I wanted to draw your attention to a couple of comments made on my post last week that I think were significant. One was left after much of the discussion had concluded, so you may not have seen it.
Robert F. commented:
I miss congregational worship somewhat, but the practice of daily compline devotions that my wife and I have undertaken since the beginning of the church lock down has been far more spiritually formative than years of congregational worship.
When asked what that looked like he responded:
Each evening my wife and I read aloud the scriptural text suggested in a devotional, The Upper Room, and the short meditation that goes along with that day’s reading as preface to praying compline. Compline is the last evening service of daily prayer in the Western Divine Office; we use the Episcopal (USA) Book of Common Prayer as the source for that service. Compline includes confession, psalms and other scriptural readings as appointed in the daily office, the Gloria Patri, the Lord’s Prayer, collects, and space for a hymn as well as personal and corporate silence and intercession and thanksgiving; it concludes with an antiphon and the Song of Simeon. The service may be short and spare, or longer and more involved depending on how many reading are included, and whether other optional features are included or not. Much of the service is drawn from ancient devotions of the church, and provides a trellis of liturgical prayer on which personal prayer is lifted into places it might not be able to go unaided. There is space for the Spirit to breathe, and well as form and guidance so that the spirit does not get lost.
Late the next day Marcus Johnson left this thought:
I’m going back to Psalm 137 a lot over the past few months. The poet recalls the long journey from their homeland to live out the rest of their life in either slavery or exile. The temple, center of their cult, no longer exists. The priesthood apparently cannot operate. Their captors are asking them to sing songs about their God, and they say, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”…
I think we are going to have to go back to (apologies in advance for those of you who, like me, are over Matt Redman) the heart of worship. If worship cannot be congregational, physical, intimate, tactile, etc. in such a way that the institutions that perform it can survive, then what’s left? We’re not just a church without a temple; as most people have pointed out, we may be a church without a gathering. God’s still there, though, and so are we, so the basic elements of what’s needed for worship will survive.
Let me start off by saying that until there is a safe and effective vaccine, I am not planning to attend an indoor church service, indoor restaurant, or movie theatre (not a typo – Canadian and the rest of the non USA world spelling).
So in my mind, I was going to be stuck with what I considered, and I think many of you would agree, a poor substitution for the real thing.
Each of us has we appreciate most about the church gathered. For me, there are two things I miss most: The horizontal aspect of fellowship with others, and the communion with God through corporate Praise and Worship. Your own experiences and preferences may differ, and that is fine, I am not here to debate which aspects of church are most important, and which ones should we miss the most. How meeting corporately impacts me will be different to how it impacts you.
I do find that watching our worship team on YouTube, or participating in a Bible Study via Zoom, to be both very unfulfilling, and I was quite willing to tune both out.
That is why I think I found both Robert’s and Marcus’ comments very meaningful, as they drew a spotlight on to the attitude that I had. In short I was saying “Church is working for me, and so I am going to tune out.”
I realized much to my own surprise that I was guilty of treating church like a consumer good.
Don’t get me wrong. I think we all do this to some extent, whether we admit it or not. We attend the type of church that we attend, whether it is very liturgical, or very charismatic, because it meets a spiritual need.
But when I say, “I am not going to participate because my needs are not being met”, that is a far cry from saying “My needs are not being met, I am going to find a solution”, or perhaps “My needs are not being met, but I am going to be satisfied with the efforts that others are making in the midst of bad circumstances.”
Robert’s comment hit home because he and his wife have taken steps to provide for their own spiritual well being. (My prayers are with you in this difficult time.) I was also struck by Marcus’ comment that “we may be a church without a gathering. God’s still there, through, and so are we, so the basic elements of what’s needed for worship will survive.”
I have my guitar, I have my voice. I can still praise God. I can still reach out to others, even interact with them a little bit in our back yard.
In short I need to become a little less consumer and a little more participant.
What I do will not look like what Robert and his wife do, but it will certainly be a whole lot better than spiritual atrophy.
As usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome.
P.S. I have started fixing up my back yard, with one of the goals to make it a place of hospitality over the summer and fall. The picture above is of the little patio I finished creating last weekend. I just realized I had a before picture of the same spot. (I moved the canoe. It used to sit right behind where the chairs are now.)