February 17, 2014

Many Ways to Do Church

Yesterday I went to church three times for a story I am working on for work. At one service I joined others gathered in St. Paul’s, an Episcopal church that is almost three hundred years old, and prayed traditional Episcopal prayers. We also did a short liturgical dance to the altar.

At another church called Parables those gathered huddled in a bell tower and told stories and made art, and at the third, St. Lydia’s, we sat around a dinner table and prayed and sang.

We also shared bread and wine (or grape juice) at each. While only one of these churches was Episcopalian it was a reminder of how many shapes worship can take. There is no one right way to do church.

What these places seem to have in common is that they are listening to their context. The liturgy at St. Paul’s is designed to welcome the tourists who are constantly passing through, Parables is an attempt to express the creativity of the artists and writers who attend, and St. Lydia’s grew out of a needs that Emily Scott, the pastor and founder, heard from the people she met in New York City.

I think that the kind of liturgy that responds to a context and experiments with form is an important part of the Church. In the Episcopal Church, especially, it can be easy to imagine that there is a right way to worship and there is a correct way to do liturgy, which can make it difficult to respond to the needs of people around us.

We should be intentional and thoughtful about our liturgy, of course, and there are certain things in our liturgy that bind the Anglican Communion together that I don’t believe we should sacrifice, but it is important to remember that we do many things a certain way not necessarily because they are “correct,” but because they work best for our spiritual lives and our context.

The Spirit is still leading us in new directions, and the needs of people change as the culture changes. We shouldn’t be afraid to experiment.