Worship

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The study comes in the same year that Larycia Hawkins — Wheaton College’s first black, female professor to receive tenure — parted ways with the evangelical flagship school after she posted on Facebook that both Christians and Muslims worship the “same God.” The controversy stirred fresh debate among evangelicals about whether all religions worship the same God, and whether God accepts the worship of all religions.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Brittany Greeson

Top-notch preaching most attracts people looking for a new place to pray.

That's the conclusion of a new Pew Research Center study, released Aug. 23, which asked 5,000 people about their search for a new church or other house of worship.

Dawn Araujo-Hawkins 05-02-2016

IN FALL 1884, the congregation that became Temple Israel opened its doors as the first Jewish synagogue in the state of Nebraska. From its inception, Temple Israel was a Reform congregation, a theologically progressive denomination that stresses the social justice imperatives of Judaism. Yet the early members of Temple Israel included not just Reform Jews, but Conservative and Orthodox Jews as well; navigating these interdenominational relationships would prove to be a significant part of the congregation’s early development.

Fast forward 130 years and Temple Israel is one of three houses of worship embarking on a unique interfaith partnership: a single campus in west Omaha that will house a Jewish synagogue, a Muslim mosque, a Christian church, and a fourth building for interfaith fellowship.

Aryeh Azriel, Temple Israel’s senior rabbi, planted the seeds for this project, known as the Tri-Faith Initiative, in 2006 when he reached out to the American Muslim Institute, another local religious community that was looking to construct a new building.

“The original idea started as a result of looking for a partnership in sharing parking lots,” Azriel told Sojourners.

The two communities had forged a relationship in 2001 when, following the Sept. 11 attacks, Azriel led members of Temple Israel in encircling a local mosque to protect it from the Islamophobic attacks they were seeing in the national news.

Syed Mohiuddin, president of the American Muslim Institute, agreed to the partnership; he liked the idea of the two religious groups sharing a parking lot with each other rather than with retail stores or other commercial development. However, it didn’t take long for the two communities to realize the project had greater potential than a shared parking lot. If they could find Christians willing to join them, they could build a shared campus for all three Abrahamic faiths, the first such campus in the world—at least to their knowledge.

Caroline Barnett 03-28-2016
Rev. J. Barrett Lee

Rev. J. Barrett Lee

Rev. J. Barrett Lee is pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., whose mission is to "practice our ministry alongside people who live with mental illness." Website: wearenorth.org

1. Why is it important to talk about mental illness? The only time people want to talk about mental illness as a broad social issue is when a mass shooting occurs. It’s a huge problem because it perpetuates the myths of what mental illness is and how people with mental illness operate. People think, “What if some mentally ill person gets a gun and is going to shoot up a church or a school?” But the reality is that people who live with mental illness are actually 10 times more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence. I don’t know a single person in my church who even owns a gun.

2. How is North Presbyterian’s call to ministry unique? We decided that our ministry with people living with mental illness was not going to be a side project. It wasn’t going to be something we did in addition to our ministry. We felt God calling us to reorient the entire life of our congregation around making a space where all people can be treated as equal partners in Christ’s service. We started the Togetherness Group, a weekly social activities group where the whole goal is to be together. We do lots of fun activities, whether that’s going out to lunch, going to the zoo, or just playing bingo on a rainy day. For a lot of folks, this is their one safe space each week when they can get out of the house, be treated like a human, embrace their own humanity, have a good time, and take some of the pressure off of daily living.

Olivia Whitener 03-28-2016
Waffle Church at St. Lydia's

Waffle Church at St. Lydia's

Last year, St. Lydia’s church in Brooklyn, N.Y., started a monthly service that lifts up children’s leadership and participation. They call it Waffle Church, and it’s messy on purpose. Olivia Whitener, an editorial assistant at Sojourners , interviewed Waffle Church minister Sarah McCaslin in January about the service that revolves around songs, stories, maple syrup, and the love of Jesus.

Sojourners: Why waffles?
Rev. Sarah McCaslin:
Well, I prefer a savory brunch option, if given the choice. But “Omelet Church” just doesn’t have the same ring. The fact of the matter is: Who doesn’t love a waffle? They’re easy to make, they’re delicious. But the waffles aren’t as important as the idea of this meal we share around the table. It isn’t that we’re going to church and then will have waffles. When we sit around the table together and fellowship together, it’s an extension of communion.

What’s special about a Waffle Church service? The first time we did Waffle Church, I was standing at the table, and I do a rhetorical-question-style liturgy: “Look, we are gathered around this table, and we set it with our finest. This is not the Lutheran table, it’s not St. Lydia’s table, it’s not Waffle Church’s table. Whose table is this?” Then a 6-year-old shouts, “It’s the Lord’s table!” We couldn’t have planned it, and it was just amazing. Of course, now we have to do it because there’s always the kid who wants to shout “It’s the Lord’s table!” And so here’s a piece of the liturgy that has been fixed because the children will demand it. That kind of stuff is just happening all the time.

