Shane Claiborne @Shane Claiborne What Chores Would Jesus Do? "Church is not something we attend. It's something we are." http://fb.me/1p3mw0GFq
The linked article refers to a group of people living in intentional community, and it's an interesting read, but it's not really my point here. While I'm not feeling called to a monastic life, I have been thinking a great deal, in this time of such commercial pressure to be happy and joyful and madly gifting, about what church is meant to be in our lives.
Church is not something we attend. It's something we are.
Our RevGals in the UK all seem to be doing something called Messy Church, which intrigues me (messy being one of my favorite states). Sally writes about Messy Church at her Methodist chapels:
Two pictures that will stay with me this week, two very different churches packed with families for Messy Church...
Picture one, children sat around the feet of the story teller, gazing at her with eyes like saucers!
Picture two, a dad so chilled at Messy Church that he lay on a rug on the floor, head on arms behind his head and simply enjoyed being while his children were having fun!
Who needs a hymn prayer sandwich?
But, as Sally's next post shows, some people do need a "hymn prayer sandwich." There are folks in the congregation truly mourning the removal of the familiar pattern of prayer, study & worship that they've known all their lives.
In a similar vein, Liberation Theology Lutheran's Florida church chose to swap sermons for creative activities during the Sundays of Advent:
About a month ago, a group of us gathered at the parsonage to talk about a different approach to Advent. I'm lucky to have a pastor who's a creative guy and thus, is open to doing worship with creative elements--especially if one of the lay people wants to take the lead.
Our pastor had a vision of having an alternative creative activity that would take place each Sunday in Advent. We anticipated that mainly children and youth would participate, but certainly adults would be welcome too. I had a vision of people who learned by hands-on activities working on the creative offering and listening to the sermon.
Those of you who have worked with groups of children will laugh. But I'm calling it a success. Do I think that participants in the creativity project got the exact same message that they would have, had they been listening to the sermon? No. But do I think that they'd have gotten those messages if they had been sitting in the pews? Not necessarily.
Our experiment turned out to be a success, so I thought it worth documenting here.
For Advent 1, the participants made 6 banners, with the Advent themes of Joy, Hope, and Waiting. Below you'll see a sample.
For Advent 2, with its theme of Good News, participants made paper chains out of newspaper.
I thought our plan for Advent 3 was most ambitious. The theme for the Sunday was the message of light breaking through, so one of our team came up with the idea of turning the windows in the back of the church (windows that connect the sanctuary to the nursery and to a rehearsal space) into a stained glass look by painting on them.
Below you see the windows in the before-but-prepped stage:
Below you see the participants painting the windows.
I particularly like the shot below, with the cross in the distance.
And below, the finished windows:
For Advent 4, with its themes of promises kept and the Magnificat, I thought back to what we'd done with silk and interpretive dance at a Create in Me retreat. I had a vision of people writing/drawing onto silk the ways that they'd seen God keeping God's promises and prayers for what they still needed/wanted God to do.
I bought 12 yards of silk from Dharma Trading Company, after a very helpful Customer Service rep helped me decide what would work best for the project. When it arrived, I thought, well, I've bought far too much fabric--as I so often do.
But as it turns out, we used the whole length. And then we processed up the aisle as the offering was brought forward.
If I decide to do more with silk and liturgical dance for Pentecost, we'll practice more before we process. We didn't quite get the hang of getting the silk to drift and float through the air--and of course, the children participants were shorter than the Create in Me participants.
We put the silk at the bottom of the tree.
It's been an interesting, creative approach to Advent. And I know that some of our participants wish that we could keep having creative activities, even after Advent ends.
Finally, from achurchforstarvingartists, Jan shares this meditation on the purpose of being church:
Church Friend #1: Since our pastor retired, our worship numbers are down
significantly. We didn’t realize how many people came just to hear him preach. And then they went to brunch.
Church Friend #2: That’s not really church, you know.
Many of us have participated in Destination Worship to hear a great preacher preach. A friend just told me over the weekend that she would be visiting Texas for Christmas and while she’s in Houston she will definitely go hear Joel Osteen. Because he’s Joel Osteen. (Maybe not everyone’s idea of a Great Preacher but we’d all agree he is a famous preacher.)
I’ve traveled to Grandville, MI to hear Rob Bell preach. I’ve made several pilgrimages to hear BBT. I’ve made special efforts to hear other fine preachers deliver God’s Word. My faith has been impacted by their teaching and I have a richer understanding of scripture from those sermons. But I can’t say that my experience was truly “church.”
My friend Steve Knight wrote earlier this month about Participatory Church. For generations, many of us believed that being a Christian meant spending Sunday mornings in a church sanctuary, sitting in a chair or pew, hearing a sermon and then going home (or to brunch) comforted or smarter or stirred spiritually. And that’s that.
Jesus taught something completely different.
It’s easy to go hear a fine sermon and then return home and forget about it until next week. It’s easy to go get a shot of inspiration and then continue life as usual. But being a church together, being The Body of Christ together involves a commitment, relationships, a change of perspective and priorities. Way harder.
Advent is often about theatre and pageantry in the institutional church. Concerts and “special music” fill those weeks before Christmas. Consider The Church Christmas Pageant.
Who doesn’t love a Christmas Pageant? The kids are cute. The pews are full. The story is familiar. It creates happy memories and brings people together. What’s not to love?
My hope is that this perennial favorite is more than a sentimental exercise. I hope it touches souls and points us to something holy and beautiful. But to be honest, sentimentality often wins. We prefer easy worship. We go. We hear and watch. We come away spiritually moved or entertained or informed.
But that’s not what it means to be the church together. Jesus asks for more.
What are you finding this Advent that, to you, is truly church? Is it in doing, being, sharing? Finding new ways of experiencing? For me, with an ill spouse for the last several months, church has been, not attendance at services, but presence (face to face and virtual) of many in my community of faith...both the one to which I "belong" and the one that I have found online.
May your gift this year be a new realization of God in your life and the lives of those you serve.