I’m supposed to be wrapping up some thoughts about the Wild Goose Festival, but Gavin has distracted me with this post about the slow turn to inoffensive-but-also-unsubstantial practices in worship. “Dumbing down,” to quote him quoting me. So it’s his own fault that he’s not getting what he needs from me at the moment.
It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of most popular contemporary worship music. If you’re new to me, you can read about some of that in an article I wrote for the online portion of Immerse Journal here. Apart from all that, I really, really, miss some of the traditions from which contemporary efforts are continually trying to free themselves. I know that not everybody gets why we light the candles or that passing offering plates should be considered an opportunity for a personal act of worship (making an offering to God, if that’s not clear). But by removing practice instead of explaining practice I think we’re working toward creating a “safe place” for people to come together and “experience” an odd collection of absent practices: “here, we don’t do A, B, or C! Isn’t that great?”
I couldn’t really put words to that until recently I was able to attend an evening service at an Anglican mission in Chattanooga. The music was all full-band contemporary, but much of it had been created within that local worshiping body. I’d never attended an Anglican service, so there were some practices of liturgy and movement that were foreign to me. But you know what? They did them anyway. In fact, they did them without apology. But they did provide explanation: on the screen throughout the service and in my hand in summation were a few sentences about anything that was unique or unusual about Anglican tradition. “We process the cross because…” This part of the service may be unusual to you; here’s why we do this specific thing. If you keep coming back, you’ll get used to it.
Eureka. Rather than removing a laundry list of perceived obstacles to me just being there, they’d given me a list of things that made their worship perhaps different from mine. Things that I might come to love if I were to come to worship with them more often. And when Father Chris removed the cloth from the elements of communion at the end of the service and mopped the sweat from his shaved head, I was able to laugh comfortably with the rest of the congregants because I knew it was just because the A/C was out and he was trying not to faint, not some bizarre addition to the practice of the table. Because if it was, they would have told me so.
They’re also open during the week with pretty great coffee, something I’d like to see more UMC congregations offer. You can check them out right here.