Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Church visit # 6 took place on 3 September 2006.

Excellent, worshipful experience. Honestly, I was going to type “surprisingly worshipful,” but that would have revealed more about my own prejudices than anything in particular about the church we visited or the nature of their worship. I mean, the fact that the worshipful atmosphere of the service was a bit surprising to me is about me and my expectations, not about their ability to worship.

A couple of aspects of this experience were “new” in the sense that they were executed in ways I’d not witnessed previously. For example, this church has a Praise Team session that begins at 10:30am. It is done by 10:55am, and at 11:00am they begin their “traditional” service. Most places I have been to or heard about either have two separate services to accommodate the two “styles” of music, or they present a “blended” approach, or they have totally discarded anything they consider to be “traditional” and used only what they have decided is “contemporary.”

Although I hesitate to use the word “compromise,” I think their approach is an excellent means of reaching out toward these contending desires in a congregation. It (potentially) exposes the traditionalists to newer songs without forcing it upon them. They can simply arrive at 11:00am if they wish to avoid the Praise Team. At the same time, it retains much of what is good and right about traditional methods and content for those who cherish that context, while also presenting those ways to the “modernists.”

This ubiquitous tension between “traditional” and “contemporary” is something I should discuss in more depth in a separate entry.

We were there in time to chat with the pastor before the Praise Team began. She was young and bright and devoted; a delight to engage in conversation. The Praise Team was a cheerful band of amateurs who did just fine leading us in several songs of praise and worship. A few of their choices were VERY new songs – like released within the past year or so (part of the "surprise" factor).

There was not particularly a “flow” from song to song. They ended each song completely, stopped, verbally introduced the next song, then began playing the next song. There was not any attempt to lead the people “into the Presence.” They did not even pray before, during or after the singing. It was just a group of songs. Well chosen, well played; and for any who came with the knowledge and expectation of “entering in,” the songs could take you there. But there was no really intentional “leadership” in that direction.

Most of the traditional portion of the service was predictable – hymns, offering, children’s story, the Lord’s prayer. But some of the methodology was unexpected.

During their “Peoples’ Prayer” time, a lay leader guided the congregation through an unrushed series of spontaneous prayers for specific requests. She asked if anyone had a prayer request. Someone would speak up and offer a request. She led us in silent prayer for each request as it was mentioned. The congregation responded, “Hear our prayer, O Lord.” Then she would ask if there was another request, and so on.

This was a very special method of giving attention to each request. I had the sense that everyone present would take as long on this segment of the service as was necessary to address each request in turn. I like that.

The Lord’s Supper, which was included because it was the first Sunday of the month, was conducted in a slightly unusual way. The pastor had us all stand up and form lines facing each other in the aisles. Then she and a lay helper served the elements. Then she read scripture, and we all partook of the elements together. It was a meaningful way to ensure that we recognized that we were taking communion as a body, not just as individuals.

The sermon. I do not want to go into any discussion regarding the fact that the pastor of this church is a woman. I acknowledge and understand the scriptural “arguments” regarding whether a woman should or should not be a pastor. However, all I can say, at least in this case, is that this pastor seemed sure of her calling, well-qualified, well-studied, well-spoken and confident. The sermon she presented was an excellent meditation and application of James’ discussion of the dynamic relationship between faith and works.

The organ. Let me iterate my previous confession that I have not been a huge fan of “the organ” in “church music.” I realize that for many churches the idea of church music in the absence of an organ is inconceivable; in fact, for many "church music" and "organ" are practically synonymous. In this case, the organ was so well played and the selections and timing and placement in the order of service were so well conceived and achieved, it was a delight to listen and, yes, worship to the sound of the organ.

Sometimes this “assignment” is amazing me beyond words. Liturgical calls and responses; organ music; woman pastor – parts of what I have described as "excellent worship."

In the immortal words of my (at the time) 16-year old daughter: "Dude, man. Whoa."

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