Variety in worship is good for the soul.
This past Sunday, I went to the church where I am a member, Grace Episcopal Church in Cullman, AL, in the morning. I knelt in the pew, the Advent Candles were lit, and a beautiful processional hymn for the choir was sung. I loved being the “Reader” for the day of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. We sang the Psalm and our Priest read the Gospel and preached a challenging sermon.
Meaningful prayers of confession and praise were said in unison that connected us as one body, and we moved to the front of the church to receive communion, while the group of six guitar players led us in familiar choruses.
I was aware that the very liturgy that was frustrating to me when I first started attending the Episcopal Church is now centering and connecting me to God and others. In the beginning it was hard to know when to stand, kneel, pray, listen, or sing in worship. But not so much anymore. This Baptist boy makes the sign of the cross without hesitating.
In the evening my wife, Mary Sullivan, preached at Beloved Community Church (United Church of Christ) in Birmingham and I went along to give her support. Mary has preached there several times. The church’s female pastor is a good friend and was away. Multiple lay persons led in the informal worship service.
The talented jazz band was a stark and welcome contrast to my morning worship. A women’s trio sang beautiful harmony with an African flair in the seasonal songs and the small congregation clapped joyfully along. Black and white, gay and straight, professionals and the jobless sang together. The music was the common language. Another guest singer had people waving their hands in the air.
Specific prayer requests were called out in the service by individual church members who were then prayed for one by one. It seemed to be the kind of place where everyone knew each others name.
The leader of the jazz band led us in congregational singing and you could tell he was trying to stand still while we sang “I’ll Fly Away,” but his feet and body had a mind of its own. His joy was infectious.
Mary’s sermon style was conversational as she preached standing in the aisle between the pews in order to be closer to the people. The congregation responded to her questions verbally as she talked about making room for Christ in our hearts. You did not have to wonder if they were with her or not.
Communion was led with a minimum of ritual by a retired minister. He motioned spontaneously for me to give him a hand as he walked to the front and I got out of my pew and shared the bread while he held the cup. As people came forward, most of them said to me, “Thank you” audibly when I gave them the bread of life from a common basket.
Several times in the worship service we were reminded that ALL persons were welcome, regardless of who they were.
And Sunday was a day to remember that all of us are welcome at the banquet table.