A surprising liturgical experience


I was out-of-town for the weekend and attended an Episcopal church today.  The church is much larger than mine, but had a similar gothic design so I felt at home in the sanctuary.  I love the Episcopal liturgy, but was concerned I might not be familiar with what this church was going to do.  But, they had already anticipated people like me attending. 

When I walked in for the 9 AM service, the greeter handed me a stapled stack of 8.5×11 paper.  The entire service, including hymns with music, was printed.  Instructions at each point in worship told worshippers exactly what to do — everyone sings, stand, be seated, choir sings, and so on.  It was very helpful and very user friendly.  They even printed stuff I knew, like The Lord’s Prayer.  Of course, not everyone knows it, so no one was left out. 

The choir processed in, led by the candle-bearers (I’m not sure what the proper name for “people-with-candles” is), and the crucifer — the person carrying the cross.  The Anglican tradition has a nice moment during the procession that I like.  Congregants are watching for the cross and when it comes by their pew, most make a slight bow of the head as a gesture of reverence and respect.  Then came the children’s choir, led by another cross and candle ensemble.  All of it very moving and very different from my usual Baptist service. 

But here’s what really got me.  The children were dismissed after the initial singing to go to a “story-telling” time just for them while the adults stayed for the sermon.  But the worship leader had reminded the congregation to save their seats, because the children would be back. 

After the sermon and the offering, the offering baskets were brought back to the chancel and presented as the congregation sang.  Then, as if on cue, the children began streaming in from the side door and right up on the chancel, stopping in front of the communion table.  The ministers (there were several in the chancel) began to bless the children and the kids responded by hugging the pastors, smiling, and generally having a good time.  Another Episcopal church I attended years ago, closed off their chancel when the eucharist began, so I did not expect this scene.  I was moved to tears at the joy I saw in the faces of the children, from the smallest to the largest, and could not help but think of Jesus’ instruction — “Let the little children come to me…” 

In a tradition where liturgy could have been stiff and formal, this Episcopal church had thought about guests and involved children.  I learned something very important today from my brothers and sisters of the Anglican communion — joy and hospitality are characteristics of all good churches, regardless of denomination. 

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2 Comments

  1. Chuck,

    Thanks for sharing this experience. It is endearing to hear of a traditionally minded church making room for children to be an important part of its liturgical practices. How often children are relegated to places away from the main sanctuary during important sacred moments. The example those ministers set for those children is a profound and endearing one. They opened access to Jesus for them in surprising and meaningful ways. I enjoy reading your site when I get the chance. Thanks for your perspective.

    Be Blessed,
    Eli
    http://www.inviteone.wordpress.com

  2. I’m pleased you got to see this, if for no other reason that to validate that liturgy (what people who don’t know better call “stiff formality”) is completely compatible with many kinds of sponteneity such as you described. In parishes where I have worshiped, what you describe is the rule, not the exception. Ordinarily, children are brought in at the beginning of the distribution of the Eucharist, and they are communed or blessed according to the wishes of the parents

    Otherwise, Anglican liturgy, particularly the smells and bells kind, is an elaborte system of symbolic actions, words, and images, all of them carrying a massive weight of Biblical and theological meaning. It is true that many catholic (note the small “c”) communions never teach their parishioners what the point of it all is, to their great impoverishment. It is exactly the same sort of spiritual poverty endured by those who reject liturgy outright. It’s very much like the difference between someone who is nourished at a lavish, multi-course banquet, with china, silver, and crystal, linens and flower arrangements, and nobly dressed waiters and getting exactly the same number of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats via a drip line inserted into a vein.

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