Before beginning to explore the different components that make our worship life together, I think it is helpful to step back and examine who the “who” actually is. The gathering would not exist without the people who make the community their own, and any attempt to understand the activities requires that we take their composition into account.
Our congregation is diverse- we have some who are multi-generational pillars of the community and others who are new to the church and faith. We have blue-collar, white-collar, and grey-collar members. We are multi-lingual, multi-politic, multi-faith, and multi-ability. We have a spectrum of family compositions, gender expressions, and orientations.
We also have common ties. We have a history together and our stories have been shaped by one another.
In his book Transforming Christian Theology, Philip Clayton writes that “a congregation is a place where we come together to tell the corporate narrative of our life together with God, as well as to observe the rights and liturgies that help us to remember and experience that story. We invite seekers to come and listen and participate as they wish, so that they may be exposed to this narrative and decide whether they wish to make it part of their own stories as well. For us as members, our meeting together allows a corporate dimension to emerge out of the individual dimensions of our various stories”.
As a community grows, it becomes more dynamic as we make room for our “various stories” to affect our “corporate dimension”. We listen to hear the voice of someone speaking up afresh. We make amends when our actions have harmed another, whether consciously or not. We balance the heritage of our past with the needs of the present and possibilities for the future.
In his pastoral letter to the church community in Ephesus, Paul dedicates over half of the letter to advice about how to live together through their diversity and inclusivity: In Christ’s body, we’re all connected to each other, after all (5:25). We are not an assortment of individuals, but something stronger, richer, and deeper together. From this odd type of community springs the power of liturgy to be more than rote rites replicating re-warmed religion, but rather the vehicle that empowers each of us to be our authentic selves and also part of another’s spiritual formation.
Liturgical Experiment: Spend two Sundays in a different part of the church than you typically sit. The first Sunday may feel uncomfortable (there will be all sorts of new things to distract you!) and the second will give a better sense of how something as simple as location can change our experience of worship together.
Consider what parts of your story are unique and which are similar to others in the church. How can these aspects benefit the congregation? How can we make room for people whose stories are not yet part of our community life?
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