Published: June 2007
Related Topics: People
We have a couple of small groups that meet here at St. Jude's comprised of that all-important demographic--parents in the process of raising children. These groups have emerged from our baptism classes as a way for people--about the same age and stage of life--to get together once a month and talk about life, politics, religion, families, jobs, faith... our conversation winds up on all kinds of interesting tangents.
At one recent meeting, we drifted into talk about Sunday worship. Several of the parents were comparing notes about how difficult it is to get to church with young children who fall between the ages of babe-in-arms and Sunday-school-ready. "And then when I discover it's communion," one person said, "I just about give up. Ten more minutes on top of the rest of the service to keep the kids under control while everyone lines up to get their wafer."
I was, I admit, taken aback by the comment, for a variety of reasons. First of all, every Sunday is communion, so "just about giving up" would be the norm of how this person was encountering our worship. But more than that, I've always assumed that communion would be the most freeing part of the service for anyone, a time where we can lose all of the words for a moment and actually act, actually be, actually do something. I ended up being raised Anglican because my parents connected with a church where the service had a sense of shape, of ritual, of motion, rather than the talk- talk- talk that can so easily dominate our religious lives.
And finally, in the Anglican Church throughout my twenty-odd years in this denomination, there has been a concerted push to recapture communion as the central act of worship, to make the service of Eucharist the norm Sunday by Sunday. Rich and exciting theology has been emerging as we mine this communal meal for all of the varied, textured layers of meaning. And I have been whole-heartedly supportive of this liturgical movement.
But... Here is one honest, face-value assessment of how that liturgical movement boils down to a received experience: ten more minutes of waiting in line while I keep the kids quiet so I can get a wafer.
It seemed to me like there was a good opportunity here for some further learning, on my part as well as theirs. I suggested that the next time we meet together I offer some teaching around the Eucharist--what it is meant to communicate, why it is so central to our worship--and that they in turn offer me some feedback about where and why this message and meaning is getting lost. In short: where are the synapses just not firing?
I greatly anticipated this meeting imagining all of the constructive feedback I would receive. I was sure that we would talk about how to make communion feel more like a meal--less stylized, use of real bread, sharing the bread and wine with one another rather than waiting in line, de-cluttering the rest of the service, streamlining the action toward the table and the meal, interactive and simple prayers of blessing the bread and the wine, etc. My mind was spinning thinking of all of the possibilities for creating an alternative worship experience in which the symbols of faith were allowed a brightness, a sharpness that perhaps they don't always have on a Sunday morning.
The real conversation didn't go quite the way I anticipated. We did touch briefly on a few of these issues, some suggestions were made (like "I have absolutely no idea why we have so many prayers every week for so many people and churches around the world, it just goes on forever"). But to my surprise, for each person that was part of that discussion, each had a different way of understanding what the worship was all about, and each person was happy to take something different away from that worship....
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