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Monday, June 23, 2014

Interesting Worship

Yesterday I had an interesting worship experience at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church in Richmond, VA. After five weeks in France, worshiping every Sunday in a language I'm not fluent in and singing songs I'm unfamiliar with, we walked into a stately Presbyterian Church (one I attended in High School during our family's year in Richmond). They just spent over $300,000 refurbishing an organ and hired an organist with a degree from Yale! The bulletin was five pages long filled with liturgical innovations I found intriguing. It was responsorial, confessional, hymnic, fully robed, and quite beautiful. They had a cantor, employed African drums and used many women and persons of color.
The title of the sermon was "Shame-Free Gospel" based on Romans 1. I was ready for worship I understood and would be challenged by.
The preacher of the day (a guest professor at Union Theological Seminary) began with a story of growing up as a preacher's kid (I identified) who loved the church (I identified) but who was uncomfortable with other believers who identified themselves with capital "E" evangelical. Then she began to "punch" a stereotyped cartoon of all the worst of the church world: arrogance, foolishness, simpleminded theology, racial insensitivity, warmongering, and a pie-in-the-sky understanding of evangelism as fire insurance from the threat of Hell.
The congregation chuckled along with her politely as she skewered her straw dog of "E" evangelicals. I have not been so pilloried and punched in worship in a long time...I can't even remember. Her politically correct identity defined negatively by what she "we" all did not believe in was so strong, I could barely hear the rest of her sermon.
I compared and contrasted: everything was there that I normally champion as being parts of a great church...and I left cold as stone. In France I did not understand the language and so, so much, yet I felt a warm embrace from other worshipers in every setting and felt...loved.
It will make me think hard about how we sculpt and lead worship. Is it loving? To whom?

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