Week 40: Latah Valley, 6 October 2008

There’s a delicious irony to a church-in-a-box* congregation like Latah Valley using ceramic mugs for their coffee hour, while most of the church-with-property buildings we’ve gone to use disposable (often styrofoam**).

Latah Valley is a new congregation, Presbyterian, with serious emerging church leanings. My friend Jim mused, “Emerging presbyterians– with tattoos of tulips and hoppy beer by the keg after the service– and a nice pipe” . . . which was close–sans beers and smoke. (Okay, I didn’t actually see any tattoos, either, but this particular emerging congregation was way older and well-heeled than the other emerging/emergent services we’ve attended . . . reflective of their geographic/demographic area. In some ways, that makes their commitment to lugging and cleaning ceramic mugs even more impressive).

I’ve been musing further on the tyranny of the guitar and how the physical space impacts what happens in a service. One of the authors I’ve been reading (please don’t ask which — I don’t know — though when I stumble on it again, I’ll note it) talks about the tyranny of the guitar . . . how the folksy song leaders of the 60s paved the way for the performance rock groups of today . . . how that style of music (and its attendant congregation-as-audience / worship-team-as-performers) dominates contemporary worship, erodes participation, and keeps the congregation in the role of passive observers. But 45 minute sermons tend to to that, too . . . like lectures in school . . . the teacher (pastor) imparts the knowledge/wisdom to the class (congregation) . . . then the bell rings, and that’s the end of that.

I think the vast majority of Christian worship has taken that road, though . . . congregation as audience to the performance of worship. This is particularly clear in many of the mega-churches we’ve visited, with countdowns, and timed 10-second greeting moments . . . but it’s true of many of the other sizes and styles of churches we’ve been in as well. In this particular congregation, they’ve got the additional unfortunate reality of the space they’re in (the multi-purpose room/ cafeteria of an elementary school), and have some remedy (3/4 round seating) planned for the building they’re building.

Latah Valley was one of the friendliest congregations we’ve met . . . though I think that tends to be true of most church plants and building-less congregations: the part where many pastors preach that “we” are the church, and “the building” is not the church is never more apparent than when the church doesn’t have a permanent space. But it’s also fascinating how many set up the space they rent to resemble a traditional church space: altar/music team in front, podium off to the side, rows of chairs with a center aisle. Being a church-in-a-box doesn’t necessarily mean being out of the box.

*Church-in-a-box refers to churches who rent space, often in schools, and carry everything for their service from the trailer or storage facility it lives in during the week into the building, set up for the service, and then afterward, pack it back out. We’ve done this. It’s a lot of work, and requires a lot of dedication. Hence the irony: ceramic mugs are heavy — and require the additional work of cleaning them.

**Styrofoam, which even McDonald’s stopped using two decades ago, is the cup of choice at the mega church out on the Rathdrum prairie. Critics of this particular facility complain of the draw on the water and sewer system (though I haven’t seen criticism of the amount of trash generated by five thousand coffee drinkers.

*** This note doesn’t have corresponding asterii above, but since it’s not a continuation of the ** note, I gave it three to set it off. We left a mug from the church-in-a-box we used to attend in Raleigh, NC. We had several boxes of things we were taking to the goodwill that day, and among the things were two mugs from GracePoint. We turned one of them in with the dirty mugs to the guy who was doing the wash that morning. Should we call it a “drive-by mugging”?

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One Response to Week 40: Latah Valley, 6 October 2008

  1. e says:

    No it was not a drive by mugging. You stopped!

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