Rector's Blog: Living Worship
This year Church of the Redeemer is doing some work to think through how we worship – assessing our liturgies, and naming our core values as a worshiping community. In August parishioners and clergy alike responded to a worship-related survey, then gathered one weekend to begin that process with a liturgy workshop. Today on When Love Shows Up, I have invited our Minister for Liturgy Anny Stevens-Gleason to share with you some of the results of the survey, and some of the things we’ve gleaned from our shared work, as well as what’s next for our community and the importance of worship to each and every one of us.
I think it was 1997, probably in the spring, and I was serving as an acolyte at Church of the Ascension in Middletown. Wearing a red cassock and white cotta, I was sitting in the chancel listening to the sermon and something popped into my head: “Did I turn the curling iron off?”
We lived about one block from the church, and I thought, “I could make it home and back!” The sermon had just started. I scooted down the pew to exit out the side door, quietly tip toed down the stairwell and snuck out the door. Once my feet touched the parking lot gravel, I was off. Full cassock and cotta, I began to run. I did unbutton the cassock for some mobility, but in my platform suede slide sandals, I ran home. I’d be curious who saw me that day - and if you were wondering, the iron was off. But that Sunday didn’t seem out of the ordinary, my life was intertwined with the church even at that point of my life. So, to run home made sense. We attended regularly and I served often, and typically during more than one service. This is not to boast, but to say that worship has been a common variable for my entire life. It is the one constant whether at college, studying abroad, or away from home, worship is grounding for me. It is foundational.
And worship is grounding for us all because we keep showing up. For some reason we keep coming back, week after week. It matters deeply. It is sacred. It reminds us of something greater than ourselves. We attend desiring a connection with God and then making connections with each other, communally, together. As humans we are wired for connection.
This grounding, this connection, was disrupted abruptly in March of 2020. Throwing everything we know and understand about worship out the window. How we worship was exactly what we were not to do to help stop the spread of COVID-19. And though we have returned to in-person worship and have returned to many of the worship practices as we knew them prior to the pandemic, it still feels different. We are different. And we are still learning what that means.
As we approach the beginning of the program year on September 11, we have taken a few steps to examine worship here at Redeemer over the last year. We have conducted two surveys and offered a worship gathering and workshop we called “Transforming Liturgy”. The most recent of the surveys asked three questions: What have you loved about worship in the last year? What have you fallen out of love with in terms of worship? What is your longing for worship?
The results from the congregation, as one can imagine, were varied, but there were trending themes that rose to the surface for each question. Many of you spoke of your love for the music here and the desire to sing more. The dialogue during the Banquet service and the language of both the Celtic Eucharist and the Banquet, resonated with many. The quietness and contemplative nature of the Rite 1 service at 8am, and the variety of our service offerings were all common themes. We also heard from numerous people who loved the ability to worship online, and from those who were grateful to have different service time options from which to choose. Nearly every person mentioned the joy of simply being able to be together with others again, to worship together, to take communion.
One parishioner summed a lot of this up by saying, “I have loved the opportunity to worship in a variety of ways (I might not have as readily tried new services without the pandemic and the zoom options). I've been able to attend a variety of services with the on-line option and really like the Podcast with the sermons. I love coming together in our building space, seeing new and old faces, sharing God's peace and communion. l love the amazing music (at all the services) and the sermons that dive deeply and challenge us to think and act differently through the lens of Christ.”
Many have fallen out of love with some of the language of worship – particularly the predominantly masculine language for God. Some spoke of their struggle with changes to worship times and locations. Others mentioned a heightened awareness of how COVID-19 has affected the way they worship forever. Nearly all respondents simply expressed grief that they are still processing over all the last few years have brought us. As one person put it, “Just grieving change in general. Lots of good. Lots of change. It’s not always easy to change.”
The question of longing, of course, invited a lot of responses, but even in the breadth of answers, there was a common theme that wove throughout: We long to feel together again, to see all the people we have missed, as one parishioner said, “To feel closer to God,” through our time worshiping with one another.
The Rev. Paul Fromberg was the consultant for our liturgy workshop weekend. In preparation for our gathering, he asked our worship team the same three questions. I surprised myself by my response. I have fallen out of love with communion. Over the last 2 ½ years, I have become distanced from the act of communion. Maybe because we were unable to partake for so long, or maybe because of its intimacy: I wanted to steer clear, not be vulnerable, not allow myself to go there. Or maybe because of COVID-19. Maybe.
The mystery and beauty is still there for me, but we have had to ask ourselves the question of why we gather during this time so much, that I think my muscle for thinking of what else is important to us as a worshipping community has somewhat been strengthened. But, I am in love with community. This community. I am in love with relationships with the people here. And I have always been in love with, since my confirmation class when I learned about it, the communion of saints. This is the spiritual union of the members of the Church, living and the dead. When we gather this communion is present. We are raising the dead every time we worship.
Worship for me is a living thing, something that continually needs to be fed and nourished. It needs to rest and have space to grow; it needs to be awake to the world in which it exists; and even sometimes as with the cycle of life, it may die ushering in new life. It is changed by and formed by those present in the space, the words that are used, the energy present, and as those people change, grow and continue to be awakened themselves, worship thrives. I feel the continued examination of our worship is so very important because of this. No two services are ever exactly the same. We are changed by the time that elapses until the next time we gather. The people that attend are not the same every time, we bring something different every single time that we worship. And because of that let’s continue to feed it. Let’s commune together. Let’s look how we also are feed. And let’s continue to look at what we value as an ever evolving community that knows Jesus and grows in love.
That is what I think the future of this work looks like. What does it mean to worship during this time, in 2022? What are our core values related to worship here? I know that I am not the same person I was in March of 2020, I know I am not the same person I was last week. I have lost ones I love, priorities have changed, the world around me is so extremely different and we as a community must bring who we are today, to this relationship. That is to say, we must bring who we are today to worship. To this continued work, the work of the people here. And, I believe this is the work of this worshiping community for the next little while: understanding who we are today, naming our values, and relearning what it means to make worship a part of our everyday life - together.
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