Mystery Worship Four

Note:  this is part of an ongoing series.  Mystery Worship One is here;  Mystery Worship Two is here; Mystery Worship Three is here.

Sunday, May 20, 2012, brought me to the Chiltern Church,described on their website as an independent, evangelical church with a heritage from the Plymouth Brethren Church.  I chose this church for one simple reason: I could walk there.  Nearly every other church in the area is a good two mile hike over very hilly streets.  This one was a simple 1/2 mile stroll over fairly level ground.  Because I was walking, I wore fairly casual clothes, but not jeans, and walking shoes.  Dress was fine–church very casual.

The service turned out to be quite challenging for me, although I’ve not yet been able to pinpoint why.

The facility is located right in the middle of a very nice residential area and looks very much like the houses surrounding it, which makes sense as it was originally a house in the neighborhood. Only real difference is the larger front garden (I have become very British in my terms already here!) which is fully gravelled and could hold 12 cars.

According to the website, the service began at 10:45 and also that lots of provisions had been made for children and youth activity.  The service did actually begin at 10:47 and very much fulfilled the promise of paying attention to younger people.

I had arrived at 10:38, and was greeted warmly at the front door and handed a Bible along with printed announcements.  No bulletin or order of worship included.  The worship space could hold at most 120 people and was comfortably set up with movable chairs (wooden with small cushions).  No hymnals, screen placed with very good sight lines. I sat near the back on the far right–no aisle next to me, just a wall.

At 10:47, the worship leader, Barry, greeted us with a cheery “Good morning!” made several announcements and then invited us to stand.  At this point, the worship center was about 1/2 full, but within the next few moments, went to about 75 or 80% full.

Before the service started, a woman named Helen came over and introduced herself but other than that, people just talked with each other and paid no attention to me.

Music was lead by a worship team, but couldn’t see exactly what was there.  Definitely a keyboard, possibly percussion, and two voices, one male, the worship leader who wore a lapel microphone, and a female, whom I had to strain to see.  The sound was not well balanced–the female vocalist had inadequate amplification, and the worship leader’s voice had too much.  Words to songs were on screen–fine when I knew the tune, but, as usual, problematic when I don’t.

After the first song the leader, Barry, seated everyone and immediately launched into a long object lesson that was part children/part adult lesson using an arrow in a bottle to indicate how God leads when we make God first.  After that, we were told (not invited) to stand and to do the motions to “Our God is a Great Big God.”  I did stand but declined to do the motions.  After that song, the smaller children left for their time.  Barry told us we’d sing two more and then the youth would also be dismissed for their separate time.

During the songs, whose titles I can’t remember and whose lyrics were unfamiliar to me, I began to consider the words of many of our hymns and worship songs and how confusing and strange they must seem to the person who has not heard this kind of language for years.  I am beginning to think we should explain each song before we sing it so the words actually have meaning and purpose.

After the two songs, at 11:07, Barry went into a lengthy explanation of the purpose and meaning of prayer and then told us we should plan on praying aloud or silently or whatever seemed best for the next five to ten minutes.

I found myself getting alarmed by his explanation–what was going to expected of me? I really hate forced group prayer–times when I’ve been told “gather into groups of two or three and each of you offer prayers about such and such.”  Fortunately, that experience was not on the radar, and we just went quietly into a time of prayer.  The woman next to me was the first to speak verbally, and she uttered a lovely prayer of thanksgiving.  Several other women followed (maybe this is the only time their voices can be heard?) and then finally one male voice piped up.  Barry took it from there and closed it a few minutes later.  No Lord’s Prayer offered.

One more song, during which the offering was taken and the bags brought forward and handed, almost surreptitiously, to Barry. No formal presentation of the money to God, no words to indicate the act of offering being an act of worship.  Visitors were told they were under no obligation to give (I put in some cash anyway).

Barry seated us and then gave us a page number in our Bibles and read, quite exquisitely I must say, Matthew 4:1-10, the story of the temptation of Jesus.

