One of the current joys of my life is school-subsidized busing (bussing?). Actually, the route I live on now—after moving*—is free to everyone, so there are lots of interesting people to watch.
There are also lots of ads to read inside the bus—apartments for rent, “don’t do drugs” campaigns, etc. And, occasionally, church advertising. This time, there was an ad for a local UMC’s (I’m assuming) college/young adult service. The ad has a sort of smooth, contemporary look, with lots of blues and blacks, and text in different shades and styles that reads, “Contemporary Worship,” “Multimedia,” “Casual Dress,” “Practical Sermons,” “Modern Music,” “Free Lunch for College Students.”
So, basically, a laundry list of what young people are supposed to want from church. (If you haven’t seen Rev. yet, watch this clip from the BBC. Seriously. In three minutes, it embodies everything I’m talking about here. And it’s amazing.)
The thing is, I don’t really think church is about what we can get out of the worship service. I say this as someone who chose her church based heavily on the manner of worship—falling in love with liturgical worship is one of the things that brought be to TEC, and my parish was the one with a choir—and organ. I’m more of an Adam girl than a Darren girl (watch the clip and you’ll see). So maybe I can’t talk.
I’m pretty sure, though, that church is about worship, and about learning to better love God and our neighbor—which isn’t something we learn through “practical sermons.” I think it’s something we learn through the act of worship, through the Eucharist, through the beauty of the service, and through our relationships with the people (and objects) of the church. Not that a good homily can’t be part of this; my Reformed roots have instilled in me an appreciation for good preaching. But I don’t go to church for a good performance and a few sound bites of Bible-as-handbook style sermons. I want so much more than that.
This summer I went to a summer-ministry church service that I’d enjoyed as a child, and now find almost uncomfortably irreverent. Not that the leaders and congregation have any ill intent or even that they’re not there Sunday mornings for the glory of God—they are. But somewhere, something got lost.
It’s not formality I crave. I had Eucharist with a handful of people in a mostly-deserted sports bar late on a Monday night, and it was among the coolest General-Convention experiences I had—and it was utterly reverent, even surrounded by the jokes and laughter of a slightly kooky group of young adults.
I think what I’m looking for is something like beauty, which is a slippery fish—eye of the beholder and all that. And contemporary services and be beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but there seems to be something in the nature of trying to be “relevant” that shuffles over beautiful things. Then again, maybe I’m a relic of antiquary trapped in a 20-something’s body with my outmoded ideas of what is beautiful—I don’t know. What I do know is that on my bus ride, God’s grandeur shines through for me far, far clearer in the posters of poems written by local students than in the posters advertising a shiny, new church service.
What are your thoughts? Why do you go to church (or not)? Am I just biased against/harping on contemporary churches? Preaching to the choir? Do you wish for a more practical payout from Sunday mornings? Do you wish for a smoothie machine at coffee hour?
*Duh. Should’ve been on my list of summer stuff. I guess I blocked it out. I moved to a new apartment, with four other people, who are pretty cool. It was totally worth the trauma of the actual moving part—even all the bruises.