Thursday, November 21, 2013

Learning the dance

Mom sent me to Miss Vernetta's Dance Studio when I was four. I couldn't walk across a room without crashing into something at that age. Mom figured Miss Vernetta (and I studied under her) could teach me tap and ballet so I'd be a little less klutzy. I'm not so sure it worked ... but I did have my moment of playing Shirley Temple (at least in my mind) when I danced at the San Diego County Fair in 1970.

Beloved Husband and I have tried to do some basic ballroom dancing. I suck at it. I'd probably be better at it if I didn't try to lead. I know that must come as quite a shock for those of you who know me ... OK, you don't really have to fake the astonishment ... it's more like a page out of the Book of DUH! I really do like dancing. Really ... even when I really suck at it. I don't know why because sometimes it feels so alien.

The same is true of music. I play guitar ... kind of. As a "lefty" it was hard to find teachers. I don't play that often and I really don't have a natural talent for it. I love music and I play from time to time but I have to work at it. Mostly I sing. That I can do ... but I still have to work at it.

The same is true of worship for me. I love the liturgy of the Episcopal Church, but it's not easy. Learning it takes some work and, well, hanging out with it. When new people come to Grace Church, we hand them a bulletin and then they sit in a pew with two books in the rack in front of them: a red book with a cross on the cover and a blue book that says "The Hymnal 1982." Bulletins ... prayer books ... and hymnals ... OH MY! And, we ask you to juggle them in varying configurations while standing, sitting and kneeling.

As my oldest daughter used to say when she was four: "Oh MAN!!" It's complicated at one level ... like learning a dance and you feel awkward at first. Or learning that fingering run and thinking you'll never get it. Or learning a new mad skill in soccer and falling on your face a few times (or maybe a lot of times).

There is always talk in the church about how to make our worship "more seeker friendly" or "more approachable." I think this is a constant question we need to be asking to prevent the church from becoming an "insider club" of those who are in the know and those who are not. However, I think we can make a terrible mistake in assuming that visitors and newcomers are actually put off by our "Episcopal aerobics." There are people who are drawn to our liturgy and want to learn it like they might want to learn to dance or play an instrument.

"Insiders" can tend to make assumptions that because our liturgy can be challenging it somehow equates to meaning that newcomers can't figure it out and we are driving people away from the Church. I'm not sure this is a valid conclusion. What if newcomers are challenged but drawn to learning about the liturgy? What if they are inspired to learn more about it because it is a bit complicated?

Too many times, I've seen churches print absolutely every word and every note of every music score in a bulletin each week (and burning through a lot of paper) in an attempt to be more "seeker friendly." But instead of pre-digesting the liturgy into a more "accessible form," what would it look like if we gave better "stage directions" in our bulletins, be more clear about how to find hymns and service music, put bookmarks into our prayer books and hymnals, and yes ... even put pauses into our liturgy and listen for the rustling of books to calm down as people find the page before speaking a word of the liturgy?

I'd love to hear from people new to the "dance." What brought you into a liturgical church? What was challenging for you about the worship? What was easy? Was the challenge of liturgy off-putting? Did you stay ... or did you go? If you stayed, what was it that kept you coming?

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