Thursday, May 5, 2011

Worship: Camp and Otherwise

When I was young and went to Lutheridge, I always came home asking, "Why can't we have church services that are more like the ones at camp?"

Grown ups assured me that I wouldn't like it if I had those kind of worship services every week.  Even today, fellow grown ups tell me it's impossible:  These things are called mountain top experiences for a reason, after all.  I once asked a fellow Lutheran Student Movement (LSM) alum if our grown up churches could be more like LSM groups.  He was doubtful, but I wanted to believe they could, even though at the time, I hadn't seen any of those churches that I wanted to believe existed.

My current church comes close.  If you want to be convinced that church worship can be the kind of worship you'd find at camp or on campus or at Synod Assembly, you should read Mark Pierson's The Art of Curating Worship.  He's got a lot of great ideas.

He says we must ask better questions, beginning with the basics:  what is church and what is worship?  Different traditions may have very different answers to these questions, and those answers will dictate the kinds of worship that we curate.

Notice that we curate--we're only part of the creation team, and perhaps not the essential part.  Curating means we must determine who is responsible for which part and then give those people autonomy.  It's a leap of trust, to be sure.

Pierson is a big believer in interactive worship stations.  Some of us might react negatively to that idea, but Pierson points out that most of us have already experienced a worship station approach when we celebrate Communion.  I love the idea of church as something less passive.  Too often the congregation is more of an audience than an active participant.  Interactive worship is not an easy task:  "I would not consider singing songs, listening to a sermon, or spoken responses in liturgy as interactive.  These are consumerist activities, completed by someone else for me to consume" (p. 123)

As an artist, I also love the idea of  guerrilla worship, which to some of us will sound more like installation art (installation art with a higher purpose!) than worship.  Perhaps these experiences are used to create sacred spaces or perhaps they are used to remind people of social justice issues or God's vision for humanity.  Pierson offers many examples, like one of a group people who set up a temporary labyrinth with bales of hay, with worship stations within the labyrinth, including a confessional where people could write a postcard or a barbed wire enclosure with images of poverty and injustice with participants encouraged to "attach a cable tie as a prayer for those who suffer" (p. 184).

For those of us who aren't so creative, the last chapter provides a lot of inspirations and resources.  I'd like to have seen more about whether or not we can create/curate similar worship services online.  And this book doesn't say enough to those of us who must worship in spaces that are rather fixed.  In my current church, I wouldn't truck in dirt or sand; I don't want to do the clean up afterwards.

Still, more is possible in our home churches than most of us do.  I've just been to the Create in Me retreat at Lutheridge, and soon I'm off to Synod Assembly.  I love both of these gatherings because the worship services are so wonderful (and plentiful!).  Both of those events remind us that we don't have to create elaborate rituals, at least not at first.  Just doing something differently would be a good start.  May we all come to the point where we say with Pierson, "I am an artist whose medium is worship" (p. 230).

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