually were at the very least a tithe. Dad, was disturbed, for he was a grandson of a Reverend, a Pastor and a Headmaster himself.  He knew much about what the Church was meant for and was unhappy about this Church in my town where such new pastors were there becoming more nosy like Income Tax Officers.

During burial of a member of the congregation or their relative who is also at that moment a member of the Church, the fee for the grave (the only real-estate our bones would ever need) as Tolstoy put it in his work, was collected at the time of death and such necessity for burial. The cause of death too had to be notified to the Church, as natural or by illness or anything excepting suicide for which, even at death the Church segregated or refused the burial. If this sum was too high to borne by a family at that time, there was much difficulty in the allotment of the "real-estate" for the grave.

The new pastors who were more like Financial officers of a bank created a scheme whereby the family could pay for each member of the congregation a monthly sum of money (you can read this as Equitable Monthly Installments [EMI]) for the burial real-estate. This would therefore guarantee the space, which of course could be selected only at the time of death. This only covers the land, but not the grave (usually built with concrete to hold the coffin) and have a structure above it to indicate the name of its occupant at times accompanied by a passage from 'The Book'.

It was (also) customary for a Pastor to visit all the members of his congregation, at their houses. I remember at least three pastors who had made visits when we were in different houses. For any other functions, the member of the congregation may invite the Pastor and give him a fee that is remitted to the funds of the Church. Dad was unhappy with the new breed of pastors who did not visit houses, nor had any personal feeling nor care for those who have been members for a long time. I remember the days we used to live less than 400m from this very Church I refer to. 

When a member of the congregation fell sick, it was a duty of the pastor to visit his or her house specifically and pray for their health. This visit was usually in addition to the visits paid at least once a month to all members of the congregation. This is of course an exercise in logistics, but the visit to a member who suddenly falls ill, is easier than visiting all members of the congregation.

There were pastors who performed their duties. There were those who were adorned Reverends who had left their vocations and professions and were well educated. Yet human beings are still tribes and tribes distinguish themselves in the name of caste despite a common creed (the one used in this particular Church was of course decided at the Council of Nicaea and later modified during translation and later to suit the protestant church later adopted by the Kingdom of England.)

Dad always believed, being a Physician himself, that what man could do to heal was merely logical, deductive, clinical and operational while true healing came from the higher power of God. He believed that praying for someone who was sick helped. Yet, when he fell sick several years back affected by Dengue, and later suffered repeated episodes of severe infection that lowered his ability to present himself at the Church, not one pastor of this Church came to pray for him. They were perhaps busy counting the money and performing audits of income of the various members of church while visiting only those who belonged to their caste or were too busy reporting to their superiors, but no one knows which.

During the last (rather recent) episode of illness that subsequently lead to his demise, the status prevailed and no one came. Finally when my Mom sent word, another pastor in town, who used to be the pastor of this Church when I was just a kid, nominally looking after a Garrison Church also in our town came and prayed for his health. Yet no appointed and elected pastor from the Church which my Dad attended regularly was "available" to come and pray for my Dad, who believed in the Church despite its many shortcomings.

Upon his passing, they did come and we did pay them for coming for they are a paid service as much as any other paid service. Everyone else in the congregation knew Dad, including the Undertaker who did more than what he normally does. A good friend, closely associated with the Church for several years, better mentioned as family friends managed all "formalities" with this Church. Their words too are being taken seriously now because the Bishop and perhaps the Archbishop are known closely to them. The fee for each service cannot be waived though. Another member of the congregation was kind enough to quickly give space allotted to an ailing member of their own family so that my Dad's grave could be nearer to all his dear ones who are buried in the same Cemetery. Warm, kind people do exist, and without them I wouldn't be writing these words, for it is in hope that such people can restore what is broken.

I write this only to narrate a few parts of my experience, in part sullen, in part introspective. I believe that institutionalized worship of God in any name, in any religion inevitably results in such disarray as this Church. This is also written in that very Book members of the Church hold close to them, but is written as the story of the "Tower of Babel" and in a manner that is a parable, veiled, yet revealed. 

A Church or any spiritual or religious institution is its only its people, not stone, not real-estate, not the money in its coffers. The rest can be stolen and destroyed. Yet, most spiritual beliefs mention that the soul is indestructible and therefore life eternal. Most look at the word eternal from its root, that implies its meaning as perennial or everlasting over time. 

In earthly beginnings and ends, religion is always a special relationship between man and a rather spiritual version of the Universe itself. To keep this relationship alive, institutions are unnecessary for they shall break as much as any system or machine can. The relationship can only grow either as spiritual experience or knowledge or to wisdom.

I hope that the Church, which I have attended with my Dad and have fond memories of, learns this, knows this, and is fixed. I have hope in the members, if not in this generation, then surely by the next.