Saturday, July 19, 2008

Church hiatus

by John,

Tomorrow will be my last day at the church congregation that I have been attending for mostly 8-9 years (I actually forget how long).

Church is too far away. It takes a gallon of gas each way to attend church. Now that is over $8.00 each Sunday and too much to pay. There is also the guilt I feel about driving so far, using that much fuel, putting out that much carbon dioxide, to drive to church.

I have really loved the congregation. What they do fits in “my book” as being mostly right, and they are the only local congregation that I have found for which that statement is true for me.

What do they do right? First is their commitment to the Child Learning Center. About half of the building is used by the child center five-days a week. The church is committed to that a level of outreach that makes me feel good. It goes to kids, most of whom can’t afford the fancy, expensive child day care centers. Secondly, the congregation takes what it does in the rest of its life, its worship, hospitality, and community interaction not too seriously. It is very important but not limited by seriousness. We/they enjoy worshipping together. They enjoy tweaking the liturgy for different times, events, and seasons in order to keep it vital, interesting, and alive.

One congregation that I tried to worship with did not work for me because, in my humble opinion, they were worshipping the worship service. Every little portion of the service was planned with elaborate, even arcane detail, and with hierarchy of organization. It often seemed to me that God was fit in to the worship service but was not the main activity. There was much more “aren’t we good at worship” than there was of praise to, thanks to, and petitioning for God’s help in that congregation.

Others that I have visited appear to me to use plastic worship. They go through the motions but it does not come from their souls. And others seem to be using the old, familiar liturgy but with little connection between it and the worshipers. It is like a morning routine in the bathroom that one does without too much involvement or commitment.

Another of my concerns of the worship service is when we-the-congregation are applauded and patted on the back for what we are doing. The “we are so good” message does not fit with my understanding of Jesus’ response to those around him and the Church. He was always pushing at them, encouraging them to change, and caring for the lost, the lonely, the unloved, and the unfed. That is what, in my humble opinion, we need to model in all of our activities with the church and worship. One of my tests for that is at the Eucharist and who gets fed first. The Eucharist is a shared meal and celebration. So, why do the hosts of the meal eat first? In every other social event that I see the hosts feed everyone else and then take care of their needs afterwards, or at the minimum, they serve everyone and then we begin eating together. For me, the liturgy of the Eucharist must do that too.

I love the music at the church I have been attending for these years. It is a significant reason that I have continued to travel so far to worship with them. They/we play with the music as we do with other parts of the service. The question is always there, “What can we do to this piece of music that will make it more relevant, more interesting, more meaningful for this service?” Sometimes that means taking a hymn that was originally a Welsh drinking song and giving it more of the sound of a Welsh tavern. It means adding gaiety to a hymn of praise. It means choosing music from a wide range of resources other than the standard hymnal. It means never, ever dragging a hymn by singing it so slowly that we forget the message and what we are singing.

I’m going to miss “my” church. I do not know where I will find a better fit, but I am committed to finding one that is much closer to home, one that I can drive to in my electric vehicle.

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