Our church took the above picture a few Sundays back for the church's web site. You can spot me, standing a little higher than most, behind the sign. Some of our pastors are kneeling on the grass in the foreground. Not very slick, and it's just as well. We're many things at Memorial, but slick is not one of them. If we ever decide to go the grinding self-promotion route, we're going to have to farm that out to a professional, because it's just not our way.
That's not to say, though, that we don't try to promote ourselves. We do, especially around high holy days, as most churches do...which brings me, on a Sunday morning, to the point of this post: the high holy day of Easter has now come and gone, and I'm glad, and for two reasons.
First is that, as a church musician, there's a lot of extra work leading up to high holy days. It's expected that there will be a bigger production because of the day's importance in the liturgical calendar, and we are often reminded that these are opportunities to put the church's 'best foot forward' in terms of wooing potential new congregants, who are more likely to go to church on such days. In other words, Hatfield, make sure the music's good, we want to hook them if we can!
I don't worry my head too much about the last bit. It's manifestly a case of a human institution thinking in a self-serving way about how to not only perpetuate itself, but how to increase its' market share. I would love for my church to experience growth and be more effective at ministering to a greater number of people, and I hope that this will happen. But my primary interest in going to church is not to count the great cloud of witnesses, but to experience grace. Which, frankly, this sinner needs.
Which brings me to my second reason for being glad that Holy Week has run its' course. Over the last two Sundays (Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday) we've combined our two services into one, partly for logistical reasons, and partly to make sure that visitors to our church got to see every 'toe' of our 'best foot forward.' So it was on Easter that our opening processional was a kind of 'mashup' of a sequence intoned a capella, a choral introit, a processional hymn and a few minutes of progressive rock. I was proud of what we did, from the gentrifying traditional choir to the amateur musicians that I patiently rehearsed playing a groove in 5/4 to accompany 'Christ the Lord is Risen Today.' It was big, it was dramatic, it was different.
But it also departed from the experience that's been nurturing me: the 'contemporary worship service' at 9:30 that is my main charge is louder at times, yes, but it is by design more deliberately contemplative. In particular, the middle portion of the service really focuses more heavily on prayer and meditation and departs rather significantly from the 'happy-clappy' triumphalism of the megachurches I've experienced. I've been shocked to realize just how much this flavor of worship ministers to me personally, and this is precisely the thing that was lost when we had joint services. The nod to different styles of music, different approaches to liturgy, these made the transition...but what really made the service distinctive did not. And, while it was just two weeks, I really missed it and I'm glad to be getting back to my regular worship diet. I wonder what that says about me?