Tag Archives: church

sabrina’s quest, part 2

Today was my third week at Church of the Good Shepherd (a part of the ACNA), and I enjoyed it immensely.  I am finally getting used to the flow of the liturgy, although I don’t hope to have much else memorized soon.  In this post I’ll touch on some of the things I really appreciate about the Anglican way.  There are heavier, theological issues at hand, but I am not well equipped to discuss those issues yet, as I have just recently begun studying the Anglican tradition.  The following are some aspects that relate to me, according to my spiritual personality.

What resonates with me the most can be boiled down to one broad category, which I will unpack as we go along:

Anglican liturgy.

I realize that all churches have their own sort of liturgy.  The churches with which I am most familiar all have unwritten, informal liturgies.  There is singing, perhaps scripture reading, prayer, more singing, maybe a “greeting” time sermon, an offertory somewhere in there, announcements somewhere in there too,  and more singing, and then dismissal. Communion is mostly likely a monthly occasion.  All good and well, but there is a vast contrast between this liturgy and Anglican liturgy.

In the informal liturgical setting, the congregation participates little.  We sing, we greet others.  But we mostly just take things in through hearing (singing, preaching), and perhaps through observing words on a screen or bulletin, or reading scripture.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this, nothing at all.  I do wonder, however, what kind of picture we are painting of community, as a crowd that just sits and listens, and this is where Anglican liturgy comes in.

Anglican liturgy is formal, and written, currently taken from the Book of Common Prayer.  There are songs and hymns, of course. There are four scripture readings in which the church participates by thanking God together after the scripture is read.  There are antiphonal prayers.  There are congregational prayers of petition and confession.  The Nicene Creed is recited together.  There is sitting, there is standing (and shifting to face the Gospel book [or cross] when the Gospel scripture for that Sunday is read), and there is kneeling for the petition and confession, with an opportunity for both individual (space for silent prayer) and corporate petition and confession.  In a word, Anglican liturgy is interactive.  To me, this speaks more of community, more of action.

There are also perks in a written liturgy for a visual learner like me.  I can read the prayers as they are written, as I listen to them being prayed.  What’s more (and I am not implying that unwritten prayers are inferior), some of the most beautiful prayers I’ve heard were written down first.  As an avid reader and amateur writer, I always look for beauty in words.

Within the Anglican liturgy, there is a crescendo that sounds differently than it does in informal liturgical settings.  In the latter, the preacher and sermon are the focal point of the service.  In Anglican liturgy, the entire service builds up to the crescendo that is communion (or, Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, etc.).  The sermon is not neglected, but this shift of emphasis is intriguing to me.  I wonder about all the weight that is put on preachers to make them into a type of celebrity, while communion is only celebrated once a month.

This leads to the question…why do you go to church?  Is it for the preacher’s sermon?  Or something else?

That is for another blog, another day, friend.

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sabrina’s quest, part 1

Here, in the South (now, I realize Virginia is only the tip of the iceberg; I have not experienced the deep South), there is an air of nationalism that makes me nervous.  There seems to be an expectation that if you love God, you will be unwavering in your patriotism, and always vote Republican.  This expectation is one of the reasons that I’ve been avoiding Baptist churches, since they always seem to be the most nationalistic. (I could go off on a rabbit trail here, but I choose not to.  If you want to know what I mean about nationalism, ask me in a different forum.)

So, if I’m avoiding Baptist churches, what’s left?

In the past, I’ve been a part of the EFCA, and IFCA (admittedly, my church was fairly progressive for the IFCA).  I write the IFCA off, because, you know, it’s the South.  What happens when one combines fundamentalism and the Southern spirit?  I don’t really want to know.  No offense.

I look up the EFCA, and find a church that is several miles away.  It seems to be a fairly conservative, run of the mill, evangelical church.  No problem, right?

Introduce Sabrina’s Problem.  Or, if you will, Sabrina’s Quest.

I’ve been finding over the past several years that typical evangelical churches leave me wanting for something more (yes, the church I grew up with).  You’ve got your worship teams + slides for music, your once-a-month communion, the focal point of the service, which is the sermon.  There’s usually no good visual art, lending itself to worship.  Add to the fact that seminary has ruined my ability to politely sit in church and take everything in without analysis; this means I examine everything. (Not that I never examined anything before, but seminary just gave me more ammo.) In summary, a typical evangelical service does nothing for my spiritual personality, unless the sermon feeds my mind & soul.

I’ve been slowly discovering that my mind & soul need to connect with something more meaningful than praise songs and a sermon and communion once a month.  I need substance and beauty that I can see AND hear.  I need some kind of connection with a tradition.  (Last year, I was blessed to have the opportunity to plan a Sunday communion service for my beloved IFCA church in which I may have threw some for a loop, but I am not counting on that opportunity again anytime soon.)

Well, there are a couple United Methodist churches down the street.  Okay.  Over all, pretty watery for Sabrina.  Watery sermon, bland music, although the sanctuary was gorgeous.

There’s also an Episcopal church down the street.  Not my first choice, for a number of reasons, but I want to see if highly structured liturgy feeds me, and if the beauty of the old church lends to worship.  There’s beautiful, historic liturgy.  An okay sermon that did little for me.  Hymns accompanied by organ and choir.  A gorgeous place of worship.  A focus on communion.  But…something seemed missing to my evangelical self.  There’s a prayer for the dead that I don’t understand, an overall sense of dullness amongst the parishioners, and I already mentioned the sermon.

