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Wading by the Water: Orderly Ardor

Here is an idea to strengthen you experience of baptismal renewal. Take a walk! River_2

This may not sound very revolutionary, but any movement at all in my congregation carries the threat of something going awry. Our large mainline congregation typically restricts its movement to arriving, standing, sitting, and departing. Now we are about to take a walk together past the baptismal waters as a sign of remembrance and renewal.

We are about to reflect together upon the story of Peter walking on water. His first steps brought the threat of sinking. Our steps bring the threat of tripping over someone’s walker or stepping on a neighbor’s foot. – As the pastor receiving Monday morning quarterbacking, I’m not sure which is scarier!

Placed in the context of Peter’s walk, our congregational journey will be just a token of the faithful risk we are called to share. Members will bring their offerings forward as they physically move toward the front of the sanctuary. (I’m told there are some African communities where this act of offering is the most joyful and powerful part of the service!) Upon placing their offering (and their heart!) before the Lord, they will pass the baptismal waters and be given opportunity to touch the water and remember God’s claim on their lives.

Children will be baptized at the start of our worship service. This exercise will be placed after the proclamation of the Word. It will be a remembrance of the baptismal act that further invites the congregation into the sacrament that was shared.

Peter’s success came when his eyes were fixed on Christ. The challenge for us will be to lead with words of comfort and assurance that empower the congregation to take this minor risk of ardor. When we structure the event with order, it will become a moment of welcome and hospitality for the congregation to renew their spiritual life together.

Our congregation may not be filled with folks courageous enough to wade “in” the water. However, this wading “by” the water should be invitation enough to remember who they are.

The serigraph above is entitled "The River" by John August Swanson. View his work at www.johnaugustswanson.com.

Tradition: From Current Local to Historic Global

It often seems that tradition is in the eyes of the beholder.

A friend visited for a while with our large suburban congregation and suggested that what she discovered was a heritage of worship that was part town hall meeting, part local talent show, and part lecture series. Perhaps there are other congregations whose Ordo follows in a similar path.

As pastor of the congregation for a little over two years, I have been faced with a number of questions related to local tradition. Making appeals to the great traditions of the church and faith don’t carry much freight for people who mark tradition according to what their parents taught them or what the last great preacher suggested.

For large churches, change often comes slowly with much conversation – especially if change is rare and sometimes has been disastrous.

Bearing this in mind, we have created safe spaces for conversations about worship. The conversation was structured by a graduate student we engaged for the purpose of exploration in small group and one-on-one interviews. As you might imagine, our conversations about worship were all over the map. We discovered yearnings amongst some for dimensions of worship that we did not offer at the time our questions were asked.

Openhand_2 In large measure, those expressed yearnings related to a sense of emotion and involvement that some felt was lacking in our more traditional church setting. So we decided to create some space for innovation. We are currently in the process of adding a new service of worship. The idea of adding an alternate worship service is nothing new.  What is new (thus far) is the cooperative spirit being shared as we progress.  This spirit is the outcome of much communication in many different forms.  Since we began the process with an open conversation, the continuing development of new worship has become a shared conversation in meaning and problem-solving for the congregation.

A friend is joining us in a few weeks to offer a worship service that demonstrates for the congregation the way that we can add a “contemporary” feel while also rediscovering the riches of sacramental practice. I suppose this is a small move toward "emerging worship." Learning to dance in large churches is, as some have coined the phrase, like waltzing a gorilla – so small steps are alright.

One purpose of our “trial” worship service is to expand a conversation about experience, meaning, and tradition. One small thing we will do on that day is outlined in an idea you might try (listed in the ritual section - “Wade by the Water”). This is an example of the “small steps” I named above.

Ultimately, exploration of tradition in local context relates to the relational character of ministry. It’s been my experience that time and trust open pathways for conversation and innovation. It also has been my experience that larger numbers of people require larger amounts of time for conversation about any change.

When we create avenues for trust and conversation in congregations, then our boundaries for tradition and imagination begin to expand. As leaders, we create room for congregants to see their relationship to other believers in every time and place. If tradition is ultimately a kind of “handing down,” then one task of leadership is to join hand to hand through the gentle art of friendly conversation.

The Contemporary Desert

Everyone wants heightened spirituality, but don’t know what it takes to get there. Most pastors and worship leaders have such a hectic schedule that it is impossible to slowdown enough for quiet time or solitude. Yet the Apostolic Fathers of faith placed a high value on it.

If leaders have a problem with carving out quiet moments can you imagine what the congregation is feeling? Jonny Baker and Doug Gay’s Alternative Worship: Resources from and for the Emerging Church, provides a “ritual” that contextualizes the spiritual practice of being in the desert that can be used as part of a worship service, small group gathering, or as teaching illustration.

Items needed: Removed Van seat, a boom box, selection of CD’s (ideally instrumental), a video projector and VCR. Video tape a drive down the highway, even being stuck in traffic, or driving through the city.

