Friday, May 17, 2013

Safety and Formula in Worship

Moving to a new town means finding a new church -- a process I don't enjoy at all.  Hubby has visited two churches now in San Antonio.  One was John Hagee's Cornerstone Church.  He said, "It's quite a performance.  I don't think it's where we want to go, but it's probably something you'll want to experience."  He lost me at performance.

The other we visited with him again last Sunday.  It's a small (by Texas standards) Baptist church near his apartment.  We both grew up Baptist, though we haven't attended a Baptist church for about 20 years for various reasons.  However, doctrinally, I think that's still where we live, so it might be kind of nice to come home to a Baptist church again.

This is not your ordinary Baptist church, though.  They said (in their visitors' materials) that since there are so many churches in the area that offer the high-energy, loud, praise-band style of worship (and I don't doubt that), they intentionally made the choice to focus on the more reverential, traditional style.  They have a full-choir, in robes, with piano and organ.  They sing traditional hymns and sing them with gusto, according to hubby (he said their passion while singing was moving in itself).  Last Sunday was Children's Sunday and the kids choir led the service, so the girls and I didn't get to see the whole enchilada, so to speak, but it was still a breath of fresh air.

Now, here's what threw me.  The pastors wore robes.  I've never seen a Baptist pastor in a robes.  And they apparently follow the traditional "church calendar":  last Sunday was Ascension Sunday -- next week is Pentecost Sunday.  I've NEVER heard of a Baptist church following the church calendar.

And I've never attended a church that followed the church calendar.  And I'm wondering if I want to.  Much as I liked so many things about the church, the teaching aspects of the service felt routine, ritualized . . . safeToo safe.  The Holy Spirit is not routine, nor ritualized, and most definitely is not safe.  (As Mr. Beaver said about Aslan: "Safe?  Of course he isn't safe.  But he's good.")  Not that every other worship style doesn't have their routines and rituals and safe zones . . . so maybe my hesitation is just about the newness, not the formulaic-ness.

I've become rather weary of the mega-church, programmed worship model, so I'm up for something different.  Whether this is it, I don't know.  But I would love to hear from friends who do the church calendar thing and find out how that works for them.


Charissa said...

I grew up in a very liturgical church and now serve in one. I just ordered my robes and stoles for when I'm ordained, in fact. I always always always preach from the lectionary (the book that cycles through the Scripture on a three year rotation that fits the liturgical seasons and makes sure that you get to the whole Bible every three years.)

The church calendar and traditional liturgy don't stifle the Holy Spirit unless you let them. And honestly, I've been at plenty of "contemporary" churches that are so wrapped up in the "performance" that they aren't listening either.
These elements are spiritual disciplines that help us to be more in tune with the HS. When our bodies and minds are in a regular rhythm, even in worship, we are more tuned to God and set in a spiritual groove (good groove like a dance, not like a rut-groove, lol).

I've been amazed at the way that God has worked through my use of the lectionary. The passages I've been preaching on have always fit beautifully the life of the church and what is happening. Often they have been exactly the comfort I myself needed too. Other pieces of worship services planned by other people not in the loop about my sermon have fit perfectly into place. There is something so beautiful about how God takes something so seemingly rigid and uses it for His glory in such a seamless way.

OAC 123 said...

I appreciate the liturgical calendar for a number of reasons. I appreciate it because of its intentionality. Every church operates under a calendar and goes through cycles (in worship); some of them are intentional and some unintentional, but all of us have our calendars. Part of the intentionality of the liturgical calendar is that it helps the church embody the story of Jesus each year in its worship.
I appreciate it because it helps the church and the people of faith mark time. Like any calendar one can tell where they are in ‘time’ based on the ‘date’ (i.e. 5th Sunday After Pentecost – gives me information about where we are in the cycle of the year, just like April 25th can tell a person information…add which year, and I can tell you where we are in the stories.)
I appreciate that the calendar is cyclical, beginning and ending in the same place as a reminder that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus fits into a larger context. All of history is moving toward the reign of God and that God’s activity in Jesus was not simply random. The story of Jesus is a part of God’s ongoing activity in history.
I appreciate that the calendar starts with (different from the first day of) Easter. It builds forward and backward from there.
I appreciate it because it sets some boundaries in which we can improvise and things still be recognizable. One of my favorite comparisons is to Jazz music. Everyone on stage has to know the ‘rules’ of the song (Key, rhythms, etc.) in order to improvise and the music make sense (and be beautiful). You also need to know them so that you know when it is appropriate to break them and what that does to the music.
As the previous poster noted, the Spirit still moves freely. Indeed, the calendar is not for God, it is for us. We are the ones who mark such things. The Spirit moves in our preparation together for a particular Sunday, season, year, etc. It moves and flows in the worship, the sermon, the prayers, the table, the music, and the gathered community.
I currently serve a church that resists most things liturgy (though they do follow a liturgical calendar – to some extent not knowing what it means). What they don’t realize is that they have their own and the primary reasons for not wanting to do it ‘this way’ is because they already do it ‘that way’. I have to tell you, I hunger for it. At the Festival of Homiletics several of the worship services had some ‘high’ liturgy, and it was beautiful and Spirit filled!
If you really are interested in learning more about the why’s, I would recommend the “Calendar” book by Lawrence Hull Stookey. Even if you just read the Introduction and Chapter 1 (I believe) where he talks about anamnesis and prolepsis, and calendars and marking time in general.