Have you seen #FlashMobVicar?:
I love it. It is fun, light hearted, and made that moment special and memorable for the couple and their guests. One would hope it would have been that anyway, but for people to be able to express their joy and personalities in such a way is ace. I am slightly suspect that the two older ladies who leave half way through truly are ‘going to the loo’ though as has been reported!
Vicky Beeching’s piece in the Independent applauds the flash mob as a way of making church feel participatory and suggests that the notion of inclusion and participation in services is something missing from church, or more so from non-church goer’s opinion of church. I can’t speak for non-church goers of course being that I go! But I’m not so sure it is so straight forward and I’m sure Vicky also has a much larger opinion on the subject than in her column.
For me, Sundays are about corporate worship. Our chance to get together and worship together in ways that take many forms which for me, happily includes speaking words of liturgy together, singing hymns together and speaking out our amens together at the end of intercessions. Classed in the article somewhat dismissively as religious practises, these methods of worship are often inferred as being negative, outdated and irrelevant. Cafe church, church in the pub and other fresh expressions are growing massively and brilliantly. I love having diversity, having a variety, but I am not sure that means we also have to rid ourselves of the old, or at least slowly phase it out so no one over 50 will notice.
This weekend in church, we had one service rather than our usual two, to re-launch our global mission work. It was great to feel that church was full, and see members of my church family I rarely see anymore because I like to lay in, and they like to get up early. I get why we have different, but almost identical services. On the simplest level having two services encourages growth by having empty seats so people feel like there is space for them. But I do dreadfully miss seeing people and having social time with them before and after the service, which as Vicky suggests in her article, is an important aspect of a participatory Sunday morning for most people. Having coffee, chats and biscuits (whatever have been left or not fingered by toddlers) is lovely but not the main reason I’m there.
Do we really need a radical change in what happens in church to make it feel participatory, or can we again embrace what we’ve already got?
I find it sad to sometimes find myself singing songs with lyrics about me, how God makes me feel, what he made me for and just how darn tootin’ great the church is. There is nothing wrong with those songs and those sentiments (though it is important to teach our young worship leaders the importance of song choice), but when 200 of my brothers and sisters are together, it would be brilliant to raise our voices in praise, glorifying Him with words that speak of who He is, not how He makes me feel on that given day at that given moment. Earlier this year at Spring Harvest, my sister made the same point: it seemed a waste to be with 3000 Christians singing songs singing ‘I’ and ‘me’, rather than ‘us’ and ‘we’.
Slight aside: I know as a 30 something raised in the age of Soul Survivor et al, I’m not meant to admit this, but I die a little inside when the chorus of a Jesus Culture song repeats for the 8th time as the worship leader ‘spontaneously’ leads us. If the Holy Spirit tells the worship leader to do something that alienates 95% of the room, it might not be the Holy Spirit after all! Just saying!
As part of that 30 something demographic, I am meant to be a little more liberal and free in my acts of worship but I love liturgy. I love declaring my faith with voices declaring the same. It might be monotone sometimes but I mean it. I love a hymn, 250 years old, with lyrics that actually teach me something about God. I do love dancing in the aisles, waving a flag, whatever gets you going, but the tendency to demote anything formal or traditional to non-participatory is sad. Having a kids song with actions already alienates half our congregation (especially as our worship team only seems to know 3 songs!) Are those not joining in really gloomy, fun-hating, mess-loathing, boring old farts? Or is it something else?
And yes, someone might be stood at the front preaching, praying or reading, but my attention and brain need to be engaged in those activities so it is a participatory event. Vicky makes the point that schools rarely have forward facing seats anymore and perhaps Church should be the same. Perhaps, but worship is a funny thing. It is unique to an individual, but if that is all it is, we might as well stay home and just do it at home. We go to church on a Sunday because we’re meant to worship together and we can do that all facing the same way rather than looking at each other. My lecture seats at Uni were forward facing and that didn’t stop me having a holistic experience, especially because we mixed our learning with tutor groups and lab work, homework and library reading, like I mix church with a small group, conferences and festivals, personal study and prayer. Sunday Church just seems to be trying to be too many things. A watering hole for regular members and a shop window for seekers, movers and returners. Can it be both?
Then there’s the relevance/culture thing. I tweet in church, I’m a blogger and live massively in the online world. But I love it when someone tells me about an event rather than makes me sit through a high impact vox pop video about it. I am engaged when a preacher doesn’t bother with a Powerpoint or whatever the latest programme is from Apple that brings on waves of motion sickness. On a Sunday I need a preacher that engages me with his words and a worship leader who creates space for us to focus on God. No, we’re not all the same but Vicky suggests Church Version 2.0 could be about deliberate interaction at every stage. I’m not so sure that’s the way to go. I still need to hear the reading first, listen to the talk, digest, consider then turn around and ask my questions. There is a place for listening, which I don’t believe is a passive activity as Vicky suggests. So I am part of the service, whether or not my specific needs and tastes have been taken into account. I am ‘giving as well as getting’ by worshipping God. No more, no less.
Yes, there is a big risk of seeming cult like and unthinking to non-church goers when we all say the same thing at the same time. I think even non-church folk understand unity is important, but its outward appearance has always carried a risk. It is a shame wedding guests and baptism families can’t see us in our mid-week groups actually saying perhaps how much we disagreed with the Vicar and having our questions discussed and answered. So we do need to make a Sunday interesting enough to make people want to investigate more. Maybe remembering church goes beyond a Sunday morning is what Vicky’s version 2.0 could look like. Once again, I find the pressure to make church one thing and life another frustrating. Shouldn’t church reflect the people who are actually there, because that way it will be real and attractive? It should all be part of a narrative, so our faith infects our whole lives, spilling out because we no longer compartmentalise.
Interaction and participation starts with input on a Sunday and, assuming we haven’t exhausted ourselves delivering our Sunday shop window, we go deeper in our small groups and in our acts of service and in our work and families. Perhaps we need more variety on a weekend, but can we really be all things to all people ask of the time?
So, can’t church can be formal and still be participatory and inclusive. And not just be about Sunday.
p.s. I’d love to get your input on this dear reader! Have I got the wrong end of the stick? I recently promised myself I wouldn’t wait until I was an expert on each subject until I blog on it because I won’t ever truly learn that way. So probably some very confused thoughts above!