I've had the opportunity to visit some other churches in the past few weeks.
Frequently when I go visiting, I visit other denominations. But the recent visits have all been to Lutheran churches.
Even though each church offered a very different worship experience, they all offered a comfort of sameness in structure.
Each church utilized different service music. But prayers were familiar. Hymns were familiar. I knew that most other Lutheran churches in the country were hearing the same readings, making us part of a larger communal body. I could count on participating in communion at each church.
I knew I could count on a basic structure for the service: prayers of thanks to God, hearing the words of the Bible, a reflection on those words, prayer petitions to God, and sharing in God's meal.
I can be reasonably sure that I will get all those things at a Lutheran church. It's one of things that is our strength: difference and familiarity all at the same time.
It's interesting to be a visitor in a church. If I can offer one suggestion to everyone it would be to see the stranger among you. If you are sitting near someone you don't recognize, please introduce yourself. You don't have to have a conversation with them, if they don't want. It's enough to be seen and acknowledged..
The one thing that I have missed at all of these churches, and alas, also at St. Stephen's?
There was a time that when you passed through the doors of the sanctuary, you were quiet. You might whisper hello to the people around you, but if you needed to converse with someone, you left the sanctuary. The time before worship was for quiet, for prayer, for Bible reading.
Now it seems to be a time to catch up with people you haven't seen in a week, or go over the plans for the next church event. Conversations are held in full voice. In the sanctuary. Sometimes across the sanctuary.
I think that's one reason I look forward to the Holy Week services. They are quieter than usual. (Background music counts toward quiet. Chanting a simple Taizé piece counts toward quiet.)
The Maundy Thursday service offers a period of quiet while people receive an absolution from the pastor. We end the service in dark, and in silence. And we are asked to maintain that silence through Friday's service.
The church is open on Friday for prayer and meditation, and silence. The Good Friday service offers a period of quiet while listening to the story of the Passion. Not participating, not responding, just listening.
The Vigil service on Saturday starts out with the established quiet tone before exploding into a full-fledged Easter service, where Alleluia! fills the quiet space. Maybe by then we’re ready to shed the quiet for a while.
Take advantage next week of these worship opportunities to enjoy some quiet.
- Ann Iona Warner
Holy Week Worship:
Maundy Thursday, 7:15 pm
Good Friday, 7:15 pm
Saturday Vigil, 8 pm
Sunday Easter, 10 am with breakfast starting at 8:30 am