Description: Traveling in a car is the closest thing for most people get to solitude. “Setting up this ritual will hopefully help people to reflect positively on the space they have next time they are driving alone in the car” (Baker and Gay, Alternative Worship, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004, 86)

123037Baker and Gay suggest setting up a station that simulates driving in a car. The guests will receive an instruction sheet encouraging them to use this time to listen to music, reflect and pray. You would set up the van/car seats facing a screen. Place the boom box or a Discman personal CD play with headsets on the seat. The listener can select the music that they would like to listen to. Project the driving video onto the screen from behind the seats, which will simulate a car ride. The goal is that every time they take a drive, they can positively connect this space with an opportunity to connect with God and creating a contemporary desert experience.

Children's Hymns in Worship: Using Repetition

I love singing with children - (well, most of the time, but that part doesn't come into this story). They soak up words and melodies like sponges, storing them away and pouring them out at every opportunity, “in season and out of season” - as the parents in our church ruefully attest.

What makes a good children's hymn? Or a good song for young people? Nobody I know, and no-one I've ever read, has ever come up with the formula.

The problem is compounded by the fact that children will gleefully and confidently sing a song that is not at all what we think of as a “children's” hymn. Three-and-a-half year-old Joseph in our church can sing “Kwase, Kwase/Be Like Him” by Kirk Franklin, or join his (younger) brother Benjamin in a duet of “U ya-i mose” from Zimbabwe. (Two-year old Benjamin sings the bass part.) And, while I'm thinking of it, I remember 11- and 12-year-olds singing - lustily and with good courage - Charles Wesley's “And can it be that I should gain” at every opportunity at summer camp.

Then there's the practical challenge. In the classic worship situation, children troop up to the front for the Children's Sermon while we adults sing verse 1 and 2 of a hymn that mentions children. Then, as they head off to Sunday School, we sing the 3rd and final verse. We might be singing a worthy hymn, but we are really using it as walking music, a sung processional and recessional to frame the children's time up at the front.

Making a place for children's song in worship brings with it some practical problems - not the least of which is that many of the kids don't read yet. Even if they do, they don't carry hymnbooks up to the front. I'm also not convinced that (even for readers) projected words on the screen are the answer. Give me a human face any time - but that is also another story.

Of course, the content is important, but I look first at the form. I look for how its repetitions (rhythmic, melodic and lyrical) lead the singer into the heart of the song.  Then I look at how the repetitive elements can be used in teaching.

I love African American spirituals and gospel songs for that reason. In my church, Trafalgar Presbyterian in Oakville, Ontario, we use one song for a month, linking it with the church school lesson. I think of it as repetition on a large scale, with the whole of worship for that month being the stanzas, and the children's hymn being the refrain.

We used “I'm Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table” while they were studying communion. We used “Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho” while they were studying the Joshua story, and (since it was Black History month) linked it with stories of African Canadians and African Americans making other kinds of walls fall down.

Our choir sang “Guide My Feet” (thanks to the new “African American Heritage Hymnal” from GIA) as an anthem, and I am looking forward for just the right time to use it with the children.

We use other kinds of repetition. Two weeks ago, we used the opening lines of Handel's “Hallelujah” from “Messiah” as a response to the call to worship.

John Bell's “Jesus is risen from the grave” and “When Jesus the healer” both use repetition as a way into the story and we have used the repetition in various ways. Sometimes I have the adults begin each new verse, and then gesture for the children to continue. I take time at the beginning of worship, when necessary, to teach how we will do the children's song later in worship.

I often have them sing by themselves and unaccompanied, either for a whole verse or chorus, or singing the repeating line. When the song depends on their voices - and they can hear the difference - they gladly fill the acoustic space created for them. It lets us all know that there are times when “a child shall lead them.”

To Be Continued.

Igniting a Sense of Awe

Are we losing our sense of “awe”? I find myself overwhelmed by rocketing gas prices, by the helplessness I feel as I pass a group of homeless men sleeping in the 99 cents store parking lot late at night, and the discontent I feel as I watch my two brothers debilitated by cancer…both with young families. Where is God? Does He care?

Worshipsenses Then I happened upon Don Saliers’ book, Worship Comes to Its Senses (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1996), which makes me come to my senses, changing my vantage point, to God’s perspective. I realized that my problems were larger than life because I did not think "highly" of God, I had lost my sense of awe. In Matthew 9, some friends bring their paralyzed friend to see Jesus. Jesus said to the man, “Get up, take your mat and go home” (Matt. 9:6). Then in verse 7, the crowd was “filled with awe, and they praised God”. The crowd's view of God was enlarged! They praise God with awe.

Saliers encourages us to reconnect real life to the worship of the God of the Universe!

He accents Jaroslav Vajda’s new hymn “God of the Sparrow God of the Whale” which crosses generational lines and is a contemporary way to express to our awe in biblical tradition.  Lyrics after the jump...

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