I think it only appropriate to outline what the plan is over this next academic year. In short, I will be visiting parishes of different denominations each Sunday morning. For the first semester (September-December), I will visit parishes of mainstream, Protestant denominations (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist). For the second semester (February-May) I will visit parishes which would label themselves as independent or non-denominational churches.
The Motive: to observe and to understand what people label as “church,” through attention, reflection and evaluation.
- Attention – basically, this entails attending services. I believe that the God who created all things has given us license for the various ways we might worship him. Although I am aware of what is inappropriate in worship, I enter parishes determined to worship God in the way the given congregation (and denomination, I will assume) is accustomed to. In other words, I’m not going to walk in and merely observe – I’m going to participate in corporate worship.
- Reflection – this is what my blog posts will be about. I will describe my encounter at the parishes I visit. I will, as objectively as possible, outline the service, the message of the sermon or testimonies, the prayers, the tools, the trajectory…anything that comes to mind, and most especially those things which stand out. I don’t want the posts to go on forever, so I will summarize as best I can. I will offer my opinions, but only in order to invite conversation.
- Evaluation – This is where I’d like your help. No man is an island, as I (and John Donne) have mentioned before. Evaluate is the word I use, but I do not use it to mean “bash,” “barade,” “diminish,” or “argue.” I am aware that some parishes may say or do things which I disagree with. I will not hide or neglect those things, but neither will I use them to write off an entire denomination. I want to know what people label as “church,” and, if possible, why they do so. I would like it if you who read would feel comfortable to share your comments and thoughts with me and others through this blog.
I cannot enter a worship service blindly, however. I’ll do some light research on the parishes I will visit, which basically means I’ll visit their websites. If by chance or providence I know someone at a parish, I’ll ask him or her about the parish. If possible, I want to go on a “normal” Sunday – not a parish annual meeting Sunday, or a stewardship Sunday – if information like that is available on a website, I’ll be sure to take note.
I also do not want to be blinded by my own biases, and so for the next few weeks, before school starts, I’ll be working through my own understanding of what “church” is. Having been raised in one tradition, I have certain expectations of what I will see and do on a Sunday morning. But I do not think that what I do on a Sunday morning is the only thing to do on a Sunday morning. At times, going to parishes of different denominations does feel like going to a restaurant and only getting the appetizer. At times, going to Episcopal or Anglican parishes feels like going to a restaurant where my meat was seriously undercooked.
All that said, I will spend the month of August outlining my understanding of “church,” and why I am perfectly comfortable calling what I do on Sunday mornings “church.” From now on, I’ll probably stop putting “church” in quotations. At some point there will be a tab above the header that says “Glossary,” where terms I use such as “church” and “parish,” or “Episcopal” and “Anglican,” will be defined as I am using them (this is a place, I hope, that you will assist and help me to clarify we’re talking about).
So for now, thank you for reading my introduction(s). If you’re following, or just reading, and you know of someone who would appreciate this project or could contribute in any way, I invite you to invite him or her (or them!) to the conversation.