June 25th, 2015
Q&A last Sunday surfaced an issue worthy of ongoing and extended consideration: who is gathered worship for?
Paul McAndrew was right (and meet) to remind us that all worship is for God. He is the object of our worship, the One to whom worship is ultimately due.
But as all worship takes certain forms, adopts certain practices, employs certain words, phrases, melodies and liturgies, for whose sake are those choices primarily made? Who ought be at the center of consideration when determining which forms, practices, words, and so forth are chosen? Should those who already identify with Christ be of primary concern, or those who don’t yet do so?
From that question a wonderful discussion emerged. The back and forth went something like this.
Those unacquainted with our categories and vocabularies require we make worship accessible, lest they leave more confused than when they came. That was one argument. But to set aside those essential words and ideas that form our understanding of God and of His Christ would be to deny something fundamental about our identity. We have nothing to offer if we, in effect, shear ourselves of all that’s distinctive of us–words, phrases, idioms, and all. Therein lay the counterpoint to the call to make things accessible.
We arrived at no groundbreaking consensus (though it wasn’t really a dispute). But one of the newer voices among us made a rather striking comment that helped us all see a concern deeper than which constituency a worship gathering should most accommodate. Whether you lay greater emphasis on retaining elements that preserve our theological identity, or on making all things more accessible to those entirely unfamiliar with that identity, what matters more is whether anyone present senses they are welcomed by the people who are already present. No matter how true you are to your tradition, or how intelligible you are to the man or woman fresh off the street, crucial to the worship you offer is the community you embody.
We let Marilynne Robinson’s newest novel, Lila, illustrate some of what we found in last Sunday’s text in Acts 2. Just to orient you a bit to the story (without spoiling it for you), Lila is a nearly feral young woman. Orphaned by her parents. Snatched from danger and reared by a hard-edged, deeply cynical, but fiercely-protective woman named Doll. Eventually forced to make a living in a brothel, an occupation cut short by her uncomeliness, which left her to shovel coal to earn her keep.
By chance–or Providence–she arrives at the outskirts of a small town named Gilead on a Sunday morning. She takes cover from the rain in the threshold of a presbyterian church and there sees an aged, widower preacher by the name of Rev. John Ames giving his weekly sermon.
Lila had been warned by Doll and others to steer clear of church since they were always asking for money–or so she’d been told. But she had her own reasons for giving the faithful a wide berth:
There were ten or twenty good reasons why she would not go to church… Doll never did. The place was full of strangers. She had only the one dress to wear. They all knew the songs, they knew what they were supposed to do and say and what it meant. They all knew each other. The preacher said things that bothered her, she couldn’t make sense of them. Resurrection.
Marilynne Robinson didn’t write her novel to give suggestions to churches on how to make people feel welcome. It’s literature, for goodness’ sake. But Lila’s litany of issues with church attendance may have something instructive for us all–just as it underscores that aforementioned astute comment about what transcends the traditional/accessible concern. Those things that Lila found insufferable about church are many of the same reasons people find it difficult to visit, much less return.
- People’s perceptions of church come pre-loaded and are hard to overwrite (“Doll never [went to church].”)
- It takes a bit of courage–for some more than others–to enter a room full of people you’ve never met (“The place was full of strangers.”)
- How people dress can imply an unattainable expectation for social acceptance. (“She had the only one dress to wear.”)
- There can be a kind of discomfort with being one of few who are unfamiliar with all the forms, patterns, movements, and melodies. (“They knew all the songs. . . .”)
- There’s an even greater form of discomfort that can come when you see the warmth among others but feel none of it yourself. (“They all knew each other.”)
- And, yes, what’s said and taught can be either impenetrable, or offensive, or downright unbelievable. (“The preacher said things that bothered her. . . .Resurrection.”)
How many of these apply to people who visit CtK? Do any of them apply? What do you think?
Those of us who speak from the front have the responsibility to explain what’s meant. We all have the responsibility to be mindful of what hesitant thoughts occur to those who visit.
To think we can create a perfect setting that mitigates all these hesitancies is probably unrealistic. But thinking like a visitor can only help us not just arrange a service, but incarnate a genuine welcome for all who enter.
In the end there are intangibles we might give no thought to that draw people to gathered worship, and keep them there. For all Lila’s reluctance:
. . .she guessed she liked the candles and the singing. She guessed she didn’t have a better place to be…
The people we are and the story we tell (and embody) may in fact lead people to conclude they have no better place to be.
A brief word to parents of our elementary aged children:
Christy Lafferty will be handing over the reins of elementary Sunday School for the summer to two able and enthusiastic ladies: Hanna Cagle and Emma Griffiths.
Hanna is a graduate student at Dallas Baptist University and will obtain her Masters degree in Management this fall. She also serves in CtK’s hospitality and development of the women’s ministry, and in the nursery rotation, too. She loves to read and spend time outdoors. She resides in Duncanville with her husband, Dallas.
Emma Griffiths is currently a student at Midwestern State University, in Wichita Falls Texas, working on her Bachelor’s of Fine Art degree. Along with helping out with Sunday school
this summer, she’s working for an auction house in Dallas, which keeps her busy, but lets her enjoy every minute. She looks forward to what the Lord has in store for her.
We’re grateful for each of these young ladies to serve our children this summer. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email us.
This Sunday, our elementary aged and youth classes will join up to make cards of prayer and support for Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. Contact our youth coordinator, Kevin Gladding, for more information.
Back in January we shared with you the nature of our search for a more permanent location for CtK. A couple months back we gave you an update on that search. Since that time we’ve received from our realtor information on a number of locations in our search area. But as a complement to our search we’d like to begin looking into places that might not appear on a property search listing.
So we’d like to ask you, first of all, to pray–and in all the ways we’d suggested back in January. We earnestly desire to locate somewhere that allows us to accommodate many of our growing needs.
But we’d also like to ask any of you who have time and interest to become part of a little “call center” that will make contact with local schools and churches in order to express our interest in either renting, leasing, or, as the case may be, purchasing the property. We’ll provide the listings and a short “script” for what to say. If you’re interested in volunteering, please contact Debby Comer.
Two quick items of note:
- This Sunday during 2nd hour, Jonathan Raikes will introduce us to The City, an online tool for helping us overcome the challenges of being spread out so far across the Metroplex. You can read more about that here.
- Later that night from 6-8p, we’ll have a cookout at the Lafferty’s, (6968 Capella Park Ave, Dallas 75236). Click here for more details including what to bring.
Finally, pray for
- Charleston, S.C. and Emanuel Methodist Church
- Mark Kull as he enters into the role of Ruling Elder for CtK
- Hanna Cagle and Emma Griffiths as they lead our elementary sunday school this summer
- our ongoing search for a more permanent location for CtK
And while we may not re-create this moment at Sunday night’s cookout, here’s a little summertime frivolity, courtesy of the Keatings. A little messy fun.