Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Diluting the Sacred?

There was a great article yesterday on MPR about another church doing a "Beer and Hymns" event.  While the story focused around one church in Fargo/Moorhead, I know it is something that a variety of churches all over have been trying recently.  On the one hand it is not something new, for years we have been adding coffee to our worship to make it a more comfortable and familiar experience for people.  I wonder though if we are helping by making the sacred more accessible through things like beer, coffee, couches, and casual clothes, or if we are diluting the sacred.

I am big fan of casual; casual liturgy, casual clothes, and sipping a beverage while you make yourself at home in worship.  That being said there can be something powerful about the ways that we create the sacred space for worship.  Are we doing ourselves a disservice by watering down the holy and making it too mundane?  I remember talking once about having communion more than once a month and someone commenting that they liked it less often because it made communion feel special. Do things like beer or coffee with our worship turn it from something special into something ordinary.  Monday night is football night, Tuesday is trivia night, and Wednesday is hymns down at the local pub.  Do we run the risk of turning worship into just another event that shares time with everything else in our week?

Making the sacred accessible without diluting it is a tough challenge.  Part of what makes something sacred is how it becomes special and set apart and yet that same distance can create a barrier for people seeking it.  Perhaps the real challenge is finding ways to make the sacred in new spaces.  How do we build up the sacred without many of the familiar trappings we have been using for hundreds of years (like ornate architecture, fancy robes, and complex liturgy).  Now we are removing some of the props we have used to create the sacred in the past and inserting others in their place.  The challenge for us remains to lead people to the sacred in whatever format we are using and to find ways to give people access to the divine through worship.


Jeff R said...

Wendell Berry says there is no place that is not sacred, only places that are desecrated. Perhaps that fits here too. That being said, a couple of my thoughts, (OK, they're more like rants) - 1)coffee in worship drives me nuts! Worship (in my view) is to be participatory and should include your entire body (standing/sitting/singing) and having to worry about spilling your mug of coffee kind of distracts from all that. 2) I don't think beers and hymns or coffee and hymns is as much worship as it is fellowship. There's a pretty big difference between the two. I would hope that one (beer and hymns) would engage people enough that they would seek the other. 3) The "less special" for frequent communion also drives me nuts. With that line of reasoning I should only talk with my spouse once a month to make those conversations "more special". On the contrary, the more we talk, the more we understand each other and the closer we become.

Jamie Smith mentions in his books (Desiring and Imagining the Kingdom) "We are embodied, affective creatures who are shaped and primed by material practices..that aim our hearts to certain ends, which in turn draw us to them in a way that transforms our actions by inscribing in us habits or dispositions to act in certain ways. In short, being human takes practice." So to give practical application to that thought by Smith, an example would be that if we habitually engage in the practices of consumerism we will be formed into consumers. Alternatively if we habitually engage in the practices of the kingdom of God we will be shaped into Christ followers. So, (stepping back and assuming it is worship) ultimately the question might be how does "beer and hymns" form us into Christ followers?

Jeff Ozanne said...

Great comments, Jeff, thanks for weighing in. I agree that something like "beer and hymns" could be aimed more at fellowship than worship and could also be another avenue to draw people toward worship. Perhaps the underlying question is what are the things that form us as followers of Christ and what things distract us from that formation.