Monday, April 04, 2011
A Church for All People
I love the liturgy. I love that it has been the primary locus not just of our worship but our theology as well. Lex Orandi Lex Credendi after all. The form of our worship has been around long enough that I am not a fan of muddling around with it. Innovation is not a positive term in my vocabulary when it comes to the liturgy. If someone feels the need to alter the form of the liturgy, I think there better be a very good reason. All too often, it has been my experience that when pastors and lay leaders want to change up the liturgy they have no guiding vision except that they want to try something new. To me simply being "new" is not good enough. Chasing "new" leads us down the rabbit hole always chasing the newest white rabbit that crosses our path.
In addition, there are far too many times when it seems that those who want to change the liturgy have agendas, are weak in preaching, and prefer style over substance. This statement is not meant to be overly general. It is not true in all cases, but I have seen few instances to the contrary.
But I continue to seek out what others are doing. I do think there are ways and models of worship that don't fit my vision. So when my wife and I were in Milwaukee recently, I looked around for a church that was fairly close. When I looked over my options, I decided that we would go and worship with the folks at All Peoples' Church. Their website simply promoted their Hip Hop Easter Vigil. But their worship tab also talked about what their worship was like. Now THIS was intriguing, even though it departed from the traditional liturgy (sort of). All Peoples' was clearly defined and I loved that they let folks who might come visit what to expect.
The service did look fairly typical in many respects. We gathered with some singing, and fantastic singing it was. There was praying. People freely shared joys and concerns which were all then lifted up by worship leader in extemporaneous prayer at its best. The prayer leader managed to lift up what people had shared (he had been LISTENING!) and his prayer included appropriate imagery and avoided the downfall of many who pray off the cuff. There was not any numerous repetitions of "Lord" nor the dreaded word "just." Unless we are describing God the word "just" just doesn't belong. I cringe when I hear "Lord, we just want to thank you Lord for just being with us Lord through all things Lord..." I know we are given the Lord's name to call upon at all times, but quantity of invocation does not make our prayers any stronger.
Nonetheless that was NOT at all an issue here. The leader did a phenomenal job even though I would not have classified him as a great speaker. He did however do a great job in praying. Praying is not about eloquence. I believe when we are praying corporately the one who wraps the prayers up should have first and foremost been listening. It was clear the leader had done that.
The service then moved into a testimonial. Being an urban congregation there was a wonderful mix of African Americans and whites gathered together. The African American tradition was strong in this congregation and the testimonial spoke to that. A large man stood up and spoke about a transforming event, namely the sermon of the previous week. And he talked about how he experienced God moving in his life to raise him up to new life (my take on his words, I do not want to put words in his mouth). But I was also intrigued then to hear the sermon since he referenced the previous sermon being a piercing word to him.
So then we did move to the reading and the sermon. The pastor had deviated from the lectionary and instead of hearing the woman at the well text appointed for the day, we heard 1 Kings 24, a dry passage to be sure. But Pastor Steve brought it to life as he unpacked the theme of exile and the cross. It was a rousing and energetic sermon that was full of the gospel. There was no choice here of style over substance. Clearly everything here was rooted in the substance of the gospel.
Then after a sermon whose length many congregations would have balked at, the whole church broke for education. The kids went to Sunday School and the adults all moved to a section of the sanctuary for bible study. Well that day they were hearing of their fruits of their partnership with a mission congregation in El Salvador. That congregation was celebrating its fifteenth anniversary that very day and All Peoples' was celebrating with it. What was interesting was that not one adult left the church. No one sneaked away. They all stayed. The presenter was seemingly more concerned with the time she was taking than the congregation was. When we had finished up with the study, everyone came together again to celebrate Communion.
All in all we were there over two hours. And despite the non-traditional flavor of the service, it all felt right in that place. It all felt genuine. It felt faithful to the gospel as it reflected the people gathered there. It lived up to its name. It was a church for All People.