Sunday morning, Abby and I managed to get to church only a couple of minutes late. Not too bad for our first Sunday morning on our own, Shannon having left for work much earlier. And, I have to say, there is something kind of nice about it being okay to be late for the service. One perk of life on the pew side of things. Helps to have a baby, too, all kinds of things are immediately forgiven – particularly never being on time for anything, ever.
It’s a friendly congregation, lots of smiles every time I’m there. And everyone wants to meet Abby so I am more popular than I’ve ever been in my life. Worship is in an old, traditional sanctuary – a building they bought 3 years ago because they’d outgrown their smaller building and needed more space than was possible at the previous site. Beautiful stained glass, well-built and maintained organ, a wide variety of folks sitting in the pews (which they’re gradually removing to create more flexible worship space).
I’m trying, hard, and praying, over and over, to have an open heart and spirit to this new community, this new perspective from the pew. One of the things I’ve looked forward to, in the midst of all that is hard about this transition out of the pulpit, is learning to worship without also needing to think about what happens next. To simply be there, ready and present to the Spirit moving, with no responsibility other than doing just that. I knew I would hear God speaking in a different way, listen to the music flowing around me with new ears, and even see Jesus’ face in ways I haven’t before.
And I am hearing God speak through new voices and welcoming faces, I am experiencing the music with new appreciation and gratitude. But I am missing Jesus. There’s rarely a mention of the name at all. Sometimes the music will say something about Jesus, but not every week. I have yet to read liturgy containing language about Christ. Communion happens once a month, and even that Sunday there were no hymns with even a passing reference. Yes, Jesus is present regardless of whether the name is said. But it’s not clear to me that there is much that is distinctly Christian about worship at all.
There’s no doubt the liturgy is beautifully written, every week. Hymns, too - some of which are written by members of the congregation. Intentional work has been done to expand language about God, the earth and humanity. I haven’t seen a better effort around using inclusive language. It’s clear there are many, many gifted worship leaders and musicians. And, still, I’m missing Jesus. It seems to me that at least some of what is happening is what seems to happen in too many progressive Christian churches: in a well-meaning effort to expand understandings of God and one another, Jesus has gotten left behind. To try and distinguish ourselves from ‘other’ Christian churches that may not be as welcoming to all of humanity, we in the so-called ‘progressive’ Christian world walk too far from our grounding in the Christ who calls us together in the first place.
I can say we to include myself because I have been in that same place, thinking that Jesus language wasn’t all that necessary because it was all contained within the expansive God language I used. It took me awhile to realize that I wasn’t actually a Unitarian – but I was writing and thinking as though I was. There is absolutely nothing wrong at all with being Unitarian. It’s just not who I am. And not who I want the Christian church I participate in to be. I need Jesus. Maybe now more than ever, in the transition wilderness I find myself in. And if we’re going to claim ourselves as Christian communities, then ‘progressive’ Christian churches need Jesus, too.
Have I mentioned I feel strongly that I shouldn’t be missing Jesus in worship?