Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What does liturgy, the people's work, look like in the gestation period of an emerging church?

"They devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers." Acts 2:42

I've been pondering this question lately as we had our first gathering last evening. I find myself theologically over thinking everything, not that there's anything wrong with that, but when it comes to creating community, people aren't necessarily and initially interested in theory. They are interested in a meaningful encounter that is a lot more about belonging, the relationships and the heart than the head and the believing. Anyway, last evening was a decent start however it involved more explanation to the essence of this emerging 'thingy' than the actual 'being' of it. One of the participants even asked a great and exposing question, 'so, did we do it tonight? did we do 'emerging church?'

I replied, and hesitantly, "well, sort of, in the way we held common prayer." But I knew in many ways we hadn't because it was too formulaic, too 'figured out' as I presented a paper on what an emerging church is. We were poised and ready to engage and unfold ourselves through conversation, listening and sharing, and I ended up high jacking it all by talking too much with prefab constructs. eeeeesh! I won't get down too much as I did talk today with another participant who said it was helpful and I know he wasn't just being NICE.

Tonight, following our weekly campus ministry gathering, it dawned on me that, at least this evening, we did 'do it'. What we did was begin as we always do with a meal. The meal was made by students for students. After we put the tables away, we continued with a simple prayer and had some brief introductions since a new person happened to be in our midst. We debriefed on last week's great conversation with a community member sharing his life and faith previously in fundamentalism and then following it. Then we read and processed this week's powerful gospel lesson of the prodigal son. We spent a good period of time listening to each other and sharing insights and wondering together around the text. We ended with some simple common prayer around the celtic prayers from Iona as we did the week before. And then finally we shared announcements for the upcoming weeks.

The form I've just described is an expansive, and much more subtle and relaxed, form of our formal four-fold liturgical worship that we arrive at within the framework of scripture and the early church: Gather - Proclaim - Break - Send.

We gathered around fellowship and food being called together as friends and people of God. We had a long gathering time getting re-aquainted with each other and enjoying each other's presence.

We proclaimed God's word by creating space to wonder together through sharing and listening.

We experienced God's presence break into our midst through common prayer (we could certainly insert bread and wine here at another time) and in the breaking of bread over dinner, a helpful reminder of the sustenance that keeps creation going.

And we were sent on our way having been nourished in fellowship, the teaching of the apostles, community around breaking bread, albeit not the formal eucharist, but a meal of thanksgiving none the less and prayer.

I am beginning to wonder that this might be a good start for an initial form of liturgy for those who don't have any idea what we as church do or even who we are as church. I am beginning to think that this provides hospitable space for people to delve into the wonderful gift that is community in God, and that for now at least, is more than enough to embody a deeply incarnational encounter of Christ and the perichoretic God-between. It is quite simple really, and yet simultaneously, really quite profound.

Lord, help us to know that it is how you are holding us that matters more than how we are holding you, church and truth, amen.


jWinters said...

Yo Dave,
I've been out of the loop trying to get my own blog working again. I think the idea of an informal liturgy being centered around acts of hospitality (especially a meal). I'm not sure that I've seen much of that anyplace else --- except possibly the Alpha Course.
With the "Gather - Proclaim - Break - Send" thing, have you read Henri Nouwen's "Life of the Beloved"?
Hope you're doin' well.

In Christ,

dave said...

hello again there jay. hope all is well with you too.
yes the hospitality is one of the big three keys to the infrastructure i'm trying to lay out about this thing. the other two of course is keeping time (the texts from the lectionary) and learning (new information, right now in new communities the new information is just getting to know others and their lives), but as well conversation around the texts.

henry nouwen's one of my favorites. it is this new book that i am going to use as our new guide for talking about ourselves in this new community. on tuesday night i suggested that we call our new church, church of the beloved. i think it'll probably stick.

Anonymous said...


You shouldn't be so hard on yourself. Sometimes the starting of something new, like the emerging church, needs a bit of structure to get itself started, then it actually "emerges" into the thing you are trying to make it. It sounds like, from reading the posting, that things went very well and even though it had a structure to it, it was a success.

Sometimes we have to set things up in a more structured environment at first to get to "emerge" as the type of environment of the Emerging Church. Believe it or not, as much as most people dislike fitting into a mold, they miss it considerably when it's not there!

Keep up the great work.