Friday, October 12, 2007

Fourth Week of Sabbatical -- The Postmodern Experience and Visiting Baby

Note: This church visit was not my first "postmodern" experience, but the first was even less structured. It was a church my daughter and son in law attended for a while. And while I applauded their intentions, I confess I would never be able to deal with the total lack of what appeared to be organization at that church. Does that make what they were doing wrong? No. But not something I can do. I remember asking my daughter, "Can't we just sing a worship song or someting? Where was the sermon?" The church I refer to here might not qualify as "emergent" to some. Postmodern, oh very much.

Last Sunday my husband and I attended an Assemblies of God church that was started specifically to reach the postmodern generation/mindset, etc. It is in a relatively large town, and another thriving AG church exists there, but one with a very different style. They are about the same size as our church. Most similarities end there, but not all.

Church is in an elementary school gym, so everything has to be set up and then removed each week, though they hope this situation will change fairly soon. The expected donuts, coffee and juice were available along the side. Folding chairs were set up in the front half of the worship space; the back half included tables and chairs complete with a candle and a tablecloth. The back filled up first and people continued sipping coffee as the service began. Children were with the grownups for the worship time and then left for children's church. The bulletin was very well done, easy to read, informative and eye catching. The pastor opened the service with the announcements which were quick, and also projected on the screen. He wore jeans and a casual shirt.

Song words were projected on a screen, and the worship was led by a praise band. The songs were what someone I know calls, "weeping for Jesus" songs. That sounds disrespectful, huh? What he means is that they all tend to be very introspective and about Jesus and love and ME. They were all very similar in style and all sounded much the same, both words and tune. I knew one, as did my husband. I was not inspired, and my thoughts did not turn godward. I had a difficult time worshipping, because I was trying to sing the song tune correctly.

The young pastor perched on a stool for the message, which was the last in a six-part series about the Book of Ruth. The bulletin contained an extensive page of further information about the cultural background, history, etc.

The sermon was accompanied by a very nicely done set of graphics with music and reading of the scripture passage. The pastor is engaging, likable, very funny, and did a reasonably good job of relating the passage to our lives. The sermon was too long, in my opinion, but that is very subjective. I suspect many people think mine are too long as well. I left feeling...odd and rather incomplete. Perhaps it was partly in contrast to my Anglican experience the week before. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum!

My own church is very casual. Our music is mostly "contemporary" and is led by a praise band. We use video projection. Okay, there were similarities. And yet it was quite different as well. I asked myself, "What makes this more acceptable to the mostly college-age people I saw? What is different that is working, and what is missing?" I'm still thinking this over.

Meantime, I'll just tell you that I liked the pastor's friendly and casual style. I liked the technical stuff he had chosen--the visuals and beautiful music behind the voice reading scripture added a lot. And I liked the bulletin insert--which went much deeper than the actual sermon. I liked the awareness that, unlike the week before, the order of service did not seem almost like an end in itself, and that it could be altered as needed. I mean, if the Holy Spirit chose to do something unusual that day it would have been welcomed and there would have been room for flexibility.

I was less impressed by the music. It is much harder to do church music than used to be the case in our churches. We used to have an organ on one side, a piano on the other, and we sang hymns along with a few simple choruses. What AG folks in California were singing was pretty much the same as those in Washington DC. No longer is this the case in most AG churches, and certainly not in those who are trying to find a niche that is not the same as their mainline church friends, or even their other evangelical friends. Maranatha music tends to be simple and harmonic, and that's what we used to sing. Now we have a plethora of companies, lots of radio stations playing contemporary praise music, and music that is much more difficult for the amateur praise band to play.
Do I want to return to an organ and piano? No. Not unless it is a pipe organ. (Smiling.) But this is a challenging area.

I'm not opposed to donuts and coffee, but I was not thrilled that some people were drinking coffee and munching donuts while others were singing. Call me old fashioned. I also wasn't sure I liked the stool and the jeans. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that we wear our jeans and tee shirts everywhere, including church? Partly good, since no one has to feel that they can't come in to a church service because they are not properly dressed. Partly maybe not so good...? There was something very good about the sense (last week) that church was a sacred, holy experience, and even though it was much more formal than I'd want to do every week, I saw that the vestments and cassocks it added to the "experience"-- the sense that we were coming away from the ordinary to meet with God.

I also was surprised that they were not particularly friendly. As casual as the entire service was, I expected several people to approach us. The pastor did, and he did a good job of being warm and genuine. No one else spoke to us until after I had stood awkwardly for a long time in one spot after service. When someone approached me it was not one of the several young people in attendance. It was a woman about my age. My husband helped clear tables and move chairs. No one thanked him, even though as a visitor this was probably more than expected.

Thoughts: Shorter sermons. No matter how much I want to share more. Welcome people, even those who are different than me. Good audio visuals can work well. In the Episcopal chapel the audio visuals were different, but they were there.The postmodern church needs to be a multi sensory experience. When it comes to praise bands, less may be more. Keep it simple and do it well. And it is okay to be HAPPY! Aren't we Pentecostals supposed to be known for that? Some joy is good, as well as worship and introspection. Vary the style, PLEASE.

Do I need to wear jeans to church and sit on a stool? ;-)

In spite of a comment to the previous post below (which made me laugh out loud) some things do not mix. Or if they do the result is not pleasing.
But a little formality along with a casual approach would be lovely....can we do it? Don't know, but I would sure like to try. I may be "a woman of a cetain age" but I don't want to do things in a way that makes me comfortable. I want to share the gospel.
Help me out here, if you can! All comments welcome!

