Ok, I'm on fire! Two posts in one day!
I was having a conversation last week with Todd, the pastor at convergence and our friend Joey Tomassoni a local artist and church planter. We were just checking in and talking about the "right" and "wrong" way to do things and just how messy and complicated and "wrong" looking the right thing can be sometimes. Especially when you are talking about bringing together diverse groups of people to explore something like a faith tradition and their impact and relevance for us in our now.
After getting feedback throughout the month of January Todd and I have a clear understanding of some of the things we have done well and some of the things that need to be changed. But one thing started to emerge that I think is really cool. We have intentionally taken a very slow process of community development, openly welcoming the messy, the risk, failure. Of course at the same time we drive ourselves crazy trying to anticipate what the best and right thing to do will be. Sometimes two right things even conflict.
For instance - we have found ourselves on a journey of intentionally "re-inventing the wheel." The wheel is good, it works , its worked in the past, it will probably work in the future, but we want to know WHY. We want to get in there and dig around and find our rituals and worship practices and interactions with our community and beliefs about God and the Bible and the world from sources and new experiences as well as our past experiences and what everyone else may be doing. And the question of course comes - what's the point in that?
I think we are finally starting to find words to explore what the "point" is for us. We received feedback that while people really need the warm, genuine atmosphere at our faith gatherings and other events, sometimes they kind of miss a sense of formality and ritual. Also, while people love that new things happen all the time and they experience stuff in new ways, they feel the urge for a little bit of continuity and structure. Veterans at this point please refrain from the "I told you so." :) It is of course not surprising that these things are surfacing. People need all of these things which is why they have found their way into most worship services.
But we now KNOW for ourselves why they are finding their way into our worship services. When we started we determined that one of our top priorities would be to create an open welcoming environment where people could really be themselves. We encourage a diversity of opinions and perspectives. We choose to center ourselves around the commonality of coming together to learn about and know God.
We have been successful in many respects in achieving this. I think it was reflected in a recent dinner and communion service we had where communion came directly out of the meal. As we were doing it I imagined Jesus over at the other end of the table pausing the conversation and chatter and lifting his glass, almost like a toast and saying "remember this, remember me." It was powerful to me in it's simplicity and even casual nature. For a second I got this image of generations upon generations of disciples sitting around the table in fellowship in Christ's name.
But here is the exciting point. Many of us have had the experience I described above within our community. I just love being around these people! But from somewhere deep inside, an impulse is emerging in our community saying "you know, I miss a sense of ritual."
And it occurred to me, maybe this is how the worship practices of the early church developed. They met together initially "devoted to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to breaking of bread and to prayer."(Acts 2) And they just basically lived their lives together. But I can imagine people at some point saying "I kind of miss the temple structure though." I miss hearing the scriptures sung out and some of the festivals. There is just something about ritual that makes me feel close to God in a way that's missing from the fellowship, prayer and teaching we love. So they added it in.
And so on, and so on till the Church developed its practices. Here we are following that impulse to fulfill a need.
Now some of you (all 2 of those who actually are reading this) may still say -"what's the point?" "who needs that?" and that is where this all comes back to the conversation with Joey and Todd. I need that. Joey needs that. Many artistic people need that. Entering into the process is part of worship for us. As an actor I have participated in acting excercises where we can't speak. Even though we have our lines memorized, the play was written a hundred years ago and everyone knows what is going to happen next - we can't speak until we have the genuine need to speak. The genuine impulse. This excercise helps an actor better understand what is going on in these trustworthy lines. It helps her experience it on a deeper level, makes the enactment more believable and therefore more powerful for the other actors and the audience. You layer on these impulses and awarenesses in rehearsal so that when you go into the repetive ritual of performance it stays fresh and alive, not dead or wrote.
Joey, as a visual artist commented similarly that he has been thinking about color and really seeing and appreciating one color only when it is juxtaposed against another. Asking what this means when applied to relationships and community. We could probably go on with these kinds of process conversations for hours!
And so, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I hope this is where this blog goes. I hope this becomes a conversation with some other process oriented people about the value and meaning in these seemingly meaningless activities of "re-inventing church." Its really more like we are re-living the impulse to begin, to pray to worship. And really, if i could approach everything worshipful or of mystery and of God from a posture of newness and fresh discovery I hope it would help me actually be humble and constantly aware of what an awesome space faith occupies.