Monday, July 14, 2014

Fourth Sabbatical Sunday Worship

As I reflect over childhood experiences, of people and events that shaped my life, I realized how clear my memories are of Sunday mornings.  How important it was for my parents to go to church.  How there seemed to be so many people.  Then as we got to the doors my mom would take us to the nursery and my parents would go into this mysterious room with all the other grown-ups.  What did they do in there?  Why couldn't I go in with them?  I have such a strong memory of the curiosity of that mystery.  What secret activities where those grown-ups doing?  Then one Sunday, I didn't go to the nursery, I went into the room with the grown-ups!  Over time I learned the prayers (wondering if the Holy Ghost was like Casper), I learned to sing and I ate bread and juice to remember Jesus loved me. My experiences there have greatly formed what it means to be part of a worshiping community and I am so grateful for the people of Rochester UMC.  They gave me a great gift as a child participating as a member of the worshiping community.

This Sunday I went to check out the local competition so to speak and attended one of the former Presbyterian churches in town. One personal note, I haven't been shaving the past week.  I'm on sabbatical so why not, right?  I was very self-conscious that I looked scruffy.  I was a lone single man with an unshaven face and I plopped myself down behind a family with two young girls.  Soon another man sat next to me further down the pew and I began thinking of church Safe Sanctuary policies.  Maybe this guy was thinking, who is this scruffy guy?  Why did he sit behind the girls?  Maybe I should have just shaved.

The worship started with two hymn-like songs.  There was a small singing group up front. The music was OK, but I didn't find a connection or excitement in singing them.  After a third song, there was a "passing of the peace" time.  I shook a few hands and sat, following my usual three and out rule.  Then it went on.  A couple more people shook my hand. And it went on.  Oh My Goodness when will it end?  Liturgically I really like passing the peace.  It’s important for us to be reconciled to one another. We should not stand and/or sit awkwardly waiting for this time to end while the extroverts move from one side of the sanctuary to the other. God has granted us grace, we should pass the peace and keep moving on.

Overall, this could have been a UMC service.  The congregation was older but had a good mix of families with children and youth.  The pastor was engaging.  The sermon, well, I've given plenty of shotgun (scattered without a clear point) sermons in my time so I'll give it a pass.  Not an "A"  but a "C".  I've been there.  I knew what I wanted to say, but just didn't get to it.  Then it’s Sunday and time to deliver whatever you have.

A prayer, offering and closing song and Peace Out, have fun watching the World Cup!

Again, I'm left to wonder, what is the purpose of this Sunday morning task?  So much time and emotional energy is given by the staff of any church into this weekly gathering.  Whether it’s traditional protestant or non-denominational we all sing, pray and hear from the scriptures.  Some of it is more entertaining than others.  But, would even the "best" of these services be the right place for someone to enter into the Christian community?  That’s how I entered as a child nurtured by my parents and other loving adults of the congregation.  But would I begin anew through worship?  I'm not sure.  I'm becoming increasingly aware also of how hard it is to wander into these things alone.  God bless all those single people or lone adults with children who have wandered into worship looking to connect with God and with others.  God forgive me for when I and or the church did not greet them well. 

I'm becoming more convinced that discipleship happens best in relationships that are formed in other ways from Sunday morning worship.  Worship can be formative in our lives of faith.  Worship can express things in a unique way.  Worship can give us a gift of community and the presence of God that other gatherings might not.  Yet, maybe we need to put some equal time into other aspects of spiritual formation.  How much more might I receive in worship if I knew a few of the people I was participating with?  How much more might I be open to the message if I had been reading some of the same scriptures and thoughts during the week? 

What makes worship "work" for you?  When does worship fall flat?  Is it the worship that is offered or what you have brought to the worship that will answer those questions?

1 comment:

Jon Short said...

Bruce, your post reminded of something Adam Hamilton talked about at Annual Conference a few years back. How the front door for the church has shifted from worship to the mission field. It seems to me that your reflection on "Why would anyone spend their time here on Sunday" finds a foothold in the idea of relationship - which in our individualistic society just might be as we engage folks serving our communities. Just a thought. Thanks for your sharing.
Jon Short