WHY I WORSHIP (Part 2)—Observations of ‘Visitor’


 Someone made a comment to me recently about my past, which I think was their attempt to remind me that I’m not the guy sometimes I say I am…or it was just one of those moments that became uncomfortable to the degree where a comment like the one made became necessary to remind them that my friend is still just a bit farther out there than I ever have been, ever will be and that I haven’t caught up his place in life yet nor will I probably ever do so.  It was a hurtful comment; its sting was immediate and while I wondered why a comment like that was even necessary, the only reply I could muster was, “well, thanks be to God that I’m not the person I used to be and thanks be to God that I am the person I am now as a result of the person I used to be and if this keeps up I can only hope that I won’t be either of these persons in the years to come…”  And somehow, by the grace of God, we went on to other things and our friendship (cracked, weathered and in need of an occasional facelift) remains in tact.

A long time ago, Jesus went into the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth, opened the Isaiah scroll and read some astounding things about God and the kingdom and the kind of life those who are on the path to God shall live.  In fact, he wowed the crowd!  And yet there were one or two persons there (kind of like my friend) who tried to put the brakes on the train as momentum was gearing up… “What was that?  The spirit of the Lord is upon him? He’s gonna do what?  Isn’t that Mary and Joseph’s son?  The handy-mans’ kid?  How did he get so special?”  The murmuring caught on and in a very short period of time, the crowd that had been wowed tried to toss Jesus off the cliff.  And the next morning you could hear Ishmael and his wife Leah talking at breakfast…”very interesting events at synagogue last night, huh?” You can see Leah roll her eyes and turn back to the kitchen only to beg us the question, “how is a person treated when he or she comes into God’s house…be it a stranger or someone even we have know since they were a child?

It’s my belief that worship shapes us and changes us.  The last two Sundays I have entered holy spaces for worship as a visitor…one at a sister congregation of the ELCA in Corpus Christi and the second an Assembly of God church within the ministry area of New Life. Both places were unique, somewhat similar and at the same time very different.  Here are some comments on worship experience # 1

  • I was a visitor to the church but not a stranger to some of her members.  I knew two men through Lutheran Men in Mission, and at lunch met the aunt of a friend and colleague from seminary (who also knew members of our church!)   Thus, there was someone who took time to introduce me to others …and to the pastor before the service started…
  • The building was very bright with lots of ‘northern’ light in the upper windows and the space was more of a square with “chairs” (like in our south wing), very flexible and face friendly…
  • The worship service was led by a ‘praise team’ made up of guitars, piano, a flautist and a couple of singers and the songs we sang were joyful…some I knew and some I didn’t and the liturgy was a blend of part of the new ‘cranberry’ ELW (Evangelical Lutheran Worship) hymnal and other songs.  Members at New Life would have struggled a bit through the singing (different tunes) but would have felt at home.
  • The people there represented well all three age groups and there was an abundance of children 10 years and younger.  I was impressed that the young teenage male acolyte (wearing blue jeans and cowboy boots) was able to sing he whole liturgy by heart.  Then I learned that the sanctuary had two BIG SCREENS for the power point slides…one in front of us and the other over my left shoulder on the back wall.  ;>]
  • The pastor made most of the announcements, led the children’s message and shared a very ‘gospel’ focused message based on the Jesus’ story of the man who had it all, decided to build bigger barns and whose life was called that very night.”  The men’s ministry at the church was having their annual rummage sale the following weekend and the pastor made good use of the pre-service PR about keeping what is necessary and letting go of that which has lost its value helping to decide what it really is that is important in our lives.
  • Most of the people around me seemed very genuine when it came time to the ‘sharing of the peace.”  However, none of those persons spoke to me when the worship service was over as we made our way to the narthex (2 doors led out of the sanctuary but BOTH led to the narthex!)
  • There was much clamoring, lots of happy noise with many smiles and a very nice “snack” table in the middle of the narthex (three-four times larger than ours) and again, other than the man I know from our Tri-synod LMM, no one spoke to me until I went outside to the parking lot where the pastor was still meeting and greeting others.
  • The singing was good; the prayers were long and the only real part of the service that engaged me personally was going to kneel at the rail for Eucharist.  It was very nice having Margo at my side as we knelt and prayed there together. 
  • But, perhaps the most important thing for me as a “take-away” from that experience is this simple thing…” It is unfair of me to make any concrete conclusions (positive OR negative) based on one (1) Sunday experience amidst people who know each other well and have been working their corner of God’s kingdom for a good while (The congregation was founded in the 1980’s) but what was obvious to me is that they cared about each other (An Acts of the Apostles thing) and were working together to help others outside their circle of friends.  God was there and I didn’t have to look hard to discover that…

