Monday, July 11, 2005

A Stretching Experience

Yesterday, I had the privilege of worshiping in an Episcopal church. As a (nearly) lifelong Presbyterian, this was definitely a bit outside of my comfort zone. I've grown up accustomed to a certain level of liturgy in worship. I'm not comfortable with the "free flow" I've found in other denominations/congregations. But neither have I ever been entirely comfortable with Episcopal/Catholic level (not to say they're the same in form. I'm just commenting on the level) of liturgy and symbolism in their worship. For a quick example (that hopefully won't offend too deeply), I'm not comfortable with the procession of the book of Scripture for the Gospel reading. This is done (so I hear) to pay reverence to the teachings of Jesus. But it seems.... inappropriate to me. More so, the other Scripture readings (and it was nice to have Scripture in several places in the service) are not given similar treatment. It seems to me that all Scripture should be revered.

This is not to say that I have nothing but criticism for the service. In fact, aside from the aforementioned attention to Scripture, I was deeply impressed by the sermon, which took a passage I've often heard misused, and not only handled the Scripture responsibly, but applied it with great compassion to the recent London bombings. Also, the music was impressively played with great talent and deep reverence in a worshipful mood, very much in keeping with the tone of the service. This is perhaps even more amazing because the main instrument was a guitar, which tends to be used in worship for excessively happy-clappy (to use a friend's term) praise music which (while having a place) would have been totally inappropriate in the context of this service.

Other elements impressed me, too. An effort is clearly being made to "bring outsiders in" by the comments in italics within the bulletin, clearly explaining to newcomers what was going on within the service. There were still a couple of places where I began to feel lost, but for the most part could identify the efforts being taken. The church also gave people several options on how (or if) they could choose to take communion.

As the worship service ended, we spent a fair bit of time talking with some friends and with the priest who officiated at the service. All were very warm, and I never got any sense of elitism or indifference to the fact that my wife and I were not Episcopal. In fact, the priest expressed her admiration for my wife's and my shared seminary background. I may never be entirely comfortable with this particular form of worship, but it was wonderful to be able to see God work in a context outside of my own. I have no doubt that, if I give it (and Him) a chance, I could learn much from a congregation such as this.

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