Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vital Worship

As we settle into worship confidently (see the previous post), we also need to be aware that our worship needs to meet not only our own needs, but those of others. One way we've talked about doing that has been by starting a second service. However, a recent article gives some good advice about that:
Previous church, now Hallstead Hall.

When congregations are considering a second service, my initial advice is to first address the quality of the service currently offered. There is nothing wrong in and of itself with traditional worship. In fact, done well, traditional worship services rehearse the drama of salvation and can appeal to people of all ages and effectively help them connect with God. The problem is often that the traditional service is done in a way that is so tired and worn that it has lost its capacity to engage most people, especially younger people.

I liken a lethargic worship service to a faded photograph. My wife and I have a picture taken on a picnic with friends during seminary days. It is a Polaroid snapshot and so much of the color has washed out of it over these ensuing more than 40 years and there are some creases from too much handling. Nevertheless, when I look at that picture, I am right back there at Shades State Park with Mindy, and Joe and Ellen, eating lunch and playing cards at a picnic table bathed in sunlight filtered through tall beech trees on that beautiful summer day. The vivid memory of that time together and our deep friendship is triggered once again, even by that faded photograph.

Current church.
Those over 60 or so, remember when traditional worship was new to them and done so well. In those days, the preacher preached as though something was at stake, those who led prayers seemed to pray to a living God, those who read scripture had obviously practiced the reading before stepping into the lectern, and the people seemed to sing the hymns with energy and enthusiasm. Today, too much traditional worship features tired preaching, prayers that are read like a grocery list, and stumbling readers who draw attention to themselves rather than to the Word.

Like that faded photograph, just going through the motions of traditional worship is enough to draw many older adults into an effective worship experience because they still remember when their faith was new and the service was done so well. But young people who endure such services cannot find the Holy Spirit in these services with a flashlight! Neither can those older adults who did not grow up with traditional worship and thus have no memory to draw upon. No wonder such folks often opt out of traditional worship.
I think one of the chief challenges we face at St. Edward's, especially with the average age of our congregation, is the temptation to be satisfied with the "faded photograph" type of worship--a kind of worship that relies more on the spirit of nostalgia than on the Holy Spirit. Like an aging, but familiar house, we are tempted to simply let things go--sometimes not even noticing them. I remember when moving our of our last house and preparing it for sale or for rental, there were many things which we had simply grown to live with and that didn't seem important enough to address while we were living there. Once we had to prepare it for others, however, those things needed to be fixed.

As we continue the process of re-planting St. Edward's, we will find that there are some things that we have "lived with" or even enjoyed in the past that will need to be renewed, changed, or even discarded in favor of something more attractive, more vibrant, and more welcoming. May we undertake that process sensitively but proactively in the coming months and years.

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