Sunday, August 16, 2009
A worship experience (or three)
While in Savannah, GA last weekend (10th anniversary! Yay!), we had three very interesting worship experiences. I apologize for the length of this post in advance.
The first was morning worship at Independent Presbyterian Church. Getting beyond the oddity of an "independent" presbyterian church (all TE's are in the PCA), the worship was extraordinary. I must commend them in so many ways. They ask visitors to wear a gold sticker and once we had them we were greeted warmly. They are very particular about their worship and they do it well. The service music was "traditional" with psalms and hymns, an organ, and a choir. The service made it very clear that the church is focused on God's word. They read it, sang it, prayed it, preached it. I was extraordinarily uplifted, convicted, and blessed by this time. I'm not sure I recall experiencing that before in such a traditional style service. It encouraged me that such a style, similar in many ways to what we do at Emmanuel, can be done so well.
I was trying to figure out how this came about - how does a church get to the point where a worship experience like that happens. One part, I would guess, is that the session and congregation have worked hard to make it so. For example, the congregation really sang, not just letting the choir do the work. For at least two hymns, the organ dropped out on the last verse or two so the singing was a capella. You could tell the organ was gone, but the volume seemed about the same. Of course, they also have long tradition and a beautiful building on their side. They also had a few hundred people there - so you'll get a higher number of people with various spiritual gifts (hospitality, etc.). At any rate, they take worship very seriously and it shows.
I also have to say that I was wearing just a button-up shirt and khakis (no tie) and I felt under dressed. It was glorious - I'm much more a fan of dressing up for the occasion of worship. I also have to mention that we walked to it from our hotel - that was actually quite fun and it is a nice advantage of living in a city (I wouldn't know about such things otherwise).
The second was the evening service by Independent. We saw in their bulletin in the morning that they had an evening service with a meal, so we decided to go. It was the most organized/formal evening service I've seen. The dress was less formal, and they held it at their campground (a church with their own campground!) a few minutes from the city. They did a few contemporary songs (guitar accompaniment) before the service actually started, and then had singing from the old Trinity hymnal with piano during. There was a full sermon and many other typical worship elements. When done, the meal was great - they had the best cheese grits I think I've ever had. And, a couple came and chatted with us (also had 2 kids plus one on the way) and were very hospitable. What a great way to have an evening service!
One of the more interesting events from that day was to talk to another lady as we were finishing dinner. Her son was in college in Atlanta and had been looking for a good PCA church. However, he was disappointed to find they all had very contemporary style music. He was so used to and fed by the more traditional hymns and psalms at IPC that he couldn't worship in those, and so found a church further out from the city. I usually hear things the other way around, in that students find contemporary worship extraordinary and the traditional way boring. It may be anecdotal, but at least this case shows IPC has some extraordinary worship.
Finally, we saw a banner on Christ Church (on the walk back from IPC in the morning) advertising their Compline service at 9pm. Aside: Christ Church is the "mother church" of Georgia. They're part of the conservative Anglican Church in North America, and had John Wesley and George Whitfield as rectors. Anyway, the service was unusual to this presbyterian. The sanctuary was dark except a few candles at the front. At 9pm sharp the singers marched up to the choir loft (in the back of the balcony) and began. There was someone reading some lines (I presume from their Prayer Book) and the group would sing - mostly scripture and creeds. Around the middle, a gentlemen walked to the front and gave a brief homily. Then, more signing.
The singers/choir (not sure what they prefer) was very, very skilled. It was a pleasant, scripture filled set of music. They were all in Gregorian chant style (according to the advertisement) and it is a beautiful style. However, it was odd - I wasn't sure if it was a performance or a worship service. The audience/worshippers didn't do anything but listen the whole time. The reader would say something that I thought I was supposed to respond to, but the choir/singers only responded. I wonder if this was close to what a medieval peasant experienced in worship - though perhaps understaning even less if the service were in Latin.
All in all, an interesting day of worship.