At the point, 11:25, the minister, Dave Hitchcock, walked from the back and stepped up on the platform and behind the small lectern there.  He also offered a hearty “Good Morning” and then spent the next ten minutes talking about honoring someone who had been a long time servant of the church but who only leaving his ministry position and not the church.  Here is where the insider language became so challenging to me. He referred several times to Janet and what she would do and to Brian and how hard he had worked.  All true, all utterly incomprehensible to me and very dis-connecting.

Dave finally got to the message about 11:35.  On the screen was sinister black and white photo of a blurred man in the background holding out in front of him a large apple.  That image stayed the entire time of the message as the pastor spoke about our enemies.  The word “Enemies” was in large font to the right and top of the image, and the words Passion, Position and Possessions appeared in conjunction with the pastor’s explanation that the temptation of Jesus was along the line of the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life.

The message seemed to be well delivered, but lacked depth and good preparation time. Lots of illustrations, but never could quite figure out what he hoped would be the response.

He finished at 11:55 and Barry came up again to lead us in “Be Thou my Vision” with multiple stanzas I’ve never seen before. We were dismissed and invited to stay for coffee and I thought it was time to go, but suddenly, everyone sat down.  Dave came strolling down the center aisle.  Then people just turned to each other and began to talk.

A Pakistani woman seated next to me turned to me and introduced herself and we had a nice chat.  I asked why people didn’t get up at this point, and she seemed confused at the question.  A couple of others near me introduced themselves and then I decided to skip the coffee hour and head out.  As I neared the front entrance, the friendly greeter who had originally given me a Bible asked if I were a visitor and said “Would you please sign the visitors’ book so I don’t get in trouble?” He said it with a genuine, inviting smile, and I happily complied.  Another gentleman spoke with me for a few minutes and then as I left, the pastor was at the door and we chatted a few minutes.  After thanking him for the time of worship, I “outed” myself and told him who I was.  I may be reading a little too much into this, but he did seem to visibly cool when I mentioned I was a pastor.  Oh well.

Additional points:

The nearly invisible female vocalist was the only woman with any role in worship leadership.  This is not surprising given the theological heritage (Plymouth Brethren) of the church, but it had been a while since I’d been in a church where women were so invisible and it certainly spoke to me in an uncomfortable way.  I remember one time several years ago at the church where I serve when we also had a female director of music.  On one particular day, the liturgist was also a female, as were the greeters and acolytes.  One visitor, who never returned, mentioned, “Gosh, this church only has women in leadership.”  Not the case, but it certainly looked like it.  We need to watch the message given by those in visible leadership roles.

There was no congregational response to the reading of God’s Word. This is normal to non-liturgical churches, but I noticed how much it bothered me not to stand for the Gospel reading and also not to acknowledge that reading with words of thanksgiving.

I was also intrigued to note that while the worship leader got the more flexible lapel microphone, the pastor had to be content with a fixed microphone on a stand.  No moving around for him!  I just have a feeling this is also part of a hidden power play there–something was just wrong.

As for Dave, the minister: One of the things he did was show the “Wrong Worship CD Infomercial,” a funny parody of contemporary worship songs where the focus goes from God totally to self.  This video has been around for a while and is quite well done.  But it is over three minutes long, and needed to be edited to less then 90 seconds.  Just took too long. Dave was clearly quite unsure about the technology before showing the video, and either needs to learn to use it, or to make sure that whoever is going to be using it knows what is going on–and how to edit down lengthy videos.  By the time the video was over, I think many had attention elsewhere.

As I listened to Dave, I also noticed he told several self-deprecating jokes and poked a lot of fun at himself.  Normally, when I either do that or am in a space where it is done, there’s a lot of genuine audience response and good connection built.  But something just seemed very off here.  I have to be careful here and respect that I’m worshipping with a lot of reserved Brits, but  . . . it almost seemed as though there was some floating hostility toward Dave. At the very least, an unwillingness to enter into the story with him.  I remember feeling very, very troubled by it.

