What Are You Looking For?
During my week of spiritual renewal I attended Sunday worship at a nearby congregation. There was much about the experience that I appreciated: someone greeted me at the door and held it for me as I entered. The narthex was clean and had a display of materials that visitors might find helpful. During the offering we passed a pew pad, which I could inconspicuously sign while also reading the names of those sitting next to me. The pad also included a church brochure, which I was encouraged to take. Most importantly, when the service ended the man in the pew behind me tapped my shoulder and very kindly struck up a conversation and invited me to coffee hour. Moments later a woman did the same. In both cases the introduction went something like this, “Hello, I don’t think I’ve met you before. Have you been coming here for very long, or are you new to the church?” I appreciated how they were willing to risk the introduction even if they had neglected to notice me in the past. I noticed in their bulletin that the final act of their worship service was a 5-minute time for welcoming one another before coffee hour. I don’t remember what they called it, but they were intentional about greeting people whom they hadn’t previously met. Only after that time did they eat. Coffee hour was a pot luck affair with a healthy spread of options. There was a friendly man wearing a sandwich board and gently requesting volunteers to sign up for future coffee hours. Though I hadn’t planned to stick around, something about the kind welcome that I received compelled me to visit for a while.
Something else of interest happened as well. During the worship service, in place of the sermon, the pastor shared in a dialogue with a woman who represented the Muslim religion. Their theme was “oneness” as it pertains to the two different traditions. The dialogue, it turns out, was part of a series of conversational “sermons” that had been taking place for the middle weeks of July and August. The man who tapped me on the shoulder after worship explained that the conversation wasn’t typical to their regular style of worship. So, I asked him if he appreciated it. He and his wife nodded enthusiastically and said, “We are always glad for the opportunity to learn something about other people. It was very interesting.”
It is that comment that is still on my mind. I too appreciate opportunities to learn about others, and I was certainly interested in what the speakers had to say that morning. But, the comment makes me wonder what it is exactly that people are seeking in worship. What is it that churches are offering? Is the point and purpose of worship to learn something? To an extent I believe it is. But, is it to learn something that we might just as easily learn from a lecture? Is worship intended to inform us? Do we do it to gain information? Have you ever come across a gospel story in which the appropriate response to something that Jesus has said or done is, “That’s very interesting,”?
I admit that I’m being a bit critical here. But, I don’t mean to do it in a non-constructive way. And, I don’t mean to do it in a judgmental way either. As I mentioned, there was much about the experience that I appreciated. And, I even appreciate the pastor’s ambition in doing something creative and different in worship. Even more, I’m aware that I’m far from perfect and that not everybody loves everything I say or do during worship.
Still, I would like to say this: I was craving God that morning. I was needing to hear of a love that creates, and overcomes, and calls, and blesses, and fills, and inspires, and challenges, and leads, and moves, and saves. I needed Good News and what I was offered was interesting and even important, but not quite all that.
So, I wonder, what are you seeking from worship on Sunday mornings? What is it that you think our worship should offer?
Though it may sound a bit bold or grandiose, I think our worship should offer God. I think it should speak to us of a divine, holy love. I think it should attempt to convey that love. I think it should give us the opportunity to receive that love, claim it, and respond to it. I think it should do more than inform and interest us. I think it should shape us and bring us into oneness with ultimate reality and the source of all life and goodness.
Our worship may not always succeed. (How could it?) But, at least it should try.
God bless you,