Eden Community, the new ministry begun at Portland First Church of the Nazarene, seeks to reflect five core values:
We’re in the midst of a five week focus on each value in an effort to better reflect the imprint of God in our individual and communal lives.
In our first week’s exploration of worship, new light was shed on old comforts.
To be fair, we’ve been immersed in new worship experiences ever since Eden began: meeting in a cafe, candles, crosses, responsive reading, communion every week, offering at the end, and passing the peace to name a few. From the beginning, it’s clear this worship gathering is modern, yet ancient.
But what’s the point of all the symbolism, liturgy, and ritual if no meaning is attached? Why do them without purpose? Thus, the foundation for inquiry.
First – what is worship? In my growing-up experience, an average worship service was organized like this:
*Enter the space and spend the first few minutes catching up with friends.
*A music leader opens the service with an upbeat song.
*After a short greeting and perhaps prayer, a music set began of 3-4 songs. *Announcements.
*Offering was next usually with a choir song.
*Special song by one of the more accomplished singers of the group.
*Often an altar prayer response.
*My favorite was the ending. Amen…and amen. Like, we’re done with this prayer…and we’re done with the service.
This organizational method emphasized the sermon. Simply put, the first half you sang, the second half you listened.
I’m sure there’s a logical, historical explanation for why this method developed and prospered. One hypothesis relates to the preachers on the American frontier. Theological education was limited and symbols were difficult to haul from church meeting to church meeting. Therefore, worship became more teaching centric and lacked symbols and rituals. But what resulted was a rather passive worship experience.
In my educational experience, learners should participate with as many senses and intelligences possible for effective learning. In the prior model, active participation occurs with singing, greeting, and prayer. Therefore, participants are actively engaged for only 50% of the worship gathering.
Eden’s approach is quite different. Senses are engaged from the moment you step foot in the cafe. Burning candles and coffee. Low lights and crosses. Worship music. Responsive reading. Words written on the screen. Pictures. Communion. Kneelers to pray. Age appropriate teaching for children during the sermon. You have to work hard NOT to participate at Eden!
I gauge effectiveness by my four-year old. He can developmentally participate in everything at Eden (although whether he chooses to is another story). Eden has offered worship bags of crayons and notebooks for the primary kids during the beginning of the gathering. Week after week we take the bag. Week after week he eats the jolly rancher and leaves the rest. He’s engaged! He’s reading the words on the screen. He’s listening to the songs. He’s glued to the scripture readers, who are mostly kids.
He asks tons of questions: Why people are draping cloth over the cross in different colors? Why are people dipping their fingers in the bowl of water? Why do people light candles during prayer?
Suddenly, my son is an active participant in worship. Not only that, he’s invited and expected to be involved! Children aren’t just tolerated. They are an integral part of the community.
So, Eden seeks to create a worship gathering where all ages are active participants, but what’s the meaning behind the symbols and rituals?
Here’s my simple perspective. (Theologians, fix as needed.)
Worship is about God. Our relationship with God. A time to meet with believers and communally express our love and honor to the Creator. When we first meet, we are all individuals coming from hectic work weeks and personal worries. We gather in praise individually. When we greet and touch the hand of the person next to us in peace, we become a gathered community. We become one voice in praise and honor to God. We leave our individual concerns aside for a time and become a body or family of believers. What an honor!
We hear the scriptures and lesson. But this isn’t at the end of the service. It’s in the middle! I love that the sermon or teaching isn’t the integral part. It’s important, but there are many other things that are also valued greatly.
Communion. A topic of change within the Nazarene denomination of late. How often should you participate? Intinction (dipping) or individual cups and wafers? Leavened or un?
Eden Community participates weekly. This time is also for prayer, reflection on the teaching, intercession for others, confession, and offering. This is the point of worship to which I most look forward. My son and I light a candle for someone, pray at the altar together, and partake of communion. Weekly!
Some may say that weekly communion loses its effect because it’s taken too often. This is the same argument for stating the Lord’s Prayer or Apostle’s Creed weekly. My response – don’t we say the National Anthem at every baseball game? What if someone said, “We’re losing the meaning of the anthem by saying it at EVERY game. Let’s just do it once a month.” Yeah, that wouldn’t fly. Same thing here.
Do I have a God moment or have an emotional high every time I take communion? Duh, no. But does it have less meaning for me each time? No. In fact, I’m learning more about God’s grace by consistently participating in this discipline.
Worship was described as having someone over to your house for a meal. You invite them in. You share stories. You share a meal. You leave more connected in relationship with the guests than before. In worship, we enter in praise. We hear the scriptures. We break bread. We leave to serve.
So rich are we to have a weekly opportunity to worship our Creator with a church family!