Very simply, I personally would not return there, primarily because of the vibes I picked up.  I wish I could be more explicit about it, but can’t find the words to explain it other than I was spiritually uncomfortable there.  This past Sunday’s venture brought me to the Chiltern Church, http://www.chilternchurch.org.uk/, described on their website as an independent, evangelical church with a heritage from the Plymouth Brethren Church.  I chose this church for one simple reason: I could walk there.  Nearly every other church in the area is a good two mile hike over very hilly streets.  This one was a simple 1/2 mile stroll over fairly level ground.  Because I was walking, I wore fairly casual clothes, but not jeans, and walking shoes.  Dress was fine–church very casual.

The church is located right in the middle of a very nice residential area and looks very much like the houses surrounding it. Only real difference is the larger car park (I have become very British in my terms already here!) which is gravelled and could hold 12 cars.

According to the website, the service began at 10:45 and also that lots of provisions had been made for children and youth activity.  The service did actually begin at 10:47 and very much fulfilled the promise of paying attention to younger people.

I had arrived at 10:38, and was greeted warmly at the front door and handed a Bible along with printed announcements.  No bulletin or order of worship included.  The worship space could hold at most 120 people and was comfortably set up with movable chairs (wooden with small cushions).  No hymnals, screen placed with very good sight lines. I sat near the back on the far right–no aisle next to me, just a wall.

At 10:47, the worship leader greeted us with a cheery “Good morning!” made several announcements and then invited us to stand.  At this point, the worship center was about 1/2 full, but within the next few moments, went to about 75 or 80% full.

Before the service started, a woman named Helen came over and introduced herself but other than that, people just talked with each other and paid no attention to me.

Music was led by a worship team, but couldn’t see exactly what was there.  Definitely a keyboard, possibly percussion, and two voices, one male, the worship leader who wore a lapel microphone, and a female, whom I had to strain to see.  The sound was not well-balanced–the female vocalist had inadequate amplification, and the worship leader’s voice had too much.  Words on-screen–fine when I knew the tune, but, as usual, problematic when I don’t.

After the first song the leader, Barry, seated everyone and immediately launched into a long object lesson that was part children/part adult lesson.  After that, we were told (not invited) to stand and to do the motions to “Our God is a Great Big God.”  I did stand but declined to do the motions.  After that song, the smaller children left for their time.  Barry told us we’d sing two more and then the youth would also be dismissed for their separate time.

During the songs, whose titles I can’t remember and whose lyrics were unfamiliar to me, I began to consider the words of many of our hymns and worship songs and how confusing and strange they must seem to the person who has not heard this kind of language for years.  I am beginning to think we should explain each song before we sing it so the words actually have meaning and purpose.

After the two songs, at 11:07, Barry went into a long explanation of the purpose and meaning of prayer and then told us we should plan on praying aloud or silently or whatever seemed best for the next five to ten minutes.

I found myself getting alarmed by his explanation–what was going to expected of me? I really hate forced group prayer–times when I’ve been told “gather into groups of two or three and each of you offer prayers about such and such.”  Fortunately, that experience was not on the radar, and we just went quietly into a time of prayer.  The woman next to me was the first to speak verbally, and she uttered a lovely prayer of thanksgiving.  Several other women followed (maybe this is the only time their voices can be heard?) and then finally one male voice piped up.  Barry took it from there and closed it a few minutes later.  No Lord’s Prayer offered.

One more song, during which the offering was taken and the bags brought forward and handed, almost under the table, to Barry. No formal presentation of the money to God, no words to indicate the act of offering being an act of worship.  Visitors were told they were under no obligation to give (I put in some cash anyway).

Barry seated us and then gave us a page number in our Bibles and read, quite exquisitely I must say, Matthew 4:1-10, the story of the temptation of Jesus.

At the point, 11:25, the minister, Dave Hitchcock walked forward and stepped up on the platform and behind the small lectern there.  He also offered a hearty “Good Morning” and then spent the next ten minutes talking about honoring someone who had been a long time servant of the church.  Here is where the insider language became so challenging to me. He referred several times to Janet and what she would do and to Brian and how hard he had worked.  All true, all utterly incomprehensible to me and very dis-connecting.

