Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday is for Hospitality: welcoming worship

About four years ago, during the month of June, our church began a tradition of welcoming children into the "big church" with us for the entire service.  Of course, children are never turned away, but most families choose to have their children attend Sunday School (known here as "Shepherdstown").  Back in 2008, the easiest decision about these services was what to call them.  Rated E for Everyone sounded catchy and fun and welcoming.  The harder part has been to define the "E" in Rated E.  "Everyone" doesn't just mean children.

 Each year, just after Easter, we begin the conversation again, "Who are we talking to?"  Frankly, the journey has been extremely messy.  It's one of the parts of my job I've suffered the most embarrassment.  (which, in my job, is saying quite a lot!)  In hindsight we've been able to define that first year as kind of a whole-hog childishness.  We didn't know how to actually welcome children, so we acted silly and loud, hoping it would at least be not-boring.

The second year we wised up a bit and moved up a notch from childish to child-centered.  Still, something didn't feel quite right.  For one thing, kids were getting a funny impression of what it is we do in the sanctuary the remaining 48 Sundays a year.

Bit by bit, we're hoping to move toward a child-friendly service that is marked more by a posture of warm, gentle welcome than a sort-of frenetic, keep-the-kids entertained posture.  And, really, isn't that what we all hope for?  We're all wired to belong to something larger than ourselves, to know and to be known, to experience the other-ness of a different experience.  It's why we love story.  A good story invites us in, bringing our own imagination, into something bigger and other than our own experience.

This past spring, Brian and I co-lead a small group using the curriculum Liturgy, Music & Space, by Isaac Wardell and Greg Thompson..  The subtext for the entire twelve weeks of teaching on the theology and practices of corporate worship was this theme of hospitality.  Of moving toward one another in love.  

I'm beginning to think we could hardly do better than to make every Sunday Rated E.

For a fun essay on a music-snob's struggle to show hospitality in worship in his own church, read "Letting It Rip" by Andy Whitman at the Image Journal.
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