I think I can do better, so I look up the ACNA, find Church of the Good Shepherd, and write the pastor, asking for a ride on Sunday.  I received a very gracious response, and when I finally made it on Sunday, everything clicked.  A beautiful chapel, scripture saturated & historic liturgy, a good sermon, animated worship, focus on communion.  Boom.

But Sabrina…Anglican?

Maybe.  Look for part two sometime next week.

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(Some words that come to mind…

hip.  artsy.  social justice/gospel.  organic.  indie music.  missional.  grassroots.  relationship.  velvet elvis. community.  tony jones.  hippie.  candles.  theology.  dialogical sermons.  art.  food & good wine.  shaping of things to come.  lots of meals together. mars hill.    intentional community.  context.  yuppie.  tradition.  non-traditional.  questions, lots of them.  alan hirsch.  exploration. emergent village.  brian mclaren.  culture.  blue like jazz.  experience.  green.  intellectual.  creative.  sensory.  dialogue.  rob bell.  mark driscoll.   generous orthodoxy.

…when I think “emerging”  or “emergent” church)

Many people simply classify the emerging (or emergent) church as those who were unhappy with their previous traditional churches, gathering around to complain about the state of the more fundamental church.  It sure seems that way many times, and many times that is true, but sometimes it is not.  Some genuinely want to contextualize (speaking the language of the immediate context/culture)  the gospel to reach those otherwise not reached by the good news, while still upholding scriptural truths (this would be more descriptive of the emerging church), while some want to go beyond that and become more inclusive of the different denominations/sects of Christianity (including Orthodoxy and Catholicism – this would be more descriptive of the “emergent” church).  From now on in this post, I will use “emerging” and “emergent” differently, in accordance with those descriptions.

What first drew me into the emerging church was the whole “missional” aspect.  I liked the idea that the church body spent intentionally spent time within the community to reach the people of the community, and were constantly donating their time, effort, finances, and talent to reach the needy (spiritually, physically, emotionally needy), essentially “doing missions” locally, as well as internationally.  This was in contrast to a church I had attended for most of my life (at the time), which was constantly seeking to draw people into the church, instead of being the hands and feet of Christ to those outside the church.

Another thing that drew me in was the appreciation for the arts.  I had grown tired of people in the church settling for mediocre sound and visuals, just because it had a “Christian” label.  And not only that, but this emerging church had its own artists and musicians who shared their work with everyone else in the body.

Of course, I liked the candles and the ambiance on Sunday mornings, the emphasis on sharing meals together and all that.  Always a plus in my book.  Plus, I enjoyed hanging around people who asked questions, were not afraid of drinking a bit of wine or beer, and generally looked cool.  Perhaps not the best of motives, but let’s call it icing on the cake, shall we?

Emerging churches are basically known for the above, whilst, for the most part, remaining pretty orthodox in doctrine (Reformed, Baptist).  Mars Hill Church, founded by Mark Driscoll, is doctrinally sound while still remaining culturally relevant in its immediate context (to a point…see my thoughts toward the end).  There are even churches that fall in the “in between” category of emerging/emergent.  Pastor Mark has a nifty little video to help explain it better than I can.

The emergent churches are similar, but their doctrine is more liberal, they are more “post-modern” in feel, have a loathing for anything systematic, and they tend to be more pluralistic and extremely integrative.  Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy would help you understand that a little better (you may come away from that book more confused…ha!).  The long subtitle reads: Why I am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentliast/calvinist + anabaptist/anglican + methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished Christian. Mark Driscoll used to be part of The Emergent Village (McLaren is one of the founders, I believe, or even the main founder), but then later chose not to associate himself with them, as they begun to stray away from essential foundational doctrine (such as the inspiration of scripture, and the sovereignty of God).

Just for the record, I see nothing wrong with diminishing the number of labels people tend to use, and I think that’s one of McLaren’s main goals.  He probably wouldn’t advocate the usage of the emergent/emerging labels.  But once you get to the nitty gritty of essential doctrinal differences, it’s simply impossible to combine them all and have a happy, universal church faithful to scripture.  It’s dangerous to think that Baptists can be Catholics, too.  Mark Driscoll used to be part of The Emergent Village (McLaren is one of the founders, I believe, or even the main founder), but then later chose not to associate himself with them, as they begun to stray away from essential foundational doctrine (such as the inspiration of scripture, and the sovereignty of God).

So, some closing thoughts.  I don’t thing anything is wrong with contextualization in general.  I’m all for the missional and contextual and the community aspects of the emerging church, but it’s often too easy overemphasize contextualization and use it as an excuse to participate in cultural activities that would be contrary to scripture, or as an excuse not to pursue holiness.  Discernment is always in order, yes?  It’s also interesting that the word “missional” has just recently (within the past ten years or so) become a buzzword among the Christian circle.  Shouldn’t all Christians strive to be “missional”?  And what about the community thing?  Shouldn’t all believers seek community?  We are family, after all.

There you go, curious friends.  That’s my take on the ol’ trend.  I’m by no means an expert, so feel free to add your thoughts if you think mine incomplete, and please watch Pastor Mark’s video on the different streams of the emerging church – it’s quite helpful and concise.

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