Dave finally got to the message about 11:35.  On the screen was sinister black and white photo of a blurred man in the background holding out in front of him a large apple.  That image stayed the entire time of the message as the pastor spoke about our enemies.  The word “Enemies” was in large font to the right and top of the image, and the words Passion, Position and Possessions appeared in conjunction with the pastor’s explanation that the temptation of Jesus was along the line of the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life.

The message seemed to be well delivered, but lacked depth and good preparation time. Lots of illustrations, but never could quite figure out what he hoped would be the response.

He finished at 11:55 and Barry came up again to lead us in “Be Thou my Vision” with multiple stanzas I’ve never seen before. We were dismissed and invited to stay for coffee and I thought it was time to go, but suddenly, everyone sat down.  Dave came strolling down the center aisle.  Then people just turned to each other and began to talk.

A Pakistani woman seated next to me turned to me and introduced herself and we had a nice chat.  I asked why people didn’t get up at this point, and she seemed confused at the question.  A couple of others near me introduced themselves and then I decided to skip the coffee hour and head out.  As I neared the front entrance, the friendly greeter who had originally given me a Bible asked if I were a visitor and said “Would you please sign the visitors’ book so I don’t get in trouble?” He said it with a genuine, inviting smile, and I happily complied.  Another gentleman spoke with me for a few minutes and then as I left, the pastor was at the door and we chatted a few minutes.  After thanking him for the time of worship, I “outed” myself and told him who I was.  I may be reading a little too much into this, but he did seem to visibly cool when I mentioned I was a pastor.  Oh well.

Additional points:

The nearly invisible female vocalist was the only woman with any role in worship leadership.  This is not surprising given the theological heritage (Plymouth Brethren) of the church, but it had been a while since I’d been in a church where women were so invisible and it certainly spoke to me in an uncomfortable way.  I remember one time several years ago at the church where I serve when we also had a female director of music.  On one particular day, the liturgist was also a female, as were the greeters and acolytes.  One visitor, who never returned, mentioned, “Gosh, this church only has women in leadership.”  Not the case, but it certainly looked like it.  We need to watch the message given by those in visible leadership roles.

There was no congregational response to the reading of God’s Word. This is normal to non-liturgical churches, but I noticed how much it bothered me not to stand for the Gospel reading and also not to acknowledge that reading with words of thanksgiving.

I was also intrigued to note that while the worship leader got the easier to use lapel mic, the pastor has to be content with a fixed mic on a stand.  No moving around for him!  I just have a feeling this is also part of a hidden power play there–something was just wrong.

As for Dave, the minister: One of the things he did was show the “Wrong Worship CD Infomercial,” a funny parody of contemporary worship songs where the focus goes from God totally to self.  This video has been around a while and is quite well done.  But it is over three minutes long, and needed to be edited to less then 90 seconds.  Just took too long. He was clearly quite unsure about the technology before showing the video, and either needs to learn to use it, or to make sure that whoever is going to be using it knows what is going on–and how to edit down lengthy videos.  By the time the video was over, I think many had minds elsewhere.

As I listened to Dave, I also noticed he told several self-depreciating jokes and poked a lot of fun at himself.  Normally, when I either do that or am in a space where it is done, there’s a lot of genuine audience response and good connection built.  But something just seemed very off here.  I have to be careful here and respect that I’m worshipping with a lot of reserved Brits, but  . . . it almost seemed as though there was some floating hostility toward Dave. At the very least, an unwillingness to enter into the story with him.  I remember feeling very, very troubled by it.

Very simply, I personally would not return there, primarily because of the vibes I picked up.  I wish I could be more explicit about it, but can’t find the words to explain it other than I was spiritually uncomfortable there.

8 thoughts on “Mystery Worship Four

  1. Pingback: Mystery Worship Twelve: Memorial Services | thoughtfulpastor

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  3. Pingback: Mystery Worship Ten: Redeemer Presbyterian | thoughtfulpastor

  4. Pingback: Mystery Worship Nine: A Tortuous Hour | thoughtfulpastor

  5. Pingback: Mystery Worship Eight | thoughtfulpastor

  6. Pingback: Mystery Worship Seven | thoughtfulpastor

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