Lesson 46: Conversation in the Community

Yesterday I worshiped at a Greek Orthodox Cathedral. I left elated having heard a fine sermon and participated in a beautiful liturgy. However, as the day progressed, I became more and more melancholy.

When I reflected on why this was, my thoughts went back to the worship that I came to see as the epitome of a modern church problem. As much as I loved the experience, it was much like visiting a museum. In fact, the church claimed its liturgy was unchanged since Jesus delivered it orally to the apostles. Regardless of how inaccurate this is, it also testifies to its disregard for how God’s Word changes to address our historical situation.

But even more problematic was its totally priest-centered nature. Much of the service was enacted behind the icon screen; many of the words were uttered silently by the priest; and almost all the responses were offered by cantors. In fact, the congregation’s inattention was taken for granted as some sentences of the liturgy called on the people to “pay attention” to this part.

But perhaps the best indication of the lack of laity involvement was the attendance pattern. When the priests’ public preparation began at 8:00, four people were in the pews. When the service itself began with no perceptible indication at 9:30, there might have been 25 present. Right before the sermon another 50 showed up, but the larger numbers arrived afterwards. By the time the Communion liturgy began, the congregation might have been 175, but people kept coming. Some did not arrive until The Distribution that was offered only to the Orthodox whom the priest knew. By that time we had about 225.

My Orthodox experience only epitomizes the failure of every Church branch to acknowledge what is going on with lay people in our democratic society. I have been suggesting one way to start correcting the problem might be to add conversation in the community to the classic standards the church has used for discerning God’s Word; charisma, canon, creed, custom, clergy, and ceremony. In fact, I observed lay people are already making this their most used standard as they customize their faith.

Bob thinks our readers should list various ways this conversation might take place. After making a magnificent analysis of the Internet, he concluded, “Those in the religious world must learn to use effectively electronic forms of communication to disseminate information. At the core of religion, however, is the personal and intimate — love. Fritz’ idea of small dinners to communicate among the faithful is an example of an attempt to carve out an intimate area of interaction in an increasingly impersonal electronic environment. There is no one answer. We need to supplement his opening gambit with other ideas. The intimate and the emotional are essential spheres for religion so religion must find ways to speak God’s word through preserving these spheres.”

He followed this up with an email: “I think we need a list of many possible initiatives. House Churches are another possibility, but a longer list is needed.” So let’s see if we can come with ways the church might encourage creative conversation with God and each other. Perhaps some of our readers might report experiences they have found beneficial.

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