I so rarely stop and think about how we do worship historically at St. John’s that it was not easy to put my thoughts down especially into a sermon that didn’t bore or simply become historical laundry list.
When considering how we do worship it is more of a seasonal or even month-to-month look into the distance, but to look over the past 20 even 40 years has been interesting. I use the analogy as is often used for worship, that of being an experience of drama, a setting for a play being acted out, not where God is acting for us, but we are the ones performing before God. So using that analogy, looking at staging, direction and performance may be helpful.
For staging, the old concrete baptismal font, was taking out around 1949 to make way for the new chapel that was built. You can still see the hexagonal shape remaining in the floor. Sound systems have been put in and taking out twice. Stairs of been added to the front of the of the chancel area. The old carpet was taken up and wood floor revealed, with new carpet, a new concert grand piano, pews taken out, pews falling apart, and new cross Commemorating our 100 years in this building was added. We never had permanent cross until then.
Direction is given by moving the place of preaching down to the floor from the pulpit above, bringing the communion table down, shifting the pews, adding a blue songbook, a red songbook, the new Bible, the carillon bells, decorating the church for church calendar festival and more. Now folks like the white fabric so much that we rarely take it down.
In terms of performance we’ve added prayer stations so that people can interact with and work out their faith experience with the sense of touch, small, vision, emotion, thoughts and prayers. Bulletins over the course of decades have made considerable changes to how we move and sing and engage each other. Variety and spontaneity add to our sense of awe. The presence of children remind us that we are all children in God’s presence that we need not achieve more than a child in terms of faith and that we all are responsible for our children’s faith formation.
I used the acronym “CASA” as we think about our worship home, our house of worship, but more importantly, a sense of home when we come into this space, when we enter into a time together, in the presence of God. We know that God isn’t tied to this locale or time, but is a reminder of our need and opportunity to worship always, wherever we are. We practice worship in this home, this Casa, so that we can really live it everywhere else.
“C” refers to community when we are here, we see each other, we know each other, we have moments within the different moments of worship to be vulnerable with each other, open with each other, to look at each other sing at each other, to listen to each other. The wood floor helps us hear each other better.
“A” is for accessible. It is not our priority to stay inside but always to be open to those who stepped in to this place. We wonder what folks are thinking as they cross the threshold of worship. What are their needs, their histories, pain and joy. The apostle Paul talked about how important it was for those who have experienced faith longer to adapt to those who are new to faith, to be considerate, to be conciliatory to the needs of those who are new. So we remove barriers in our wording we don’t use Kings English or Latin that can confuse, male language for God that may limit the face of God. We provide comfort like coffee in the sanctuary, like a place where they are not harassed; where they can just sit and reflect, not even participate if they choose. Bulletins, signage, music, nametags, so many other things are aids to accessibility.
“S” Is for stimulation. We are always in tension in our faith we find challenge and comfort, and then more challenge. We need to be shaken and brought to a new place where worship grows our spiritual formation, developing the edges and places of growth of faith. There are many points within worship that stimulate us to new growth, that sometimes push, sometimes nudge, sometimes calls, sometimes gently whispers, but stimulation is key to worship. Not only sermons, but songs, prayers can bring us to a new place.
Lastly “A” is for accountable. We work on our own spiritual formation within community, with guidance of liturgy in worship, with the guidance of scripture,, but we don’t depend upon another to tell us what to do or to think or feel about faith. No one tells us what our faith should look like; the shape of our faith should be like. No one forms our faith. We allow the spirit to do that for us along with our own conscience for God alone is the Lord of each of our conscience. So that also means we are not off the hook to let someone else study, think or process for us. We find opportunity in worship to do that.
So together we help each person listen for the voice of Jesus. We ask ourselves whether we are willing to help invite others to be in that position of hearing Jesus’ voice. The church exists for others.
I know there are times when we come into church and we want comfort, or to be comfortable, like sitting in an easy chair, propping up our feet. We want a sense of acceptance by God. We can experience that acceptance without being couch potato worshippers. We don’t need every condition to be suitable to us, for every whim to be supplied. Our simple response is in our openness to God’s presence in Jesus Christ and our response through Jesus Christ, our only true condition for worship.
There are times when we make holy a feeling, object, moment, space or response to an experience that may at one time intersected with a sense of God’s presence, and we forget that the holy is in the meeting of God and us. Feeling, objects, moments, spaces or responses are only a temporary means through which we are drawn closer to God. We need to not confuse those conditions hosting that reality with the real presence of God, otherwise superstition creates a desire to recreate the same conditions, and we believe that God’s presence happens only in certain patterns and certain moments with certain conditions. Our faith is stronger; strong enough to know that we cannot limit God by the setting or emotions or conditions. So we value those things that enhance other people’s access to hearing Jesus. We value them more than our own emotional memories or petty concerns.
Early after the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples had a tendency to stay inside for they feared the reaction of others this message and its impact would have on and how it may blow back on them. Soon with the power and boldness of the Holy Spirit they realize that this good news was for all people and that they had to work to speak to allow others to hear the voice of God found in the presence of Jesus Christ. Our priority is to not stay inside but to reach out, sharing the good news to comfort, sometimes with our own discomfort, to always stir and sometimes be shaken to get to a new place of courage and strength. It means that our God relationship is not dependent upon a situation, but the real presence of God, wherever, whenever, however. It is not need related, situation related or other-person related. Our worship, our gratitude, our home-ness with God is lean, clean, unencumbered.