Wednesday, August 1, 2012

the religious services page

I spent last night and part of this morning using the many resources of the web to undertake one of my more delicate tasks for Mythcon this weekend: compiling a list of local religious services.

It's been customary at Mythcons for one or another enthusiastic Protestant to lead a "mere Christian" non-denominational service in some quiet corner on Sunday morning. The problem is that, though the authors we celebrate in the Mythopoeic Society were Christian, the Society itself is emphatically non-sectarian and neutral on religious issues, so it gets up some people's noses if we list it in the program book. It looks as if we're sponsoring it.

So here's what we do. First, we ask our Scholar Guest of Honor, who happens to be a Jesuit priest, if he'll conduct a mass. I know offhand of four seriously practicing Catholics who'll attend Mythcon - I've driven most of them to masses off-site from Mythcons in various cities in past years, as I am 1) geographically enabled, 2) usually in possession of a car, 3) married to one of the Catholics - and they'll go (if they wake up in time, because this is going to be early).

Second, we list these two events, not in the program book, but on a separate sheet to be included in the membership packet.

Third, we fill out the sheet with a list of religious services off-site. I volunteer to compile this. Our chairman (active in his Presbyterian church, and a big fan of the Jesuit's scholarship) tells me to be as inclusive and wide-ranging as possible. Include the Buddhists, he says.

Oh boy, do I. Berkeley is a thriving religious city. By the time I'm done, I have four varieties of Buddhist, two Hindu, one Muslim (yes, there's a mosque in Berkeley: it's only three blocks away from our site), five Jewish (including both my own variety and one I wouldn't walk into on a bet), and an uncountable number (all right, 26) and variety of Christians, including such outliers as the Mormons and the Quakers as well as the 7th-day Adventists and the Christian Scientists. I don't even know what all these things are. What does "Methodist Episcopal" mean, anyway? Is it Methodist or is it Episcopal? It doesn't matter; we also have both Methodist and Episcopal each straight-up. And every one of these is within the city limits, though I've been selective: usually only one per denomination, and focusing on those nearby.

Some of these churches have straightforward web sites. Others list everything except the time of their services. Some don't have services. The Buddhist temple (that's a fifth Buddhist group) and the campus Hillel (sixth Jewish) are closed for the summer. One church's website has been hijacked by Russian spammers; I don't list it. The LDS is highly centralized: individual stakes don't have their own websites, and though you can get a list of temples on the Church's main website, because they're tourist attractions, you have to get an account and sign in to access the list of stakes. I get its information from a general online church directory instead.

And if all this riot of variety gets up the noses of any devouts who favor listing religious services so long as it's not, you know, Those People, then so be it.

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