Then we went to Minneapolis for a couple of days. Pictures below. Trinity is nine months old.


Anonymous said...

You already know my feelings on this subject, but I will say I like the way you broke it down at the end. Nice post! Pastor

Miss you,

Ruth said...

My pastor wears jeans and sits on a stool, sometimes, for service. 'Course I tend to go to the Saturday service so I may be getting a more casual "look" from the pastor than what happens on Sundays.

My church is not quite "emergent" but probably on the edge of that. They tend to incorporate the rituals that mean something to some people and explain it well to those who don't know about them. They do Advent, which is dear to my heart. They also do Lent in their own way. Communion is not done differently than what I've seen before, but I like it. But they vary it too with totally different rituals on occasion.

Some rituals make sense. Some don't. To do something simply because it is a ritual doesn't make sense to me. But to have a good reason, that is explained, so that it really has deep spiritual meaning, that's way cool.

If it helps any, TJ Jones used to get away from the pulpit as quickly has he could. He'd walk up and down the platform and descend to walk up and down the aisles when he preached. VERY different from how the A/G pastors tend to preach today. It worked for him because it was *his* way of preaching. As the A/G became more mainstream they moved away from the old fashioned revivalist preachers into what was more comfortable for the people they were trying to reach. That's what I see happening in churches today. They are adapting to what they think will reach the most people. Unfortunately they are ignoring the needs of some of the older members of their churches who need what soothes *their* souls. It's a difficult situation all around.

Just think how much fun you'll have in another 10-15 years adjusting to rap and hip-hop as the "choruses" you'll be singing in church!

Anonymous said...

Sounds similar to our previous church, although the music was good, and the people were very, very friendly. Maybe that's what makes the difference?

And I'm with you on the eating/drinking issue--that used to bother me too.

chartreuseova said...

Don't wear jeans and sit on a stool. And you a beautiful granddaughter. That's that extent of my wisdom.

We think we've found a church with some balance. It appeals to "contemporary music, gotta be relevant & action focused, no liturgy please" Dad; "I don't want to go to a concert, I miss my hymns and I like my liturgy light, but I want it" Mom; and "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun while learning, I refuse to sing/dance" Daughter.

LoieJ said...

During my week in E. Wis, I popped in on your blog a few time, but I didn't have time to really reflect on your posts. When driving back home, I saw the sign to St. N in GB and thought of you. Your sabbatical sounds wonderful, both reflective and moving your outward in a different way, ie attending a different kinds of services.

My time in Wis was too stressful for me to get the relaxation in the evenings I thought I'd find.

RE liturgy and ritual, etc.: There is certainly a difference between liturgy done well, with "spirit" and meaning as compared to people going through the motions. In some cases, the people have never been taught what it is all about. And some organists or pastors are just not that skilled in leading the liturgy. And some times the people are just in church for who knows what reason, so they don't really participate. At least they are in church; one never knows when the seed might be planted.

I am struggling with my attitude when attending the church of an elderly relative in Mn when we visit there. It is a sort of branch of my denomination, but I'm not allowed to receive communion. But the last few times they haven't had liturgy, which I see as the praise part of the service, the hymns have been the old favorites sung poorly, without spirit, and the sermons have been so superficial, that I haven't felt fed.

I would have some problem with the casualness of the service you describe because I like the idea of a time set apart. My own church has a nice melding of friendliness and formality.

I also would have a problem with too many songs that focus on me, me, me and my response to God. I'd rather sing about what and who God is. I wonder if these "praise songs" will stand the test of time.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

C.O. Your post made me LOL. :-) I'd love to visit your new church sometime and see how it goes. The UMC one?

And P.S. I'm sorry things did not go well. :-( I think that most of the current crop of songs will NOT stand the test of time. But some likely will. I think some contemporary songs are far better than others. I like contemporary stuff (some of it) but I think balance is a key.

More thoughts later, when I'll post about week five. :-) I'm in California right now.

chartreuseova said...

Yep, the UMC one.

Here's a URL

By visiting churches through the years, I've found you can't always tell much about a church from its website but so far we like it on the web & IRL.

Jeni said...

As a lifelong Lutheran here, I guess liturgy, ritual, more formality is very ingrained in me. When I was a kid, you didn't go to church unless you were "dressed" properly - hat, gloves, dress shoes, etc. Since my kids hit their teens (about 2 decades ago now - boy, I'm getting old!) appropriate apparel has changed to jeans being acceptable but I've never quite adjusted to that - or to knee-knockers, etc., in the warm weather either. Just always hits me as somewhat disrespectful I suppose.
Music -I can be a little more open on that as I like a little of the contemporary music from time to time but I still much prefer the old standard hymns and an organ to accompany the singing, as opposed to a piano. Am I too set in my ways? Could be considered that way I suppose.
I'm trying to adapt but boy, old habits (and rituals) do die hard too ya know!
And, your granddaughter is growing so quickly - seems like just yesterday you posted the first pictures of her! She's a beauty, for sure!

Anonymous said...

Daryl & I (and Trinity) still get dressed up for church. Even if I do decide on the rare occasion to wear jeans, I still have a very nice shirt on. I can't do the jeans and T-shirt thing. I think dressing up is a form of respect and dressing for church is one way I show my respect for God, for the church body, for the pastor preaching and for vistors.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to let you know that I enjoy reading about your experiences and your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

See how happy she looks when she doesn't have a Packers shirt on?


Anonymous said...

Nice article. I like the way you described it. Photos added a special appeal to the mass. We would look forward for further betterment.