Thursday, October 4, 2012

Initial Thoughts on Providing a Transformational Experience



I attended a Worship Committee meeting at church recently, and have been pondering ever since. One of the foundational questions had to do with whether we are providing a "transformational experience" to the congregation. The conversation led to a discussion of transcendence versus immanence.

I started thinking about particular aspects of what church looked like at various times in history.

In the very early church, God's immanence was a new thing. Emmanuel, "God with us", was a shiny new concept. Worship of Him became intimate; people met in homes, often in secret. They gathered to break bread together, and to honor the teachings of Jesus Christ within their Hebraic framework. He'd been there recently and they expected Him to return any day. The families of people who had been healed by his touch still lived to tell the tale. Traditions were actively forming as disciples passed on tales of how he looked and sounded. His closeness was still tangible.

His immanence was celebrated.

With time, the immediate memories faded. Christianity developed into it's own entity, separate from Judaism. Standalone churches formed. Cathedrals were built. Centuries eventually passed, and as they did, Church seems to have returned to a place for honoring the transcendence of God. Going there was an escape from the mundane. Instead of the low ceilings and cramped spaces of their dwellings, people when to stand within vaulted arches and open air. Instead of the smells of dampness, sweat, and animal droppings, people breathed incense. They went to church to see artwork and hear music, things they otherwise had no access to. Their souls responded to sung liturgies even though they didn't understand the language itself.

Church gave people a way out. They wanted otherness. They reached for a transcendent God who provided escape for them each Holy day.

Now fast forward to today. For most Americans, we no longer flee lives of squalor and drear in search of sensory stimulation. We are surrounded by it. We switch on lights or climb in the car to escape. We turn on music or television and find majestic views and entertainment of all kinds. Our babies no longer die in droves; when sickness falls we have hope of recovery. For the most part, the struggling of our poor in America is nothing compared to the poverty of the past.

Christian worship in recent centuries seems to have responded to that by shifting back toward immanence. Worship reflects a theology centering around having a personal relationship with Christ. You can observe this even within liturgical denominations.

So what does this mean for us as a community of faith today? 

More thoughts to come...


7 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Ike said...

Where you go to church and all your senses experience a robust corporate worship.....and grace is received..... there is an extremely high view and reverence for God and everything is done in excellence.

Tor Hershman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tor Hershman said...

The 100% fact of The Bible
IS
"Without Serpent/Satan The Bible would end on Page 2 with something as this...
"And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed and they lived happily ever after
THE END."

Suzanne Marie DeWitt said...

May it be so for the church universal Ike!

(PS: How is your dear wife doing?)

Suzanne Marie DeWitt said...

@Tor: Your comment reminds me of C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy!

Nope, salvation history definitely didn't turn out to be a flash fiction piece, did it?

Suzanne Marie DeWitt said...

Question from Ollie: Do beautiful buildings help bring God's realm of loving kindness and justice into the world? What do you think?

(Based on the following post)

Episcopal Church Foundation Vital Practices - Vital Posts - Why Our Buildings Just Don't Matter
www.ecfvp.org
This past weekend I had the chance to visit a parish a lot like the one I currently serve. The property featured a...