Thursday, August 23, 2007
Ramblings on worship, denominations and such, part 3
So, if you've been following these ramblings you know that I am deeply rooted in the Presbyterian church with extended forays into Quaker and Episcopal congregations. From the Quakers I gained deep appreciation of silence and trusting in that of God in all people (though certain members of our current administration strain this belief to the breaking point) and the calls to simplicity and peace as a way of life for all followers of Christ. From Episcopalians I gained deep appreciation of the liturgical traditions and the centrality of the eucharist to Christian spirituality. All the traditions I lean towards have great respect for human intellect and are friendly toward the sciences.
So why, now, in middle age, am I hanging out with a bunch of Southern Baptists? Good, good question.
It's certainly not because I've suddenly gone anti-intellect or developed a disturbing case of fundamentitis. It's not because of their liturgy or their silence, that's for sure, cause there ain't much of either of those happening! It's for one simple reason: community.
When I came into a new town last year, in the midst of an uncertain career change and, it turned out, a marital implosion, I worshiped in a few places. This being the South, it was easy to figure out which churches would share my general social views, since they were in the minority. Theologically I am open and ecclesiastically I am interested in new ways of being church. So when I discovered (online) a church that was trying to do something new, that had a deeply ecological orientation and a great world band, I knew I had to try it. I went to this new church for several months. They had a "wailing wall" where people were invited to wander during worship and, given my life circumstances, I did. Week after week, at some point in the service, I would run off to cry at this little prayer alcove. I was glad it was there.
I loved the band. I enjoyed the preacher -- a jazz musician who wove music and poetry and dance and drama into each service with skill and grace. The congregation was hipper than any I'd ever been part of. I mean, if you were going to be in church on Sunday morning, this was the happening place to be.
But as my marriage disintegrated, I knew it wasn't my church. So he got the church in the separation and I went off in search of mine. My next stop was one I had heard recommended by a colleague in DC. So I checked it out. And I stayed. A little bunch of renegade Baptists, worshiping on Sunday afternoons in an Episcopal fellowship hall, in a circle of folding chairs, singing along to a guitar and sharing a potluck dinner every week. Nothing flashy there. But good folks, trying to live the gospel. A house church that turned 5 years old about a month after I started worshiping there, it had outgrown houses within a few weeks of its birth. Now it is outgrowing the fellowship hall where we meet and looking for new space to rent. We don't aspire to be home-owners in this congregation. Who needs the headache? We just need a big enough, flexible enough space that we can gather in a circle, sing our Iona chants and old Baptist hymns, and then break up the circle for dinner.
It's an uneasy fit for me in some ways. I am so not Baptist. I like liturgy. I like a broader hymnody. I get a little restless with all the lay leadership -- especially as the quality of preaching varies greatly from week to week, since we let just about anyone who wants to have a turn at the pulpit. But here I am. Because I found a group of pilgrims who want to follow Jesus. When that means standing up alongside the Smithfield workers at the state's largest pork processing plant or being the first in town to speak out against the possibility of war with Iran or choosing to re-order our retirement portfolios to better reflect our gospel values. And when it means listening at length to the prayers of our community.
What is church for me? This is an evolving question. I suppose there is nowhere I would feel entirely at home. And maybe that is part of the human condition. We aren't entirely at home here. The God-itch inside of us is always calling. Each of us has just a little corner of the truth-cloth and we keep looking around to see where the rest of our quilt might be. So far, my quilt has quite a mixture of textures and colors. I keep looking for the pattern, but I'm not sure there is one here.
And that is just fine with me most days.