Friday, June 27, 2008

Worship Wars, part 7,948,349,002

Feel free to ignore this, unless you've come over from the RevGal site. This started as a comment on a post there, and it grew so verbose and overbearing that it...could only be a blog entry.

RevGal is a site for women clergy and our sympathizers. They have a regular feature called Ask the Matriarch, where experienced pastors offer insight. This week's question was about contemporary and traditional worship music, and the congregants who hate it. The post and the comments are quite helpful. And I wanted to say this:

We are going though something related in our church (we're an independent church founded in the 80s, so, as you can guess, upbeat contemporary music has been the rule for our whole life. Other background - suburban, a few hundred people, multi-multi-mutli denominational plus unchurched.)

Recently, we decided that music (styles, skill levels, song choices) weren't the issue - we're digging into the dirt of Sundays, saying 'what is a large weekly gathering FOR anyway? What does it do well? What can be done better in homes and neighborhoods? What should the role of the gathering be in the life of the community? What words and actions are consistent with that, and what are muddying the waters for people?'

And what can you get from being wholly part of this community that you can't get anywhere else?

(That sounds like a marketing question, but it's not - it's just recognizing that people where we live have complete access to practically everything in the world 24 hours a day, endless choices, endless support for the religions of Consumerism and Individualism. And frankly, our church has told them, at least sometimes, that there's nothing terribly wrong with Individualism as a guiding philosophy, that it's not altogether incompatiable with following Christ.)

Some of the answers will seem obvious to you (clergywomen of RevGal), of course, and some are unbreakably rooted in the history and polity of denominations. But we have no denomination to reign us in - we have all of scripture, church history, and opinion to sift through. It's been a LONG time since we sat down and thought systematically about this question. The answers we choose could lead to new music, new liturgy, new ways of speaking, a new format (or some very old format...) and different people being involved.

Me, I am very wary about rushing to the finish line, and settling on something that feels 'safe' or logical and 'solves the problem'. That would be a huge relief, but I think God brought us out here for a reason, and I don't want to miss this chance to be really radically God's, instead of leaning on my own understanding.

We're getting very close to the edge of the cliff. Several times a day, I remind myself that it takes trust and a lot of discipline to fly.


LutheranChik said...

Augsburg Fortess has a kind of Liturgy 101 book called Gathered and Sent -- can't think of the authors right now -- which breaks down the traditional liturgy into acts of gathering and sending. The authors point out that Christian worship has operated from that framework since the days of the Didache.And it seems to me that those dynamics are true in any worship modality. You gather the people of God together in a large group to worship and praise God; to collectively ponder their weakness and need for God, then hear words of grace and forgiveness extended to them all; to hear the Word proclaimed through Scripture and expounded upon for their benefit; to pray, as a body, for all in need; to receive the grace of the Lord's Supper and hold on to that as "a foretaste of the feast to come." And then the people are sent back out into the larger world to be Christ for that world in the context of their daily lives. There is a flow in corporate worship that makes sense, and that helps people connect to something larger than their individual or household or extended-family me-and-Jesus relationships. If I were a visitor to your worship committee I might suggest that you think about ways in which you gather, and ways in which you send, your people.

betsy said...

That lines up with Robert Webber's categories (he separates out Ministry of the Word and Ministry of the Table, as well) in Ancient Future Worship.

Our order of worship has been based on ECUSA's Book of Common Prayer. Even though we're trying be be really radical, and have nothing but the Trinity be sacrosanct...I honestly cannot imagine that we'd ever lose weekly communion.

Thanks for the book idea. And thanks, everyone, for your continuing prayers.

Ann said...

My sense of liturgy was shaped by the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer for rhythm and structure, open with Praise -- oh wow - so great we are here and God is in our midst. Scripture and reflection - what and how have the people of God heard God speaking to them throughout the centuries and what does that mean for us here now? Creed - what do we believe and affirm. Prayers - for the world, the church, others, ourselves, etc. Eucharist - breaking and sharing the bread and wine. Dismissal - go out and and be the hands of Christ. Music supports and repeats the rhythm and meaning of what is happening. I see it all as word and Word -- capital W for the incarnate one.
Hmm maybe I should have blogged on this too LOL

Stacie said...

Wow. I just typed out a ginormous response to your remark about not losing weekly communion. Too ginormous. I'll email it or post it to my own blog :) If I forget, ask me Monday!

Please, don't ever do away with weekly communion. I miss it and a lot of local churches do not do it very frequently. When they do, it's a private thing, in your seat with your little cup and piece of cracker. I guess in my mind, communion means you have to reach out and become more than what you are individually. So a little private communion ceremony in your seat seems to miss the point to me.

There's a lot more tied to this (yes, this is the "non-ginormous" email. Can you believe it?!)