Are there ways other churches can incorporate a Waffle Church service into their ministries? I think it’s about creating a physical space that can accommodate the needs of children. The music is the other major piece of it. At St. Lydia’s, we adhere to the paperless-music singing tradition, where all of the songs are taught. So there’s no hymnal, no lyrics to be read—those things tend to privilege literacy. This way, children and adults can participate in the music each and every week.

David M. Csinos 03-28-2016
Jon Krause

Jon Krause

DURING ALL THE Sunday mornings I spent in church as a child, I only cried once. After months of encouragement from my parents, I decided to go to our Catholic parish’s children’s liturgy (their version of Sunday school). I remember nothing else about that morning except that I stood in the corner crying while kind volunteers tried to calm me down with a few cookies. I never went to children’s liturgy again, and I’m thankful the experience didn’t leave me scarred for life, unable to eat another cookie.

My dislike of children’s liturgy wasn’t about what it was; it had to do with what it wasn’t. I grew up watching Mass unfold from the front pew, where I could be as close to the action as possible. Going to the basement meant that I had to give up the beauty, wonder, and fascination I experienced during church services.

It’s been more than 25 years since I lost my composure on that fateful Sunday, and my dissatisfaction with children’s liturgy is now echoed by ministers, Christian educators, and parents who realize the importance of including children in corporate worship. But as I see it, including children in corporate worship isn’t a matter of choice or changing trends; it’s a matter of justice.

“When your children ask you ...”

Practices for including children in worship are far from new. Children’s ministry leaders refer to Deuteronomy 6 so often that memorizing this passage might as well be a prerequisite for working with kids in churches! Many interpretations of this chapter focus on the first few verses—“Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children ...”—and emphasize the importance of teaching God’s commandments to children in all times and places. Yet a crucial point in this text appears in verse 20, which begins, “When your children ask you ...”

Jesse James DeConto 08-27-2015
Sam Hodges / United Methodist News Service / RNS

Adriana Campos, front left, is a youth band member at Christ’s Foundry United Methodist Church in Dallas who teaches guitar there on Sunday afternoons. Photo via Sam Hodges / United Methodist News Service / RNS

Dynamic, charismatic-style worship is a defining feature of Hispanic churches from evangelical to mainline to Catholic, and across the U.S. they are opening their own in-house music schools to train young people to lead them.

Where English-speaking music ministers might earn postsecondary degrees in worship arts or sacred music at more than 50 Christian colleges, Hispanic congregations are following in the footsteps of Pentecostal churches by raising up music and worship ministers from within, even if they can’t fret a guitar string.

Tom Ehrich 05-19-2015
Photo via Robyn Mackenzie / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Robyn Mackenzie / Shutterstock.com

Let’s be clear: The much-heralded “decline of Christianity in America” isn’t about God losing faith in humankind.

It isn’t about losing our moral compass thanks to whatever you happen to loathe. It isn’t about fickle millennials. It isn’t about zigging trendy or zagging traditional.

In fact, I would argue that Christianity isn’t in trouble at all. Churches are in trouble. Denominations are in trouble. Religious institutions like seminaries are in trouble. Professional church leaders are in trouble.

But churches can’t hold God hostage. 

Christian Piatt 02-05-2015
Following Jesus. Image courtesy wizdata1/shutterstock.com

Following Jesus. Image courtesy wizdata1/shutterstock.com

First, the good news: After four months of preparation, I have officially started my year-long quest to more seriously understand what it means to follow Jesus — AKA “My Jesus Project.”

And now the bad news: After today, I still have 363 days left of this. Turns out, Jesus stuff is hard.

It’s not even that I’ve done anything that’s hard, in particular. I mean, the 30-day fast from solid food isn’t until next month, and I still have time to figure out how I’m ever going to feed 5,000. I haven’t even been crucified or put in jail or anything. So far, my main tasks have been to set up my prayer shrine for my daily meditations, to study one of the gospels daily, and to be particularly mindful of my own body and of the humanity of others I come into contact with.

But just that is hard work.

Yesterday was day one, beginning my first month in which I’m exploring “Jesus the Radical,” with Christian Anarchist Mark Van Steenwyk as my mentor. He’s started off easy on me, recommending the mindfulness exercise, and to take more public transportation. Hey, one out of two ain’t bad; I’ve got 26 days left in the month to work on the public transport thing. But though I got my prayers and gospel study done, and I was successful in getting my kids to school without yelling at them even once … or at least no more than twice. But in addition to taking my car everywhere so far, I’m behind in my pledge to walk 1,000 miles in a year. Although that only works out to about 3 miles a day, I’m already just under four miles for two days.

