Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Crossing the Divide

What seems to have turned into one of the most substantial divisions among Christian churches, rivaling Catholic/Protestant and liberal/fundamentalist is traditional/contemporary worship style. Not only are the words and style of the music different, but there are certain other trappings that go along with each one. In the traditional style you tend to follow the worship by using books (too much of this last week) while in the contemporary service the participants read from a large projection screen. In the traditional style, a clergy member leads the service, sometimes with a lay person as the assisting minister or lector, while in the contemporary style there is regularly a master of ceremonies-type person, often the minister of music, who does some chatting especially at the beginning of the service and tries to set the tone for the service.

I had seen very little real hybridization of these two styles until this week, when I attended the First United Methodist Church in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. I was there visiting my sister, who recently moved there, over Halloween/All Saints Day weekend. The church is one of the few public buildings in town without a large sculpture of a groundhog painted in a theme to match the function of the building. It is one of those churches in which a nearly square room has its sight line across the diagonal, and one side with a very large stained glass window with a nativity scene. But they put up a modern megachurch-style projection screen next to it and had a praise band next to it. This group actually had a name--Reckless Abandon. Furthermore, they did a lot of their own original music. But there were also hymns in which you had your choice of singing using a hymn book or using just the words on the screen. I have definitely heard the argument that it is easier for newcomers to join in when they have only the words, not the notes, in front of them. Although the Itinerant Chorister often considers himself to be a demographic group of one, I am definitely of the group who actually find it easier to sing along with unfamiliar music when I have the rhythm and pitches notated in addition to the words.

Pastor Jim Pond has a particular way of connecting with his congregation by saying what he knew of them without naming names. An example is when he was providing a Protestant definition of a persons who is helpful to other people as a saint (on All Saints' Day). He said, "As I look out at you, I see many of you who are saints in this way." The sermon used Job 1:6-22 as its text. Job started out being the pride of God's people, but Satan (sometimes translated in the book of Job as "The Accuser") said that it was easy because he was so well protected. Then he essentially made a bet, saying that Job was good because God built a hedge around him and everything went well for him, but if things were to go badly for him, Job would turn against Job. In the next chapter, it says that Job's friends arrived to comfort him, and first did so by standing by him in silence for seven days. Pastor Pond asked who among those there had done something like that, but again went back to saying that he saw people among the congregation who actually had done it.

Another interesting aspect of the service was that the children's sermon included a video giving instructions on preparing a package to send to poor children overseas as part of Operation Christ Child. After this, the children of the church went through to make a collection of money designated for this project.

The lower photo is the Halloween costume that I wore while in Punxsutawney.

Next week: Gone to the Great White North to see polar bears.

1 comment:

  1. I like to know how I'm expected to sing (ie. notes and pitch) as well as the words, which is why I read the notes and look at the chorister. Otherwise, I have to spend half the song listening to the tune first and figuring it out by ear.