Yesterday evening, I put together and posted the above ad on Facebook. It has now gotten 63 “likes” and 33 “shares” and counting on Christ Church’s Facebook page It has also gotten quite a bit of commentary from across the interwebs where it has been shared. Some of those follow:
“As so many churches strive to be modern and relevant, I applaud Christ Church New Haven in how bold they are about NOT being modern in their worship style at all.”
“It works because they know who they are. It’s less about ‘trying’ to be relevant, than being honest about who they are, and letting folks find out how that may be relevant to their lives.”
“Cool! There are MANY ways for a church to meet people’s spiritual needs… I just can’t figure out why too many churches think mediocrity works. Excellence and authenticity are much more critical than methodology.”
“Thats awesome!! =)”
“Love love love the tradition.”
“we don’t even have a thurible… I love that stuff!”
“This is AWESOME!”
“God, I’d love to attend.”
“I’ve been here for Compline! It’s pretty awesome!”
Now some were less flattering:
“But why would one want to worship like it’s 1099? Am I missing something?”
“Oh, yeah! Back to the days of slavery and where women knew their place…”
So, what is going on here? In all, I have counted 150 or so “likes” on our page and on the pages of those that shared the ad along with lots and lots of comments. It is rare that a piece of church media generates such a response. It has obviously stricken a chord.
The interesting thing is that it was overwhelmingly younger folks sharing and liking the ad. Those that expressed doubts or outright resentment were from another generation. They seem angry that young people would find value in something they worked to undo.
On Sunday evenings Compline is filled with young adults. What is it about this very traditional service that is reaching them in some way or another?
1. An encounter with the Holy: There is a real yearning among people for an encounter with the mystery of the divine. So-called contemporary liturgy (that may have been contemporary in 1979) is not doing it for folks that are yearning for an experience of the transcendent. Liturgy that does not point toward the sacredness and presence of the Divine is spiritually dangerous for it teaches us to worship not that which we are called to worship, God, but to place human inventions and concerns on a shaky altar of self-regard.
2. A genuine identity (authenticity): This community knows who it is and what it believes. In a hyper-marketed, oversold, and deeply cynical age, there is a need for the Church to offer a place of real and deep authenticity rooted in the worship of the Almighty. When people come in, they won’t know everything that is happening, it won’t be “relevant,” and it won’t be immediately decipherable. But it is deeply and powerfully authentic. Every movement and gesture kinetically expresses some bit of our faith. It is inherently and vitally real.
3. It calls us out of ourselves: So much of the modern world is about dwelling ever more on ourselves, our needs, our desires, our rights, our causes, our, our, our. Worship that is authentic inverts this and drives the believer to the other. To God, to our neighbor, to our Lord, and to the whole of Creation. “Love the Lord thy God…Love thy neighbor.” All of our worship expresses this summary of the law. We orient toward God and by that turn opens us to serve those around us. It begins, however, with God.
4. It does not comfort only: Worship is always a challenge when done well for it demands our best. We are spending lots of time saying “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.” We have “radical hospitality.” Yet if we only open the doors and tell people to come as they are but don’t call for them to leave transformed then we have sold short the Holy Spirit. People come to be transformed – so preach, worship, teach, and pray with transformation at the heart of your work. We have gotten far too comfortable thinking people (especially young adults) only want to be comforted.
Is our worship calling people to Holy transformation? Do we believe that an encounter with the Holy is powerful enough, holy enough, transformative enough to demand our best? Does our worship express our unshakable belief that the Holy is dangerous?
Christ Church strives to offer a worship that expresses both unknowable mystery and fierce Holy transformation. Young people are begging us to offer them more, to ask more of them, to give them a holy purpose. We are not being asked to be more relevant.
If we want to attract young people we must begin by rediscovering that which attracted us to Jesus Christ in the first place – that mix of holy discomfort and deep yearning that grips us and never lets go. Strive for the Holy and treat it with reverence, awe, and wonder and give thanks in as full a way as you can possibly imagine for the grace and goodness of God.