Oh, and Mark has warned me that he has some much more challenging things in mind for me this month, and that he was just breaking me in, getting me used to the shallow end before tossing me in for the sharks, complete with chum underwear.

 
Stephen Mattson 02-05-2015
Online shopping illustration, Fotinia / Shutterstock.com

Online shopping illustration, Fotinia / Shutterstock.com

For Christians, it’s sometimes hard to admit believing in the supernatural, the legitimacy of miracles, an afterlife, and following an ancient text written thousands of years ago by numerous authors that have been divinely inspired by an all-knowing, all-powerful, and omnipresent God.

At first glance, Christianity seems at odds with an increasingly “secular” culture that views spirituality as old-fashioned and irrelevant, but our society reveals that everything — and everyone — is spiritual on some level.

At first glance, Christianity seems at odds with an increasingly “secular” culture that views spirituality as old-fashioned and irrelevant, but our society reveals that everything — and everyone — is spiritual on some level.

 

1. The Religion of Sport

Few people pray more fervently, earnestly, and passionately than when their favorite sports teams — and athletes — are competing.

With arms outstretched, they wildly clap, cheer, chant, cry, and scream at the top of their lungs. Wearing costumes, jerseys, and following

Juliet Vedral 01-30-2015
Blend Images / Shutterstock.com

Blend Images / Shutterstock.com

Being “right” is exhausting.

You know what I mean. A controversy blows up over social media and the faith must be defended. A conversation about church practices becomes a nitpicky theological debate. A news story catches our eye and we are filled with outrage and take to our laptops to be the first to comment.

I feel as though I live in a world in which I’m constantly tempted — and encouraged — to major in details and minutiae and miss the very real and beautiful and incomprehensible presence of God.

Which is why being “right” is exhausting.

I thought of this the other day while visiting a different church from the one in which I am a member. My first — and wrong — reaction was to tense up. It seemed that everything about church that I had tried to escape was on display. I’ve learned to pay attention to those reactions. I have found that whenever something bothers me and makes me speak in absolutes, it’s because there’s a part of my heart I want to hoard for myself instead of allowing God’s light to shine on it. I hate to admit it, but so much of my identity as a Christian is defined by what I’m not.

A church with a sign welcoming gay and lesbian members. Photo courtesy of Ivan Cholakov via Shutterstock/RNS.

U.S. religious congregations are marching to their own drums now more than ever.

The National Congregations Study‘s latest look at the country’s churches, synagogues and mosques — the third wave of studies that began in 1998 —  finds more congregations:

  • Open their doors to gays and lesbians in active membership and in leadership.
  • Show racial and ethnic diversity in the pews.
  • Encourage hand-waving, amen-shouting, and dancing-in-the-aisles during worship.
  • Disconnect from denominational ties doctrines and rules that might slow or block change.

The study, released Thursday (Sept. 11), draws on interviews with leaders at 1,331 nationally representative congregations and updates data from 1998 and 2006 studies.  Non-Christian congregations were included in the study but there are too few for statistical analysis by topics.

Lou Ella Hickman 08-05-2014

for miriam

Donna Schaper 06-03-2014

From the Psalms to the Cloud: Connecting to the Digital Age. Pilgrim Press.

Jordan Davis 05-05-2014
phildaint/Shutterstock.com

Mountaintop experiences are some of the easiest ways to feel God's presence. phildaint/Shutterstock.com

Reading the Bible from the comfort of my couch, I find myself pointing fingers at individuals like Elijah. I can throw them under the bus for missing the point. It's easy for me to see how they got it all wrong. I'm amazed how apparent the presence of God can be one minute and the very next minute they sink deep into despair with this "woe is me" attitude — all the while thinking God has abandoned them.

But, as an onlooker, I have the privilege of seeing the whole story. I'm not living in the moment waiting for things to unfold. The Bible has extended to me the privilege of seeing the big picture, which makes it easy to see that while God is sometimes found on the mountain, or in those big cinematic experiences — conquering prophets, healing the sick, reviving the dead, conquering death — other times he is found in the valley, or in that still, small voice.

But then again, I have to wonder if I'm really any different? Don't I have the same struggles today? How often do I get caught up in the circumstances and lose sight of the big picture? I have some big mountain top experience — the money comes through, the deal works out, I got the job, my fear and anxiety dissipate, the mission trip is life changing, the sermon was exactly what I needed to hear — and, it never fails, the next minute I feel as though God has abandoned me. Doubts surface about whether or not God really has my best interest at heart. I wonder if he can even use someone as broken as me.

What causes such a drastic change?

