Friday, November 30, 2007

thoughts from the trenches

What I set out to do, what I hoped to accomplish, and still hope to accomplish is not what we did. We did not reach that lofty goal that everyone warned me was too big, to far reaching to reach in one project. Well, at least not for the whole congregation. What I hope to do, hope to influence at whatever congregation God has placed me is to teach the members that worship can be vital, life changing, spiritually deep, welcoming to new believers and seekers, sustaining of long time followers and ultimately pleasing and glorifying to God. It is rather distressing to hear from people who have come to worship the last 5 weeks complain about things they ‘didn’t like’ or comment that worship is supposed to be one way or the other. It is disheartening that I have been unable to teach every person who walks through those doors. But, that’s not what God has called me or anyone to do. It’s not by large numbers and masses of people that the word of God is spread, not by easy formulas or a particular worship order; the right hymn coupled with the right prayer, enhanced with the right symbol or other visual aid. It is through relationship and community. One person sharing with one person about God, faith, worship, the work of the people. I shared with 13 people throughout this project my passion for God’s worship, for the work of the people. Perhaps 13 people have come to understand more fully that “every congregation has the potential to worship in a way that is vital to the lives of those who participate: worship of spiritual depth that encourages the growth in faith of its participants, reaches out to and welcomes new participants into faith, and sends people out as the Body of Christ to transform the world.” (The Work of the People, Gilbert, 3.) I know this project is specifically about participation and that is what I will be measuring. But, I cannot think about this project, write about it, proceed with it without keeping in mind a hope for the future. It is more than participation. That is one piece to this amazing and complicated puzzle.

As I write these daily reflections to spurn on my creativity and writing, I will keep coming back to this idea. It is so much more than participation. I will not stifle my thoughts about that here like I will have to in the paper.

Perhaps after this project is finished, I will continue to study and write. If I do, my next project will be specifically on the order of worship – it’s history through the church, how it changed in events of the Protestant Reformation, the American Frontier, the Modern Era and now into the Postmodern Era as the widespread and ecumenical worship renewal has changed the face of worship for almost all denominations and sects.

In the readings I’ve done for this project and in fact for this whole degree there is this amazing sense of hope and positive outlook for worship, for bringing in new and old ideas, for worshiping so completely as the Body of Christ. But, in the trenches, it’s a different story. Here in the day to day, Sunday to Sunday world of planning and leading worship services, not everyone is happy and hopeful. Not every idea takes off and touches peoples lives and lifts people to deeper faith and action. Many ideas and choices leave people feeling alienated and alone, grumpy and needy. I can preach all day long that worship is not about us, it’s about God and that we should be concerned about what God wants and what is good for God, instead of our selfish selves. But, that will never change the fact that the people of God are hungry, just like the rest of the world and needs do need to be met. If we can’t meet needs in the Body of Christ, people (myself included) will look elsewhere. How do we balance this need for spiritual nourishment and love with the need to serve God and the world above ourselves? No matter how beautiful and perfectly crafted a liturgy is, when someone walks out of worship feeling alone, alienated, frustrated and upset for whatever reason, we have failed.

God of light and love, of worship and liturgy, of our lives and very being, come quickly, come. We desire so much to serve you, even if we don’t really know it. But, at ever turn, we fail, we falter. Keep picking us up and pushing us on so that we may strive to do your will. We’ll never be able to do it perfectly in this world, there will be tears and seas of tears until you come again. But that doesn’t excuse us from trying to reach your goal. Show us glimpses of your kingdom so that we may continue to trek on to that great and glorious day. Forgive us for alienating and hurting our brothers and sisters along with way. All this we pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen


Blogger AncientFuture Mariner said...

Yep, you have named the kernal of the problem. How do we keep worship focused on responding to God instead of my wants and my desires and my preferences!

I look forward to your future writings on where we came from and where we are going.

It sounds like your project portion is over and now the review and writing portion begins in earnest.

Throughout this process my prayer is that His peaceand grace continues to sustane you throught the coming months!


"Dr. Val"

6:58 PM  
Blogger Sally said...

I am so inspired by this Amy- it really helps me with an exegesis on John 4- from the angle of worship where I am bringing a hermenutic of truth seeking, thank you, thank you!

2:51 PM  
Blogger Tripp Hudgins said...

There you have it. Well writ. And, honestly, I am right there with you. Remember, God brings people to salvation. We are only God's workers.

2:54 AM  
Blogger meeegan said...

Hi Amy, I'm a friend of Tripp, the previous commenter.

I'm not a clergyperson, and I'm barely a part of a congregation. It's from that perspective, though, the lay person in the congregation, that I respond to your post.

It seems to me like there's a blind spot about how willing people in your congregation are to be changed. To be lifted up, to be comforted, to have their needs met.

If they're not willing, you can't do it, no matter how "right" your choices about liturgy may be.

And you really have no control over their willingness. As the clergy at the church I attend have no control over mine.

The only thing you, or they, can do is to slowly earn the trust of the congregation's participants. For me as an individual, that trust can only be earned by the church's demonstrating its commitment to the commandment to "love one another." If church policy opposes that commandment, if the words of prayers, sermons and hymns oppose it, if any element of the experience I have in that church opposes it, then I am forced to protect myself from that church's hypocrisy. That leaves me in a state in which no liturgy can reach me.

So in many ways, the shape of liturgy is the mote, and the church's policy and actions are the plank.

One person's experience and opinion, for whatever light it may throw on your efforts.

11:56 AM  
Blogger leah sophia said...

beautiful post, Amy--keep on keepin' on, and a Most Blessed Feast of the Nativity to you and yours!

1:06 PM  
Blogger Sally said...

Amy- how are you???

5:42 PM  
Blogger Amy Stewart said...

Sally, thank you for checking in with me. I've been avoiding the blog because it's hard to think about my project without crying. But it means the world to me to have your support. Your writings are a blessing to me and I look forward to reading your blog each day. Thank you for your inspiration and prayers.

9:38 PM  

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