Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Get jiggy with it!

Since you already know what a huge nerd I am, I’m going to keep talking about church... and I promise I don’t plan to talk about it forever, I just thought I’d talk about the astounding variety of styles I’ve sampled on the worship smorgasbord... 

The church I grew up in: Wear a dress or suit, sit quietly with hands in lap, sing the hymns and speak only during the creeds and responsive readings. Songs are formal hymns, sermon comes from the lectionary. The church I’m in now... Wear what you like, sit quietly during the sermon, but during the songs, do what you like. Sing the melody, sing the harmony, raise your hands, keep your hands folded, dance, stand still... Some people do dress up and whatnot – my husband, for instance, wears a coat and tie because that’s his raisin’. I wear a dress, but only because I have great legs (ba-dum-bum.) But really no one has to doll up. Most people show up on the dressy side of casual, but some are rocking jeans and t-shirts. I like the variety! Sermons are preacher’s choice – sometimes we’ll go through a whole book of the Bible a little at a time, over several months. Sometimes it’s a topical series.

Our music is kind of rockin’ too, so being able to open up in worship is sort of a logical place to go. I guess if you’re just singing hymns to organ accompaniment, you’re not naturally going to groove. Our church is also just the smallest bit charismatic, ie. no glossolalia is happening (tongue-speaking), but people do feel free to lift up their hands. There is even the occasional “Amen” uttered during the sermon.

I didn’t always get groovy at church... (Remember in the movie Superstar when Jesus, played by Will Ferrell tells Mary Catherine Gallagher to “Get jiggy with it”?) When I first came to this church, I thought it was kind of creepy. But only because I’d never seen anyone raise their hands before while they were singing in church. I was so clueless that I wondered at first if I had stumbled into a cult! I learned later that our church is on the conservative side of charismatic. Elsewhere folks are banging tamborines, speaking in tongues and being slain in the Spirit!

(I always thought it was funny that the song “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by the Crash Test Dummies  describes being raised in a charismatic family as being worse that having an unexplainable physical deformity: “But both girl and boy were glad / ‘Cause one kid had it worse than that / ‘Cause then there was this boy whose / Parents made him come directly home right after school / And when they went to their church / They shook and lurched all over the church floor / He couldn’t quite explain it / They’d always just gone there.”)

Back to my topic: When I lived in Asheville I went to a church that was so mellow and casual that it seemed more like a coffeehouse than a service. The people wore jeans and the pastor – also decked out in jeans, hiking boots and a flannel shirt – spoke in a conversational tone and is one of the best preachers I ever heard. At the same time, though, it was quite a traditional church – they sang hymns and learned the Westminster chatechism.

I love to visit churches when I travel... just to see how the different people do church. I went to All Souls in London, where the famous writer John Stott was Pastor Emeritus; I went to the socially active, gospel-singing Glide Memorial in San Francisco, which was featured in the Will Smith movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

The most interesting worship service I ever visited was at a charismatic Episcopal church outside of Chicago. It was an interesting mix – ritual and tradition mixed with... spirit and great feeling. I don’t even remember what particular songs they sang, but their singing was so haunting and beautiful... hard to describe... they would keep singing and humming after the song had ended, as if the Spirit was carrying their voices.

My son goes to a Catholic school, and when I planned to visit Mass one day, he told me, “Mommy, no one holds their hands up, so don’t do that.” I thought that was funny, but when I was at the actual Mass, I realized that they do use the body in worship – it’s just built in to the service. You stand and kneel and hold hands at certain times, not “as the Spirit moves you.” I personally didn’t feel much Spirit moving, but I have no doubt that it could happen. He can move anywhere and anyhow He pleases, right?

Tammy Wynette...
justified and ancient.
The church is old (in the words of Tammy Wynette with KLF, “justified and ancient”), and full of all types of people, who have shaped it in all types of ways in their quest to love and worship God together. So no matter where you come from, high church, low church, no church... If you want to, you can most likely find a place where you can lose yourself in worship. Go with the familiar – or step outside yourself and try something completely different... all that worship is going the same place anyway... from your mouth to God’s ears.


  1. Beautifully written... and dig Tammy W.
    When we lived in Weston, we went to the Naked Pastor church (Flamingo Road Church), which was very charismatic and very rock and roll. It was different than anything we had ever experienced before. Huge arena seating, so loud your ears hurt, but very real.

  2. Yes! I especially like your point that different traditions use their bodies in worship in different ways - so true, and that's one of the things I really like about Episcopal worship.