After wrestling with this a little more, I came to a disheartening conclusion — I have a tendency to seek an experience instead of God. 

Lilly Fowler 04-08-2014

On the second Sunday of Lent, John Hendrix sits in one of the pews near the back of Grace and Peace Fellowship, a Presbyterian church with stained glass in green and orange, and a giant, organ pipe front and center.

Casually decked in a striped, button-down shirt and jeans, he looks like any other member of the hip and young crowd. With his wife, Andrea, and his two children, Jack, 8, and Annie, 5, Hendrix stands and sings and partakes of gluten-free communion.

But as soon as the sermon starts, Hendrix sets himself apart, whipping out his sketchbook and pens to draw the pastor’s sermon.

Catherine Woodiwiss 03-19-2014
Via gungormusic.com

Via gungormusic.com

Editor's Note: Last week, Sojourners’ Associate Web Editor Catherine Woodiwiss caught up with musical collective Gungor at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Here’s what Michael Gungor has to say about art, liturgy, and the future of music.

This interview has been edited for length and content.

Catherine: So what brings you to South by Southwest (SXSW)?

Gungor: I guess we thought it was about time to experience the circus.

Catherine: A couple of years ago there was talk of SXSW becoming a destination for "Christian techies,” and Donald Miller premiered his popular film, Blue Like Jazz, at the film portion of the festival. Do you consider yourself part of a Christian “witness” here at SXSW?

Gungor: We are here to make some music, have a good time, and perhaps make some friends along the way. We certainly aren't here to proselytize or advance some secret religious message or anything.

But anywhere we go, we do have a desire to live the sort of life that Jesus invited people to live.

Matthew Skinner 03-17-2014
Courtesy Odyssey Netowrks

What does it look like when God defies the restrictions we presume are in place? Courtesy Odyssey Netowrks

Recently, a large wealthy church decided to break up with my denomination. I’m not 100 percent sure I know why. But the no-regrets explanation they wrote implied that religious differences between us were too severe for them to stay committed to our relationship.

Religion has a way of making people do extraordinary things to create peace and unity. It also, as we know well, has a destructive capacity to turn people against one another. It can make us grip our convictions so tightly that we choke out their life. We chase others away, then say “Good riddance” to soothe the pain of the separation. Even more alarming, too many religious people insist on isolating themselves and limiting their imagination about where and how God can be known.

All these realities take on a sad irony when we read about God promising to be outside the walls, present with different people in different places. What does it look like when God defies the restrictions we presume are in place?

Lisa Sharon Harper 03-14-2014
Environmental pollution, Mikhail Kolesnikov / Shutterstock.com

Environmental pollution, Mikhail Kolesnikov / Shutterstock.com

And as I worshiped I realized creation wasn’t singing with me. I had entered into creation’s ongoing worship of God!

But Scripture speaks of another utterance of nature — a groaning. (Romans 8:19-22) Even as creation worships, it bears the weight of our sin. Our addiction to consumption, our oil drills and oil spills, and our depleted uranium bullets whizzing through theaters of war in countries ravaged, torn apart — both the people and the land. Creation is groaning, even as the trees lift their branches heavenward in worship.

The Genesis 2 story of creation offers a profound picture of humanity’s relationship with the rest of creation in the beginning. In Genesis 2:15 God called humanity to till and keep the Garden of Eden. The Hebrew word for “till” (‘abad) is also translated “to serve” (as a bond servant). The Hebrew word for “keep” (shamar) is most accurately translated “to protect.” Thus, we were called to serve and protect the rest of creation. In the very beginning of our existence, we related to the land as its servants — its protectors. That relationship was full of care, nurture, security, and selfless service.

Photo by Andrew William Smith

Guests received eucharist at The Liturgists concert. Photo by Andrew William Smith

It was a busy weekend on the eve of Lent for fans of spirited singer and spiritually-minded musician Michael Gungor. If you were not on the Gungor or Michael Gungor Twitter feed over the first two days of March, you might have missed the news about a new band, a new record, and a new mini-tour.

As the band called Gungor takes a short break from touring in support of its sonically and lyrically adventurous album I Am Mountain, the family business has reinvented itself with the proverbial “side project” so common with musical visionaries who cannot contain their creative output to just one brand name or band name.

But The Liturgists — a collective that includes Michael’s wife Lisa, brother David, and a host of other supporting musicians and collaborators — are not just another band, and the brand is “the work of the people.” The band’s Vapor EP is a warm and experimental worship text that includes a song, a spoken-word invocation and incantation, and a guided centering prayer meditation. On the group’s Ash Wednesday-week mini-tour, all the shows are free by RSVP and are not really shows as at all — not as indie-consumers even in the contemporary Christian scene have come to expect.

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