We have two worship services on Sunday, 8:15 AM and 10:15 AM. Typically, they are virtually the same except in the first service we drop the middle hymn and we have no children’s time. So it’s a little shorter. We also have fewer people, so we worship in our chapel rather than the sanctuary.
Today we attempted an At Table worship service for our first service. The service mimics the worship services during the time of house churches in the first century. Then, people worshiped in homes centered around communal meals. As there were no bibles at the time, scripture was told as stories. There were no hymnals. Music might have been whatever. We had no bulletins, either.
We set our room up with several bridge tables. Although we had set up for 32 people, we probably had just over 40. Some people had to sit at corners of some of the tables. We served a continental breakfast as our meal.
We ate and talked. We began by introducing ourselves and then sharing our joys and concerns and ended that time with a community prayer. I told the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and then we talked about it in our small groups. We sang a song and then had communion. It seemed sort of odd in retrospect as we were already doing communion over continental breakfast.
Most of the comments I received were positive. Many people who were unsure when they entered worship left pleasantly surprised that enjoyed it. A few people felt that some real connections were made and that we really need those connections right now in the church. Some said it felt worshipful.
I led the 10:15 worship, which was a traditional service in the sanctuary.
Late in the day I drove over to Northampton to participate in a street worship called Cathedral in the Night. It’s an initiative started by the Episcopal Church to bring church out of the building and into the street. This one meets on the steps of First Churches.
All kinds of people came. One person who drove over from Pittsfield with us noted that many of the people who came were people who were “on the other side of the wall.” There were probably about 40 people. Most had no paper in their hands. A few people carried laminated sheets with some responses on it. There was a sound system and a table for an alter.
The congregation was fluid. People wandered into the service. Almost everyone stood. Worship leadership was shared by a priest who sort of led things, but readily ceded the microphone to people for different portions of the service. She offered the scripture lesson on the raising of Lazarus and then gave a short homily, which she finished with an open-ended question. People took the mic to tell us their answers. One gentleman, who looked like a clean street person, played guitar and sang.
We shared communion. We passed the peace. We sang a little more and then ate some dinner, which was served at the end of the service. We ate it out of foam trays. Most of us were standing.
Three different styles of church. All of them were worshipful in their own way. But the first service of the day and the last service of the day were unlike typical services. Both of them had a bit of an edge in that there was no formal liturgical structure, the Northampton service being the edgiest. The sense of community was strongest in the first and last service today because we were physically close together. In a way both the first and the last service today didn’t need a communion ritual as we already had communion just being with people who talked with each other (which doesn’t happen often in formal worship). Certainly sharing reflections on the scripture helped make some deep connections with each other.
The At Table service and the Cathedral in the Night felt far more communal than the standard worship. I liked having the opportunity to hear other people’s thinking on scripture and meeting people who I would typically not associate with. The Cathedral in the Night felt more like real community because we had a far more diverse group of people on the sidewalk today than we had in our sanctuary this morning.
And maybe that’s the point. We need to hear other people’s stories. What did each person need as to their unbinding? We wouldn’t find out in regular worship. We need to have diversity in our congregations, which, though we claim otherwise, are generally closed off communities where a bearded clean, homeless looking man won’t be able to play guitar and have worship leadership responsibilities.
Church is real community. Ecclesia was the public assembly of people Ancient Athens. The theology of church is ecclesiology. I think we need to recover that sense of the public assembly from thousands of years ago in order to make church feel relevant again. We need to make church a little messy and edgy while letting the Holy Spirit touch people in order to engage with each other. Our churches need to unbind.