At 3pm, we were still in the house.
Michael was still wearing his moose jammies. I still hadn’t showered.
At 4pm, Michael announced he was going to go take a nap.
We left for the evening service at The Porch at 5pm (and everyone was washed, napped, and dressed). I think we could probably get into an evening service . . . at least, in the summer, when a 6pm service is early enough that the sun still has not set when you arrive home at 9pm.
While we have been “church hopping” but not “church shopping” during the project, some of the questions we’ve ended up asking ourselves (What is church? What do we want in a faith community? What’s the point of church? What’s the role of the service for a community of faith? Where do we want to land at the end of the year?) sure look like the latter, more than the former. We know, for example, that we’re not mega-church people. We don’t like the mall as a place of commerce — we certainly don’t like it wearing church clothes. We’re not sure we’re ready to dive into teeny again, but we’re pretty sure we’re more comfortable at <100, and maybe sub 50. We're drawn to churches whose mission is facing outward, whose focus is on community, and who have an impact on their local community. Since many of the churches we've found thus far that fit this are urban, we're struggling, thinking about how we create community as rural dwellers, and what that kind of community looks like not located in town. (And every so often, we say, “Dang–should we buy a little house in town?”).
When he greeted us, the worship leader, Peter, told us about some of the things The Porch has done, as they’ve explored “being church.” One of the things struck me: praying in a circle, facing outward, because they wanted to keep focused on including people and drawing people in, and not be closed off to their surroundings.
The order of the service last night was roughly this: prayer, a guided meditation with music, prayer, a break, prayer, the sermon, prayer, communion, music, prayer. If guided meditation makes you queasy, I should note here that this was a uniquely Christian meditation. The theme of the service was the Sabbath (part of a series on the 10 Commandments — keeping the Sabbath being #4). Peter asked us to lie on the floor (or sofas, for the folks who were on the sofas, or just to close our eyes if we were seated), and he talked about finding rest. The imagery probably worked for most people there, but it was urbacentric, in that he talked about walking out from one’s home, and through the city, and out into a quiet place, which is kind of where you start at my house. The whole idea was to conjure an image of restfulness and peace. This was interspersed with singing . . . we didn’t know any of the 3-4 songs they did that evening, which was kind of an interesting experience. We usually know at least one of the songs. They were familiar to many of the people in the congregation, who sang, lying on the floor, with their eyes closed.
After, we stood, sang the final verse again, and took the break. According to bulletin:
community is a big value to us. One of the most important elements of our service is the “break.” We hope that you will take this chance to meet a few people or connect with old friends. We believe God is present as we gather.
If you’re from a liturgical tradition that uses a modern mass, you’ll recognize this as “the peace.” Sort of. And if “the peace” in your church has plenty of time to greet everyone else, hold a conversation or two, and grab a bit to eat (okay, the liturgical folks don’t actually snack during the peace) . . . then you have the idea.
The sermon, following the theme, was about The Sabbath. The pastor, Dave, started out talking about how babies fight sleep, and how, even as adults, we tend to fight resting and just being. He said he didn’t know why babies and little kids fight sleep: “If a really large woman wanted to pick me up and rock me to sleep,” he said, pantomiming being in the arms of a giantess, “I would not fight it.”
He asked a handful of questions in his sermon: Do we observe the Sabbath? Is it something we should be doing? How does it work? He had a handful of suggestions — no technology for the day, or no car, or lighting some candles, or sitting outside and reading, or spending time with friends and on spiritual things, or not buying anything for the day. Other folks contributed ideas — outreach, calling old friends, writing (snail!) mail, spending the day with pets (this one from Farmergirl — I’m not sure how that would differ from her normal day-to-day activities, but there you have it).
There were a couple of things that struck me about his suggestions, first and foremost, that they’re just pieces of the original Shabbat practices of the Hebrews . . . who took Deuteronomy 5:12-15 pretty seriously (and whose practices continue today within the Jewish community). But Christians have always lived with the tensions of the New Testamtent in addition to the commandments from the Old Testament.
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
The end of the service was dedicated to communion. The bulletin calls it a “sacred remembrance.” I’m not sure exactly what that means. It wasn’t liturgical or sacramental, and it was a bit like the Kaleo communion, but with only one big loaf and two glasses (one wine, one juice) on the altar up front. Peter played another song, and individuals could go up as they chose to, break off a piece of bread, and dip it in either glass. It was kind of a strange hybrid of a common cup communion (only two cups, go up front), and an individual communion (taken alone, no words of institution or distribution). I was recently reading Viola and Barna’s Pagan Christianity?, and its discussion on the original (community feast) that was the practice of communion in the early church. And I’m struck by how austere communion can be in the present day. In the summary of the chapter on communion, Viola and Barna write:
[T]he Lord’s Supper, when separated from its proper context of a full meal, turns into a strange, pagan-like rite. The Supper has become an empty ritual officiated by a clergyman, rather than a shared-life experience enjoyed by the church. It has become a morbid religious exercise, rather than a joyous festival–a stale individualistic ceremony, rather than a meaningful corporate event.
As one scholar put it, “It is not in doubt that the Lord’s Supper began as a family meal or a meal of friends in a private house . . . the Lord’s Supper moved from being a real meal into being a symbolic meal . . . the Lord’s Supper moved from bare simplicity to elaborate splendor . . . the celebration of the Lord’s Supper moved from being a lay function to a priestly function. In the New Testament itself, there is no indication that it was the special privilege or duty of anyone to lead worshipping fellowship in the Lord’s Supper.
In the context of the project, this was not a bad communion . . . but, in the same way we’re asking ourselves “What is Christian living? What is being church? What’s the purpose?” we’re also asking about the purpose of communion? (and the building? and the sermon? and the order of worship? and tithing? and the clergy?) — all the things Viola and Barna touch on, and then some.