Thursday, November 11, 2010

What the Monks Can Teach Us About Worship

One of the raging debates in any church tends to be what the mission of the church should be. Are we there to care for the widows and orphans? To be a prophetic voice, speaking truth to the rulers of our empires? To form believers? To attract the unchurched?

Most of us can agree that one of the central missions of the church should be worship. And then we promptly tear ourselves into shreds arguing about the shape of that worship. How many readings? How long should the sermon be? Traditional music, rock, contemporary worship, or something else? How much quiet? How much time for announcements? Organ, guitar, or choir? Confession? Communion?

It's refreshing to go to a monastery, where these questions were settled centuries ago. From my limited experiences, the monks do not waste precious time second guessing worship practices that have worked for centuries.

Here are some things we might learn:

--We don't necessarily need a lengthy sermon. In fact, we might not need a sermon at all. The monks at Mepkin Abbey focus much more on scripture, song, and sacrament.

--We need more Scripture, not less. An average monastery sings its way through the Psalms every month, perhaps twice a month. The Psalms knit themselves into the memory--even a week-end stay shows that.

--A lovely floral arrangement can be made from stuff you find in your own garden--including dead leaves.

--We could do more to change up the worship space than just change the paraments. The monks at Mepkin Abbey create striking floral arrangements in huge vases and jars. During the month of November, they hang a framed print of John August Swanson's and light candles in front of it as they remember the saints who have come before us. Churches often do a good job of changing the worship space during the seasons of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter. But why stop there?

--It doesn't hurt to bow. In fact, it helps.

--Practice makes perfect. I'm always surprised at how well these monks sing. But then it occurred to me that if you took anyone and had them sing through the same cycles throughout each day, month after month, year after year, they'd be able to sing beautifully too.

--The monks celebrate the Eucharist once a day. We need more sacrament, not less.

Of course, some of these practices are easier for monks, who live, worship and work at the same site. Still, they have much to teach us. And those of us who live and move primarily in the secular world have much to learn.


Di said...

All of your bullet points made my heart wag. Love it, totally agree.

Kristin said...

Thanks, Di! I often wonder: if I was part of the monastic community, would I still feel this way? Or would I have started to critique in that setting too? I worry that in my efforts to make my home church the best that it can be, I never just let it be what it needs to be.