Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What I did over Christmas Vacation

I took the Sunday after Christmas off from preaching.  My family didn't have any plans for traveling so I decided to check out a local congregation.  I won't name names but it is the closest thing we have to a megachurch in the Falmouth area (and probably for most of Cape Cod).  It's an independent congregation with three Sunday morning services each with a couple of hundred people in attendance.

The basic format involved a light rock band playing three praise songs (with words projected on a central screen).  This was followed by a scripture reading, a half-hour sermon and a pastoral prayer.  The full service was a little less than an hour.  As we were filing out, the next service was making its way into the auditorium.

I've been to this kind of worship before, so I wasn't surprised by its lack of formal liturgy.  There were some worship decisions that I respected, like the absence of worship bulletins.  I was given a paper with a few announcements but didn't need it for worship, so my eyes could always be focused on what was happening.  There were some decisions that I found lacking.  I have never quite understood how the sharing of the peace (an important theological and communal moment) has turned into, "Say hello to your neighbor."

What I found interesting was how the congregation dealt with some of the issues that we also have in worship.  For instance, during five years of ministry here in Falmouth, I have sat through a few hours of discussions about how to begin our worship.  Does the prelude begin at 9:30 or at 9:25?  Should we gather in silence to prepare or should we have music playing?  Do we start promptly at 9:30 or should give some time since everyone seems to come at the last minute?

At the congregation I visited, I arrived at 8:15 for an 8:30 service.  The band was warming up.  They stopped around 8:25.  8:30 came and went.  Some recorded music was playing over loudspeakers.  People gathered (noisily, since they were talking over the music) and the worship began promptly at 8:40.  There was even a clock projected on the screen counting down to the start time.  The feeling was informal, but the design was intentional.

I have come to a point in my life as a pastor where I see very few rights and wrongs about worship.  There are likes and dislikes.  There are traditions and innovations.  Every choice we make includes some and excludes others.  This is partly why so many worship styles continue to develop.  We are all inspired by the same good news but respond to it with a beautiful variety.

Part of my response to my worship experience is colored by a fairly introverted personality.  As popular as the contemporary style may be, I personally find it too loud and too busy.  I find a need to be still and experience God's presence.  The worship style I experienced was more focused on getting me amped up in joyful praise (not that there's anything wrong with that). 

I'm not trying to step into the liturgical versus contemporary debate.  I sometimes experience liturgical worship that is overly busy, overly concerned with what is proper.  I find that many organ preludes are also too loud and too busy.  I wonder if there are others like me who seek a more peaceful approach to worship, a place to step away from the general busyness of life and find the divine in stillness and peace.

It is not a matter of right and wrong, but faithful people worshiping God in a variety of ways.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A New Year in Falmouth

I am sure that the internet is crawling with blogs talking about new years and new starts.  It seems a good time to update things, share intentions.  It is my hope to use this blog more frequently in the coming year and hopefully get more of the congregation to follow it.  We'll see what the year brings.

Christ Lutheran is getting closer to making a decision about whether to adopt the structure that was proposed several months ago.  The language has been drafted and needs to be approved in a couple of weeks.  Anyone outside the church world reading this will probably think, "They didn't do that yet?"  Some folks in the church world will look at it say, "Wow.  They are moving right along." 

It's true that things take extra steps when you are working in the church, especially in any branch of the church that seeks to give authority to the people of the congregation and not just the pastors.  We have to get as many people as we can on the same page.  We have to explain the benefits, do the prep work and then wait for the vote.  In the midst of all of this we trust that the Holy Spirit is at work, shaping the process as we move in new directions.

So in a couple of weeks we may be talking about groups and teams instead of standing committees.  Again, those outside the church will be unimpressed, but for the congregation, I hope this represents a new start, seeking to minister in creative ways; seeking to have an impact on the local community; seeking to share good news in a new year.