The experience I had on the second Sunday was one that I knew way in advance would be different but one that I was open to and looked forward to taking part in.   Here are some of those observations…

  • There were greeters posted at all entries to the buildings.  Most of the hallways led to their worship space.  There was good signage and as I was about 15 minutes early to start time, I found a seat about half-way back on the right center of the three sections of chairs.  No pews.  Just chairs.  I was greeted by the pastor’s wife, her parents and a staff member. But no one else said anything to me before or after the service.
  • The worship space was very dark and remained dark through the entire morning until the dismissal.  There was no cross, no altar; only a podium which the pastor spoke from at the front of the chancel and the backdrop was a VERY LARGE high def screen that was full of light and engaging sky and seascapes.
  • While there were two electric guitars and one pluggable acoustic guitar on the right of the chancel, no one played them.  The worship was led by a female vocalist and young male electric pianist (with a very hip haircut) who led most of the singing…and there was a drummer tucked away in the back center of the chancel behind some plastic muffle screens… I knew many of the songs…we sang for 20-30 minutes at the beginning…and some of the songs I didn’t know I found them easy to sing and want to bring two of them back with me…
  • There was lots of hand-raising and lots of swaying and I found myself a couple of times swaying along with the crowd but noticed my hands were in my pockets. Hmmmm.  Busted.
  • After the initial singing, a couple was introduced as “missionaries to Spain.”  The congregation helped sponsor this couple and they shared about 10 minutes including a video of their efforts in a village on the coast of Spain.  One thing struck me when it was mentioned the President of Spain has reported that this is the first time in Spain’s history where the majority of the coming generation consider themselves agnostic, atheist or ‘indifferent.’ Thus the need to evangelize. This same church sponsors a team of missionaries to Africa as well.
  • There was no liturgy familiar to Lutheran and there was no sharing of the Lord’s Supper and we did not pray the Lord’s Prayer.  The service was simply singing, news, welcome, mission story, a couple of other songs and the preaching.  During the news the pastor encouraged the people at worship to “not go through the motions” but to give God all the praise he deserves.  One man in particular spent the entire time standing with his hands in the air and his eyes closed through the singing and the praying…never opening his mouth, but it was easy to see that he sensed God’s greatness…
  • I happened to land there on the Sunday that ended a sermon series for the Summer called “Tweets from God”…using a Twitter analogy finding messages in the Bible 140 characters or less…the last tweet was from the Beatitudes in Matthew 5…”blessed are the persecuted for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”

It was easy to sense that this church (less than 100 at worship) has a heart for mission and a desire to draw people to God’s Word…and give their lives over to Jesus and follow him…even to the cross and the persecution that comes with the kind of journey.

And just for the record…I know the pastor there; his wife works with my wife and so there was a part of me that was void of being a total stranger… but tomorrow… August 15 will be different again as I attend a church in central Ohio where I know no one…no one but the God who invites me to come and rest in his Word…

 In Luck, Wisconsin there is an inscription in an old bell at the top of the church tower… “I call every seeking soul to the bath, the Word, the table and the prayers…”  So, I’ll listen for the bell…and that will be enough for me to enter God’s house again…the means of grace cast upon me to shape and change me once more…

How’s it going for you?  It will be great to hear from you…



About briangigee

Loves life; lives love! Bud and Doris' eldest son. Descendant of 'refiners' and 'reformers.' Husband to Margo. Father of 5. Grandfather to 4. Brother, uncle, friend and colleague. Working parish pastor. Became a naturalized Texan in February 2013.
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One Response to WHY I WORSHIP (Part 2)—Observations of ‘Visitor’

  1. Bart Mills says:

    After reading your post and thinking about what it is I like while I attend service at Newlife, I realized some of the things that I like most is when we all recite the Apostles Creed, The Lord’s Pray, Prays, and other parts of the service together. Together as a church family. And that we partake in the Eucharist each service. Your comments about how no one spoke you I think says alot about the world today and the lack of communication we have with other people, not just in church, but in every part of daily life.

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