Monday, April 1, 2013

Participation and Passivity: A Tale of Two Easter Services

Yesterday, we went to two Easter services.  If my spouse hadn't been singing in the Easter cantata at 11, we'd have only gone to the family service at 9:30.  It turned out to be the most meaningful.

We usually have the family-friendly service in the fellowship hall, so it was strange to report to the sanctuary.  But we needed the space--what a wonderful problem.

We began by singing "Christ is Risen!  Alleluia!"  Each time we sang the word "Alleluia!" we stood up.  It was a good way to begin what would be a highly participatory service.

The bulk of the service told the Good Friday to Easter story using puppets, narrators, and members of the congregation pulled up front to participate.  We had lots of new people, people who hadn't been to our services for Holy Week, people who probably hadn't attended Holy Week services elsewhere.  It was good to remind them of the whole story. 

I found it profoundly moving at the end, watching one of our congregation members play one of the weeping women and her moment of fear, confusion, and joy at realizing that Jesus wasn't dead.

The whole service was such a contrast to our 11 a.m. service.  In that service, much of the time was taken up with the Easter cantata.  I'm friends with some of the choir members, so I understand how much it meant to them to participate. 

But it leads to a very passive congregation, as we sat there, listening and listening and listening.  That's become one of my chief complaints about the traditional way of doing church:  the congregation mostly listens and listens and listens.

Our family-friendly service works around that in many ways:  we learn to sign key Bible texts, we sing the text, we have puppet shows and skits which require audience participation, we do small group work, and we often have an art project. 

I've come to prefer that level of participation.  I love that the children aren't frequently hushed.  I love that the children often serve the communion, although they didn't yesterday.  I love that we get involved with the text on a variety of ways.  I love that we can't just sit there, dozing off or daydreaming.

I'm lucky to have that option.  I know that many churches don't.  I wonder how we could bring that change to more churches.  I'm most interested in infusing services with creativity.  More on that tomorrow. 


Wendy said...

We had a very passive Maundy Thursday service. The chair of the worship committee wanted to do a piece with the 11 disciples' monologues which made it long which cut out things like congregational songs. There was a corporate prayer of confession and three sung responses along with the monologues (And the all-male nature of this is a whole other issue, but I won't go there here), two choir anthems, and communion. To add to the passive nature of it, two of the sung responses were brand new, written by the flashy new choir director, and were difficult to pick up, so really we had the confession and one sung response. I really struggled with it. It was beautiful, and some people said it was their favorite service of the year, and I understand that one can participate by watching and listening and soaking in it. (And I wonder if I would have been okay with it if I had had a part as a leader). It shook me how much I felt the lack of participation. I wanted to be a part of it. I was so much happier with Easter morning with the simple responsive readings and congregational songs and sharing the peace. I think that's all there was, but for me it is enough (for now. I think we could be much more participatory as you suggest). One of the things I love about the more liturgical service we do is how participative it is (compared with my free church experience growing up of singing being the only congregational part). I was taken aback by how much I longed to be a part of it, and how much I felt like I wasn't. If my daughter hadn't been with me, I would have been a weepy wreck. She kept me grounded.

Wendy said...

Also, to be completely fair, I should mention that Ash Wednesday was very participatory with stations and all. So there is thought in doing many kinds of services. This is more a personal realization than a theological complaint.

Kristin said...

I understand completely! I wrestle with remembering that what I want is not necessarily what everyone else will want or what's best for everyone (the teacher in me constantly thinks of learning styles).

I also wrestle with the fact that we're a smallish church, and though our pastor tries to delegate, the work of having multiple services to appeal to multiple types of learners/worshipers/disciples--the work falls mainly on his shoulders. He doesn't complain, but I do worry about issues of burn-out.