Friday, March 28, 2008

Reverence and Ritual

We had our monthly lay ministry meeting yesterday evening.

Part of the meeting was spent tinkering with our church's new sound system to find out which settings work best for each of us on Sundays when we're assisting. But we spent most of our time together talking about the structure of our worship services, and how to bring back a sense of reverence to the worship experience. How do we initially ritually create sacred space that lets people know that they're not at a social, not in a lecture, not at a game show, not at some assembly of individuals all cocooned inside their own private faith dramas, but the gathered people of God, ready to be fed by Word and Sacrament and then sent back out into the world? How do we move ritually, in the course of the service, in ways that express reverence toward God in this special time and place?

High-up-the-candle type that I am, my reaction to this discussion was -- I guess ironically, come to think of it -- Thank you, Jesus! Because I fear that, in our institutional desire to be friendly and welcoming and immediately accessible to anyone who walks through the door, we lose a sense of holy mystery. I remember a neo-pagan "recovering Catholic" friend who told me, in all seriousness, that what she really longed for spiritually was pre-Vatican-II-style worship, but in the context of a socially and theologically progressive church -- Tridentine masses led by a female priest. And I got what she meant.

To me the problem of worship accessibility is not ritual itself, but the failure to guide people through the liturgy, both in terms of basic religious instruction for adults and children alike about the form and function of catholic worship and in terms of actively, mindfully leading people through any given service. And those things can be fixed, I think fairly easily: including a discussion of worship in both our kids' and adult education classes; frequent narrated liturgies, and a general sensitivity on the part of those leading the service about bringing the folks in the pew along with us; using our newsletter and website and bulletin to continually answer those unasked-but-present "whys" regarding worship.


P.S. an after-thought said...

How do you react to:
1) the leader stating what page number we are on during the liturgy? [Some say that this interupts the flow of the liturgy; others say that it is a gesture of hospitality for those who are new. They feel less like an outsider.]

2) The words of the hymns projected on a screen. [Our church musician worshiped on Easter at a church of a denomination she isn't used to. she said the words were projected and she was surprised that she liked it.]

3) All the liturgy and songs typed out in the bulletin, ie "worship folder." [This one always strikes me as though we think the people are too stupid to use the books. But I suppose that if you don't state the page numbers, you have to do something.]

4) The scripture lessons typed out and in the bulletin even though there are perfectly good Bibles in the pews. [My reaction: ditto, #3.]

LutheranChik said...

At our church we've gone to having our liturgy printed out in the bulletins. I personally don't understand what's so hard about using a hymnal unless one has a disability that makes turning pages difficult...and I rather suspect that it's fallen out of favor not because of persons with disabilities but because of able-bodied/minded people's increasing disinclination to do anything even mildly challenging for themselves. [end mini-rant]

As far as hymns projected on screens: While I can't read music in any real sense, I do understand musical notation enough to keep track of the beats and the general direction of the notes, and you lose that guidance without the music. So I'm not a real big fan of projected lyrics.

I guess I've always been able to -- ahem -- find numbered hymns in an hymnal on the basis of what's listed in my bulletin and on the hymn board -- you, like, follow the numbers, people -- so I personally do not need the aural assistance of a worship leader reiterating the numbers of the hymns; so I find it redundant. But we do it at our church.

Chris said...

Wonderful post! I'm so impressed that your lay worship assistants meet once/month! And of course I love your discussion of the importance of reverence and ritual. Bravo!

Wren said...

It isn't all that time consuming to introduce a psalm, for instance, by saying, "Turning to page 457...." It's helpful not only for newcomers but also for those older folks who can't read the hymn board and get confused with the multi-paged bulletin filled with liturgy and announcements. Mostly, it's a friendly thing to do.

The thing I don't like in the Holy Space is applause. Occasionally it fits, but it's like the camel's foot under the tent. Suddenly we clap for everything!

Heidi said...

Eddy and I both appreciate liturgy - it is such a contrast to the Baptist services we grew up with. The focus is so different in a liturgical service -- What can I do for God (Baptist) vs. What has God done for me (liturgical).

Eddy did a series of Sunday morning CE classes on the different parts of the liturgy, where they come from and what they mean and it was well-received.

He has at times also added brief explanations of the parts of the liturgy throughout the worship folder before each section.

He does print out all of the hymns in the worship folder . . . partly because our hymnals are falling apart, but mostly because he uses (legally) music from many different hymnals. It is also a lot easier for visitors and easier for elderly people because you can easily make the whole thing large print and it isn't heavy like a large hymnal.

Worship services are a sticky issue, but traditional services are harder to find. In our city our church has made it our niche - why try to be like everyone else?

Choralgirl said...

Amen, Wren. I'm a church musician who gets particularly (and inwardly) annoyed about the insistence on clapping for music in worship, especially if kids are making it. I get and appreciate the kind, supportive impulse involved, but think it sends the wrong message: if music is a ministry and an offering, applause isn't really appropriate. I try the "build a relationship with a kid: express your appreciation after worship" angle, but there's a way in which I just look like a snob here. I get that, but see it as an issue of respecting the offering that the kids make, instead of seeing them through a sentimental lens.

And to me, applause in worship is no more appropriate for musicians than for readers, communion servers, etc. AND it reinforces the "spectator" culture that we're trying to work against. Sigh.

OK, rant over. :-)

LC: we've done lay worship planning teams at my church over the last several years, which incorporates a training retreat and really gets the planners thinking holistically about worship. If you want to discuss, please come visit my blog & email me; I'd love to chat.

And here I thought I was the only person dealing with a liturgically conservative/social progressive bent. ;-)

Peace, sister--

Diane said...

What I always think about is finding the balance between reverence and celebration. When I was in college and I worshipped with the Pentecostals they were so good at a sense of celebration. But I missed the sense of reverence I got from good liturgy. I'm not a fan of clapping during worship myself, but I'm a little more forgiving of it than some. When I was -- ahem -- with the Pentecostals -- they used to have "a clap offering to the Lord," which I thought was kind of funny. I think that on the one hand, it's bad to get a sense that we are clapping because the music is a performance. On the other hand, I think some people experience this disapproval as a discomfort with Anything Spontaneous. Why does everything have to be pre-programmed, they think?

We print the liturgy. We usually don't announce the hymns unless we have run out of bulletins.

Also, we don't have screens. I don't know how to make a screen aesthetically pleasing in a traditional and beautiful worship space like ours. But I'm not against screens.

By the way, I do read music. I like to read the music, and I occasionally sing harmony. I realize the screens wouldn't faciliate that.

But, there's something about looking ahead while singing rather than down into a book that opens up the lungs a little. I like that about it.