Note: I have been doing “Mystery Worships” for the past year. I write these up for the Denton Record-Chronicle as their weekly religion column. While it has been fun and educational, it has also been a deeply troubling experience.
The last couple of months have been particularly rough on me. I’ve told several people that if I were not well-grounded in my faith, I would have completely lost it by now. I had seen too many male ego-driven, female-ridden, prayerless services, often led by uneducated clergy.
So being in worship this past Sunday at a place like this was particularly meaningful. The column below is slated to run in the Friday, June 19, 2015 edition of the DRC.
On this past steamy Sunday morning in June, I am in worship at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in downtown Denton.
St. Andrew has long housed and sponsored the Our Daily Bread ministry. Hard-working volunteers cook and serve a free hot meal every weekday for all comers, no questions asked. I’ve donated items but have not been at the church for worship.
A gentleman greets me when I walk up. He waits for the handicap van so he can help people into the building. Upon entrance, another greeter shakes my hand and makes introductions.
I am alone. When I walk into a church alone I am often ignored. Immediate greetings come if I am accompanied by a male companion. The greeters swarm all over us if I have young people with me. But we older women aren’t called invisible for nothing.
Not the case at St. Andrew. I am surrounded within moments. Most appear happy to hear that I will write about them.
Several offer to sit with me, but I decline. Sitting alone aids observation and note-taking.
The traditional looking sanctuary with dark wooden floors and pews welcomes me. The space fills rapidly for the one 10:00 am service, their summer schedule. Gentle organ music cradles us as some engage in quiet conversation.
No screens. No “get me excited” countdown timers, no video announcements to capture my attention, no photos of perfectly dressed worshippers or aerial shots of the church to awe me with its fabulousness. Just people, music, and an atmosphere of quiet anticipation.
The blue-robed choir make their procession to the chancel. Alan Baroody, the Interim Pastor, offers a “Good Morning” and gives announcements. I see that the people in this congregation know and care for one another.We call one another to worship. Strong voices from the choir support the congregation as we sing “Morning has Broken.”
We pray, the pastor leading. Together we say a general confession and then are given time for our own silent and personal confession. Suddenly I am aware that prayer is not media-friendly. Churches web-streaming their services dare not practice silence. Music, movement, words and enthusiasm must fill each millisecond. Yet how much the human soul needs those increasingly rare and healing moments of quietness and contemplation!
We hear the Gospel reading. The congregation sings a welcome to the children for the children’s message. Most of the churches I’ve visited recently do not want children in worship and offer no special time for them. Video and game-filled rooms entice them into age segregated fun. By banning little ones from adult spaces, TV cameras don’t pick up the distractions of their inevitable sounds. But St. Andrew celebrates the presence of children, even when they are few in worship as was the case Sunday. I learn later that many are on a retreat together and that a large contingent of youth have just returned from a trip.
Eight glorious men’s voices then treat us to a rousing rendition of “Down by the Riverside.” Their joy in the music spills from them and infects all of us. We clap along with the beat.The applause that follows seems a natural response to these delightful moments.
Baroody follows the music with the Epistle reading from 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. His message on the “Fresh Air of the Kingdom” flows seamlessly from the passage. He begins with a compelling anecdote about learning to scuba dive. He describes his fear of not being able to breathe. When he learns to relax and trust his equipment, the other-world beauty of the universe under the sea opens to his eyes. The lesson: “In Christ, we’ve taken on a new set of spirit-breathing lungs which allows us to live as a new creation, without anxiety, utterly at ease in the kingdom of God.”
He describes the ministry of reconciliation. He likens it to “tying together the wounded, bonding them to the one Christ who asked no questions about how people came to be diseased or disabled before He reached out to heal.”
After the message, the congregation responds with an affirmation of faith in God who has called us all to be reconcilers. The offering follows as giving takes its rightful place as an act of worship. Ushers dedicate the funds to God. The congregation sings praises to the One from whom all blessings flow.
Again, we go to prayer, both personal and corporate. Again the glory of moments of silence. And again we, as a people of God, sing together and then are sent forth with blessing.
Yes, we are in church. No, it doesn’t look or feel like a performance. Yes, it uses language that fewer and fewer know, the language of liturgy, of awe before a Holy God, of prayer, of confession, of silence, of inclusion, of community and care.
Yes, I needed this.