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I have a beautiful wife, an infant son & a schnauzer. viva la tex-mex. Words that describe or excite: Missional, Glocal, Lead, Innovate, Initiate, Create, Risk, Community

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mr. Smith goes to Church

I recently had the opportunity to attend Uptown Fellowship, the contemporary service of Church of the Incarnation in North Dallas. COTI is an Episcopal congregation and the liturgy was something very foreign to this southern fried baptist boy. I have two former Dallas Baptist classmates that are involved there. One in leading worship and the other more recently just began attending. I really enjoyed the worship experience as a whole and thought I would share and reflect here with you.

I did learn that the Sunday after Easter, in liturgical circles, has come to be known as Low Sunday. Becuase it follows immediately on the heels of Easter Sunday which has experienced so much build up through the season of Lent, this Sunday has come to be known as Low Sunday because the Gospel reading and homily always relate to the story of Doubting Thomas. The speaker also joked that it was Low Sunday or 'Cannonball Sunday' because of the drop in attendance compared to Easter Sunday. The joke is because attendance is so sparse you can fire a cannonball into the congregation without fear of hitting anyone.

Here are my observations:
1. Everyone was warm and friendly, I felt welcomed and comfortable. They did nothing to acknowledge guests or visitors, nor did they do anything to identify members. No name tags, no awkward welcome where the guests remain seated and members stand to greet them, or vice versa. While some would think this was a bad move I liked it. The only time I felt out of place or awkward was when I had an internal concern in those "what to do next" situations. Which I will address in the next point. Finally, as far as welcome, greeting, etc, at one point we all turned to those around us greeting each other with "Peace be with you."

2. As the service progressed there were a few times I wished they had at least briefly explained the flow of the liturgy. Of course, then it could be said that would interrupt the flow of the liturgy itself. But my discomfort was most apparent when it came time to participate in communion. From my background I am used to remaining seated as the tray is passed down each aisle. In this more liturgical setting you rise and approach the front single file to receive the sacraments. I was really freaked out when the first group went up on stage around the altar and "had several moves" to perform. I was thinking to myself, I am going to look like an idiot. Well turns out they were the servers/helpers (this was not explained, so I am making an educated guess) because the rest of us did not go up on stage but merely up the aisle to the priest/rector.

3. To me this took away from the experience of what Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper, is all about. I am partly to blame, maybe I just should have relaxed more and not been so worried about "making a mistake" or even "looking dumb." But I think some simple instructions would alleviate this for newcomers and even give those who partake weekly more of a verbal reminder of what HC/LS is really all about. In the Baptist tradition we partake of the LS about once every quarter. This has always seemed too long of an interval but I know I truly look forward to it and when we partake it is the central part of the worship experience that week and usually the entire message and service focus in on the meaning. The meaning seemed lost in the ritual, and to be fair, in my own insecurity about "how to" in this new setting. I was glad that at least from seminary and other experience I knew about the practice of intinction. This is the practice of dipping the consecrated bread into the wine, rather than drinking from the same cup as everyone else (granted the holder wipes the cup each time and others had already drank directly from the cup but it sure made me feel better. I am not much of a germ-a-phobe overall but drinking after others gives me the willies.)

4. The music was contemporary and the dress of everyone present was casual. They used two large flat screens to either side of the platform to display lyrics, prayers, and responsive readings. These seem to be the three main elements that made Uptown Fellowship different, I think they would even say Emerging, than their parent services at Church of the Incarnation. And other than the HC/LS the screens really helped me as a newbie enjoy and follow along as a participant in worship rather than a confused outsider. The music was impressive as well. I didn't know quite what to expect but the songs were recognizable to me by the likes of Crowder, Tomlin, and even Agnus Dei by Michael W. Smith. They were contemporary yet the band was simple, acoustic guitar, a trap set, piano and upright bass. The piano, limited sounds of the smaller trap set, and especially upright bass just really made the music warm and deep as opposed to having just a straight-ahead rock sound.

5. The message was delivered by a women. I will leave the theological debate for other bloggers who seem devoted to those things. I will admit, however, that due to my background I made a conscious effort to listen and focus on the message rather than the medium. The message was on Thomas and his doubt the week after the Resurrection. The message was well delivered, applicable to our daily lives, and held my attention.

Overall, given the chance I would consider visiting again to broaded my experience and perspective. It is always difficult and sometimes unfair or misleading to base everything on one visit. Although the reality is for many others, churched or unchurched, the first impression is the only impression you get to make.

Go to Uptown's Flickr page to see the sets from their series called Theology Live, a very well attended series of theological lectures at local north Dallas pubs.

1 comment:

Kenny C said...

Nice post. If you would have visited next week you would have had a name tag slapped on you. also, on sunday nites the set is acoustic and the priests are dressed down. in the morning the band is "plugged in" and the priests wear a collar.