Come Let Us Worship!
Advent and Christmas are times that we tend to see more people in church. That’s wonderful. We, as a community of faith, have the opportunity to practice hospitality for those whose only time inside the chapel or sanctuary may be this time of year. We welcome them to worship and, although we are to put our best foot forward, we are also to be ourselves. Because the service of worship is a reflection of who we are as a community, we let others know just who we are by the way we worship. The service of worship is a snapshot of our values; it is a microcosm (a little universe) of who we are and who we believe God to be. Coming to Pinnacle, people have the chance to see that we are committed to an orderly and reverent worship where people of all ages are valued; where music, scripture, prayer, and preaching all convey who we understand God to be and who that God has called us to be. For those who come at this time of year for the first time, our service of worship also communicates our sense of mission to the broader world, and the practice of welcome and hospitality that is part of that mission. In our welcome we show others that their presence in worship is important to us, that worship itself is important to us, and that the church is more than the service of worship.
When I see all these folks coming to church (from my vantage point in the choir or the chancel), a certain question arises for me beyond how we treat them. I often ask myself, “Why do people come to worship? I know why I come, or at least I think I do. But why do others come?” This question includes more than just the visitors. I really do wonder what motivates people to come to worship. It really is a strange thing we do as Christians: an hour of sitting, listening, doing a little singing, and doing a little praying. Life outside the church doesn’t look much like what goes on within its walls.
Do folks come to find out how to be a better person? Do they come because of tradition or habit? Do they want their kids to have a sense of what is good and decent? Are they looking for something meaningful? Do they come to church because they’re genuinely seeking God?
Church is really an odd thing. It’s a little bit of theatre, a bit of moral exhortation and, a whole lot of tradition. If it were just these things though, it wouldn’t be enough. I need all that has happened throughout my life of faith to be able to sit through an hour’s worship. Being in church for me is more the culmination of all the moments and momentousness of faith. For church to be “meaningful” to me, I need to know that encounter with the living God is always a possibility, and every previous encounter with God sustains my listening, praying, singing, growing in worship.
What else aids me in attending worship? I am often a leader in the service, either participating in the singing of choral anthems, the reading of scripture, the prayers of the people, or in preaching. Being a leader in the church service means that I am invested and engaged in worship in ways that the majority of church attenders are not. But this is not what truly sustains my being in worship. There is a whole history of my faith journey that allows me to come to worship and find meaning in it.
Everything that has served to deepen my faith feeds my being present in worship: singing in the choir, Bible study, prayer groups, acts of service and mission, and retreats. I’m sure there’s more, but these are what occur to me. Faith-deepening activities 1) help me know my place in the community and 2) provide me personal encounters with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
My gateway to being a regular attender of worship, which started for me as a teenager, was a youth retreat. Believe it or not, the retreat’s theme was ‘death and dying.’ What I experienced at this retreat was seeing how the adults of the church who were leading the retreat shared vulnerably how their faith was deepened in and through experiences of death and loss. I was moved by these expressions of faith, and found my way into worship because I had seen God in the people, the heart of whose faith life was worship. Since then, I’ve been attending week-long family retreats every year…sometimes up to four times a year! These camps are intensive places of prayer, singing, study, learning, growing, and experiencing the presence of God…in nature and in others on the retreat with me. People being vulnerable and authentic about the struggle of their faith path, I could call these “testimonies,” invite me into a deeper faith experience and expression.
All the years of studying the Bible with others, praying with others in small groups, and singing in the choir provide opportunities for the sharing of stories, the creating of new faith stories and to being open to one another and to God in ways that the hour of Sunday morning worship does not. All those experiences provide the foundation for why worship is meaningful.
When I step into the sanctuary, my entire life’s faith experience comes with me. Yet, even this is not enough. God ultimately is the one who supports mine and all of our being in worship. “God is in this place,” should be the thought that greets us as we enter the doors, and “God help me to worship in this place,” should be our constant prayer throughout worship.
There is a woman in our congregation who sees colors swirling around the sanctuary during the worship service. She tells me, “Mike, I wish you could see all the purple and gold and white light that radiates around the sanctuary when we’re worshipping.” I wish I could too! Knowing that all that God stuff is going on reminds me that amazing things are happening all the time in worship, and when our guests come to worship this Christmas time, we can let them know about our joy in God and our joy in their being present with us. Let us proclaim with all we do, “Come, let us worship! Let us sing! Let us pray! Let us give thanks, for God is in this place.”