|Dad in Northside Chapel soon after it was built|
Tonight I'm heading into Boston for one of my favorite services of the year... The Tenebrae service at Old South Church. I've always had a thing for candle light but when you put that together with the incredible jazz musicians, classical sacred music in the choir and the old stone arches and columns that look ever so like an old courtyard, you have a winner in my book.
In the Tenebrae service as each step of the holy week is recounted they extinguish candles until you are sitting in the dark with one, lone candle for light. A hush comes over the room as the bells strike. The light and it's bearer quietly lead the community out the large wooden doors into the streets of Boston.
I really appreciate creativity in worship services that address all the senses. A great service should include the appropriate atmosphere to set the mood. This includes lighting, music, scents and art. When we engage all our senses, we can more easily assimilate what we are learning.
Nestled in my memory are my happy days of worshipping at Madison Square CRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan. One service in particular stood out as the best that I had ever encountered.
It was Good Friday. We were led into our new sanctuary. A huge, rough cross had been constructed earlier that week for this very occasion. The stage was assembled in the center of the room with lights on the rugged cross and a crown of thorns dangling precariously at the head.
We all sat at the foot of the cross in a circle. Lights were dimmed, music deep and meaningful. Dancers twirled their way around the cross to the music. Scripture was read dramatically, communion served, lights were extinguished and we left in silence.
20 years later, I'm still thinking about that service...
On Resurrection Day the atmosphere was completely different. Brightly colored flags, dancers, gospel choir, lilies and triumphant music created a party that was not quickly forgotten!
One more example from my past. I used to go to monasteries or abbeys when I wanted a little retreat. I liked them because of the atmosphere. In a particular monastery in Three Rivers, Michigan I found a very special treasure. There was a grand wooden chapel fashioned with wood, floor to ceiling nestled in a very natural environment. The monks were clothed in hooded robes and made regular prayer rounds through the chapel swinging the incense and bowing at different stations.
Early one morning when I was there with a group of young adults, including a fresh ex-boyfriend, I was awakened by a bad dream. It was actually a very telling dream but right now that's irrelevant to my story. The point is that at 4 AM, I got out of bed, dressed and found my way to the chapel, hymnal and Bible in hand (praise songs seemed a bit wrong for the environment). I was all alone in the chapel for a good part of the time except for the occasional monk doing rounds. The room was dark with just the glow of candles and dim lights. My voice echoed through the building as I sang and prayed. I encountered God in a very special way that morning and I dare say, the atmosphere had a lot to do with my ability to receive. The architect who fashioned that room did it to lead the worshipper into a higher state of contemplation and reception.
In our small little inner city church in Paterson, New Jersey, my father could be as creative as he wanted to be. He was always open to trying new things and invited people to share their gifts and participate. I was most eager to facilitate this process. He never stifled his creative daughter but encouraged those artistic worship gifts to bloom.
One day I was in the mood to make a banner. I decorated the church on occasion with my felt wonders. Banners were big back in the 70's and early 80's and I designed a really cool one with the text "By His Wounds, We are Healed". On a large block of purple fabric, I fashioned a stain-glassed window effect of thorns, outlining the shape of three crosses, with one front and center. It was beautiful and I was very proud of my 20 year old self. I wouldn't be surprised if it still hangs there during Lent, but I don't know for sure...
I'd like to see more art and creativity in churches. Services have become so cerebral. Stimulating the intellect is fine but spiritual matters are really nurtured in our right brains, the creative centers. Our souls are touched through emotion and beauty. When we get in touch with our own creativity, we are more in touch with the great creator and that after all is why we go to church in the first place right? It's about communing with God and his people.
If you are creative, consider sharing your gifts to make a difference in your church and community. We should be pulling out all the stops, don't you think?
Do you have stories of really cool services you've been to? Leave them down in the comments below or on my FB page. I'd love to hear about them.