Making worship work today is not always an easy task. It is not difficult to have liturgy or worship that repeats the past and hold on to old glory. That sort of worship or liturgy is not what I am referring to. No, I am thinking here about an incarnational liturgy, where all of the beauty of our ritual and tradition are brought to life once bathed in the cultural dynamic of the community in which the church lives. I think we are on a journey towards embracing the fullness of that possibility at St. Mark’s. Finding ways to communicate a transformative message in the present culture is important in every facet of what we do and who we are as church.
I am currently reading a book entitled Divine Worship. Pedrito Maynard-Reid writes; "In worship, people’s self-expressions are authenticated in the presence of God. If worship does not have its grounding in people’s lives and cultural experiences, it will remain foreign, imposed and irrelevant."
"Because culture is dynamic, worship cannot be static. The liturgy must adapt itself to the changing cultural needs and environment of the worshippers…In worship the light of the gospel is brought to bear on everyday living and existence. When people go to church they bring their culture with them, for culture is their essential selves – the sum total of their experience. Thus for worship to be relevant it has to be an integral part of people’s lives and culture."
The author goes on to point out that the Bible paints no ONE liturgical or worship paradigm, but there are many and they are diverse expressions of worship reflecting various cultural environments. It is ironic that we find our church (read here the wider church) at war over ‘proper’ form of worship. Those who resist change trounce out the argument that we need to return to biblical or early Christian forms of worship. Maynard- Reid counters, "what this argument fails to take into account…is that neither Scripture nor the subsequent history of Christendom offer us one monolithic form and language of worship. Human beings have always worshiped God in their cultural milieu, and God has incarnated himself and revealed himself to worshipers in settings that are culturally familiar."
Make no mistake, there are so many who contend that as church we are in some way magically separated from the culture around us. So do we have the courage to embrace the notion that we can be a vital cog in our neighbourhoods and our cities, in our villages and in our world? Are we prepared to repackage the very vital and life-giving message of Love and Hope that we have to offer to a world and culture which still desperately needs to hear it? To assume that communicating the Love of Jesus the same way today that we communicated that message in 1950 is ‘protecting the faith’ or ‘maintaining tradition’ is a gross miscalculation that diminishes the role that the church could have in this world.
Diana Butler-Bass (who is scheduled to be speaker at this year’s Clergy conference in the Diocese of Huron) has been reminding the church for the last few years that the culture that the church is living in has been engaged in what British sociologists have referred to as detrationalization. This trend is described by Butler-Bass this way in Congregations Magazine: "In the 1950s, if someone had a religious question, he or she might have looked to a pastor, the Bible, a theologian, an author, or a teacher—and most likely would have received a similar answer from each. Today a questioner might turn to the Internet, more than one clergyperson, Barnes and Noble, a parachurch organization, Oprah or Dr. Phil, or a new practice—and discover a variety of answers." Seems we have a decision to make as a church? We either decide to pretend that this shift is not taking place and attempt to ‘protect the faith’ as it has been, or we work to respond to this shift in the culture. This would mean accepting culture is indeed dynamic and changing and we too need to adapt to that change. Butler Bass posits that our response needs to be cognizant of the fact that while people may see tradition differently, they are still hungry for tradition. She uses the term fluid retradtioning. Congregations Magazine describes that process this way: This response calls on congregations notice the changes around them and find ways to work with those changes. These congregations are willing to "change the package" by innovating their forms and practices so as to introduce or reintroduce the tradition within the new package.
This may mean that we become more intentional and less established. This is true of worship and it is true of how we communicate to the world around us. Intentionality in worship, intentionality in communication, and intentionality in living the gospel in the places where may be most effective in changing hearts in the culture in which we live today. Living the gospel in new and diverse places means finding creative and new and multiple ways to prayer, in Bible study, hospitality, fellowship, and theological reflection. Butler-Bass insists that "Congregations that intentionally engage Christian practices are congregations that experience new vitality."
At St. Mark’s by-the-Lake I believe that we have the gifts necessary to be the diverse community that God is calling us to be…diverse in message, diverse in worship, and diverse in the ways of transformation.