We had a wonderful Parish Weekend last weekend, which included a morning workshop on worship with the Rev. Isaac Everett. Isaac is a liturgist who has been on the staff of our Cathedral and is now director of one of the diocesan Mission Hubs. There was so much in his presentation! It’s impossible to summarize it in a few paragraphs, but I wanted to share what stood out for me. I look forward to hearing more about what stood out for you.
Isaac said that worship is work: work done playfully. He asked us to think about:
- What is the work being accomplished in our Sunday morning service?
- What happens, what gets changed or transformed?
The answers Redeemer members shared were:
- We praise God
- We remember Jesus
- We are renewed and re-energized
- The community is built up
- We become the Body of Christ.
Isaac offered us some very helpful ways to think about our worship experiments. Instead of just saying, “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it” (which don’t help us move forward to a decision or conclusion), he suggested we ask:
- What happened?
- What was I hoping would happen?
- What did I notice?
- What did I experience?
- What caused these things to happen?
And the one that caught our attention most of all:
Observe that when we do X (move the choir, sit in chairs instead of pews) the result is Y (we hear better, it’s hard for kids to wiggle). Thus, key questions are:
- What Y are we looking for?
- What X will get us there?
Isaac particularly addressed our chairs vs. pews question, saying that instead of asking “which do we prefer?” it would be more helpful to ask “ What do pews accomplish that chairs can’t?” and “What do chairs accomplish that pews can’t?” Thus, if we think about what Y (or result) are we looking for, what kind of X in terms of pews or chairs will get us there?
One thing he mentioned might be a great topic for our worship committee: How do we help and equip people to be producers of worship, not just observers or consumers, so that worship is more meaningful to all? Our Liturgy Team is one strong way of doing this. Are there other ways?
Isaac also spoke about welcome, which was identified as a key value for our congregation. He referenced the Rev. Stephanie Speller’s book Radical Welcome and encouraged us to move from assimilation (expecting newcomers to learn our ways and traditions) to true welcome (allowing our community to be changed by the gifts new members bring).
I learned a lot about cultural appropriation from Isaac’s talk that I didn’t know. Now that we are better informed, we can do better going forward. The things I particularly noted were that when using another culture’s creative work, we need to name where it’s from, and then return resources to the community that created it.
Lastly, Isaac addressed generational differences in worship and noted we have five generations worshipping together at Redeemer. He talked about the Seeker Sensitive trend in worship renovations in the 1990s that continues into today. That trend was to remove as much as possible the Christian imagery from worship spaces and make them open and light-filled so that they would feel more neutral be welcoming to seekers and newcomers. Isaac reported that younger generations (Gen X and below, which is to say people who are in their 50’s and younger) actually feel that this turns churches in to “hotel-like rooms that could be anywhere and don’t feel holy”.
He encouraged us to “embrace the weirdness of Christianity” and said “if we
don’t take Christianity seriously, no one else will, either.” Younger generations, he said, are more attracted by the New Traditionalism trend of returning to older styles of worship and iconography combined with social progressivism.
A few of his casual comments really stuck with me. One was that all change is loss. Whatever we choose, we will have lost the other possibilities that we didn’t choose. It’s important to acknowledge and grieve those lost possibilities. And in many ways, he pointed out it doesn’t matter what kind of space we have, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of our real goal of people participating in worship and creating community. And, most importantly, he reminded us that whatever we do in love, out of our love for each other, our community and our world, will be just the right thing for Redeemer.
Just a reminder about upcoming parts of our worship conversation:
- November 3: Organ Committee report at Adult Forum
- November 17 &14: Our last major Worship Space Experiment in the Great Hall
- November 24: Reflecting together on the Worship Space Experiments at Adult Forum
- Mid-January: one last smaller Worship Space Experiment with the choir singing from the front pews