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.