Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wine Instead of Syrup

We've just started looking for a church to attend. I have a feeling that it is going to be a long and painful search. I came up with an analogy that I think is helpful for seeing one of the primary problems with many churches. I know, I'm pointing fingers and offering solutions, but I think this is a meaningful dynamic to uncover. So let me put it this way, I came up with an analogy that is helpful for seeing one of the primary problems with churches that are programmatic or program orientated (this could mean focus on a literal program, such as the Wednesday night prayer meeting, or a larger program, like saving the world) and a primary problem with us when we become similarly program oriented.

We come to church to meet with God with each other. We come for communion, for wine. (Or for water if that metaphor works better for you.) But what we get instead is someone telling us what to believe and what not to believe, what to do and what not to do. Instead of the wine, instead of communal communion with God, we get syrup. All we want is just a sip or communion cup full of wine. But we get lots and lots and lots of syrup. We have poured into our tiny communion cup a gallon of syrup, an hour or so of someone talking at us and, to make it worse, often trying to be cordial or humorous while talking. We get the wrong thing--and we get way too much of it.

I have some ideas of what I would like in a church service which would help to reverse this problem, minimizing the syrup and opening opportunities for the wine or water, or wine and water. I'm not sure what use this description will be. We can't usefully dream of a "perfect" church. I also don't mean for these to be rules but useful patterns. Perhaps the list can serve as a prayer that we will be ever-increasingly drawn towards what matters.

There ought to be a time of silence.
There ought to be meditative communal reading of scripture.
There ought to be Eucharist.
There definitely ought to be a meal.
Sometimes, there ought to be music.
Often, there ought to be discussion.
Sometimes, someone should present a prepared "word" or sermon.
This should rarely, rarely exceed ten minutes.
Often, people should be allowed to speak unprepared "words."
As the spirit leads.
Almost always for less than two minutes each.
There ought hardly ever to be any announcements.
Particularly not programmatic pleas for involvement.
Everyone ought to participate in the corporate worship.
Never should one or a few people dominate the talking.
Talking itself should not dominate the meeting.


Daniel said...

Paul, I think many of us are asking the question: syrup or wine? Thank you for offering some practical suggestions. I hope we are able to maintain some of the healthy tension from this recent cultural shift: a willingness to sample, embrace, or let go of a variety of corporate expressions of worship with a goal of emphasizing Spirit and community over programs and agendas. And though I also have strong complaints about lengthy monologues, tangents, and non-engaging activities, I'm hoping this 'open' attitude can be manifested in a variety of settings and traditions (for example, I've found a surprising amount of flexibility and warmth in the liturgy of our neighborhood Episcopal congregation).

I pray you and your family are able to find a service that is (mostly) free of the syrupy symptoms you've mentioned. But in case you don't find a congregation that matches these ideals, may you (and all of us, really) find a church community that is 'organic' or 'dynamic' and willing to engage your contributions.

Paul Corrigan said...

Daniel, thank you for your comment, which I find very insightful. The willingness and openness you speak of are difficult: but key.

We have to live in paradox (in compromise, sometimes). And, as fun as paradox is to talk about, it isn't always fun to live in. But if we don't hold the tension, one side or the other takes over. In my case, I could either "give in" to the system of symptoms, which is not going to happen, or I could bail, which is not what I am called to do. I need to not give in and not bail, to remain a part of things in the places where I am called, even if I don't fit perfectly.

It will take a church also willing to engage some paradox (to have me), so I also thank for your prayer for a church "willing to engage my contributions."

I've been saying "I" here to not assume that I'm speaking for others. But I think that, nonetheless, even with the church you've found, many of us are in similar "binds." Let us all pray to be able to live out the qualities that you've just asked of us.

RC said...

Paul, thank you for sharing your insights, concerns, and suggestions. I think ours is a time of renewal, experimentation, and reconfiguration in many churches. May you, yours, and all of us find many meaningful and satisfying ways to be part of this process!

Matt said...

Paul, as hard as it might be, it may be time to really say "goodbye" to Evangelicalism...

Sarah said...

Paul, I think your list is thoughtful and insightful. I've been in my share of "syrup" churches, particularly when I was in college. I do, think, though that sometimes we don't find our perfect church because a perfect church would not be perfect for us. Being in a community so often means learning to love particularly when we're irritated or do not agree with our fellow community members. We grow because we are stretched into being a part of a body that is not always what we think it should be. My prayers are with you as you search for a place of worship and a community to grow into -- and may many items on your list be fulfilled...but perhaps not all.

living stones said...

Paul, You've certainly raised concerns we all share. May you have extra grace for finding the right church. And maybe the right church is the imperfect place where you can contribute time and energy to plant seeds of change. Certainly God is saying that to some of us. Blessings--Anna

Matt said...

Paul, thanks for your post. I think we are all looking for communities of people who are loving, but also challenging "syrup" as you call it. My prayer is that we would all find our role in this process in whatever communities we are already in and ones we are soon to join.

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