What I Did On My "Sunday" Vacation

Last September, I wrote "Baptists and My Best Friend's Wedding," a reflection on the importance of pastors and congregations taking occasional "vacations" from one another. However, a few months after writing that piece, I looked at my calendar to a startling revelation: it had been over a year since I'd sat in a worship service simply to worship, with no liturgical, administrative, or preaching responsibility. Of course, I'd been away from the church where I regularly preached--only to preach somewhere else or attend Annual Conference.

I picked a date, found someone to fill the pulpits, and made plans to do what I love most on a "Sunday" vacation: attend a church where I can dance and lift my hands.

Though I am now a United Methodist minister who tends to lead traditional worship services, the churches in which I was raised were mostly non-denominational. The music was contemporary, and outward expression of worship was not only accepted but also celebrated. The "move" of the Holy Spirit was emphasized, especially during the time of praise and worship. Though I don't remember dancing in church very often, I always liked having the option. I've learned over the years that one of the best ways for me to feel spiritually renewed and restored is to worship in the style of my upbringing.

On this most recent Sunday vacation, at times it was particularly difficult to move from pastor to parishioner. As the pastor read the Scripture, I questioned why he used the English Standard Version. While the worship leader prayed, I sneaked a peak at the three ministers and a lay leader, intently discussing something. Instead of praying, I wondered what was going on (or going wrong) in the service! However, when we would sing, I was able to forget who was leading or not leading, what was right or wrong. I was able simply to worship.

This "Sunday vacation" reminded me that we all have our own preferences of worship styles. We have our opinions. But what we need to carefully avoid are criticisms of what we don't prefer. When I was in seminary, the phrase, "worship wars," was common in the classroom. This referred to a problem many congregations faced in worship: accommodating people who wanted a more traditional service and those who desired more contemporary offerings. To be perfectly honest, I detested the phrase of "worship wars." What we were basically proclaiming was that there was conflict where unity should be most exemplified: the praise and glorification of God.

Such disagreements in how we worship go back to the Old Testament. In 2 Samuel 6, we find King David entering Jerusalem with the Ark of the Covenant. After fighting many actual wars, he comes into the city giddy with praise to the point of "dancing with all his strength before the Lord." The people made offerings and played a variety of instruments. From the biblical account, it sounds like one fabulous outdoor worship service. But David's wife, Michal, sees him, is embarrassed, and criticizes the way in which he worships. What is most haunting in this passage is verse 20, the declaration that Michal did not have any children. Could this be directly related to the way she harshly responds to the worship she witnessed?

We do need to reflect on what is effective and ineffective in our worship services, but let us do so with fear and trembling. Let us remember the power of the Ark of the Covenant, for it represents the power of God Almighty. Let us remember that worship is not about us but about the one who gave himself up for us. Let us avoid criticism, for we are treading on holy ground, especially as we enter this holiest of weeks.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

P.S. While there are no plans to change the "doxology" to "dancing" in the order of worship at St. Luke & Shipman, all are welcome to break into dance if the Spirit so leads!