At AbbeyChurch, we often underline that folks should come as they are.
We encourage children (and adults) to be seen and heard, to wander and to be themselves. We welcome messy lament, anger, doubt, grief, and many different intergenerational sounds – be that screaming in discontent or joy!
At the same time, we draw from what I’d call the ‘liturgical’ traditions of our faith; traditions which emphasize the sacred in the moments of worship (especially at times like communion) – which includes a call to reverence, to silence, to contemplation.
In the Anglican tradition they speak of ‘decency and order’ – and though no one will ever accuse us of going overboard on that, there is something in it that is a part of us.
As Meagan began to introduce in our first reflection, this contrast between casual and reverent is sometimes a tough path to walk all at once.
When it works well, it’s a beautiful way of being; a deeply inclusive, hospitable and sometimes chaotic bringing together of diverse folks… alongside something ancient, lofty, transcendent, enchanted and awe-inducing that brings us into an awareness of something beyond ourselves.
Some weeks, I am well aware that there is a tension between the casual, come as you are-ness that we strive to embody – alongside the call to ‘take off your shoes’ and recognize this time and space as particularly holy ground.
So, as we gather – there may be kids running a little too quickly around the altar/table, perhaps spilling over some holy water or knocking over an icon (fellow parents, please hear me: It really is OK!).
At the same time, there are some among us who, in that same space, engage very ancient, seemingly-pious traditions. Some of us will cross ourselves, or bow, or kneel at various times in worship to physically remind ourselves of that sacredness ‘beyond the veil’ (and among and around us); some will raise their hands in prayerful surrender as they sing a song of praise.
These are embodied reflections of God-things happening among us and around us – beyond time and space.
As you enter AbbeyChurch, the space may seem edgy or fun; there might be ecstatic black gospel music or a Leonard Cohen song playing over the speakers - and kids running about. Or the space might emanate stillness – perhaps there is ancient monastic chant happening - and candles and the light dancing in just that perfect way.
Or maybe it’s a bit of both of those vibes.
And we’re ok with that.
When we get past our individual preferences of how things ‘should’ be (I'm reminded that worship is not, primarily, about my comfort level!), we recognize that, really, all of our time together is ‘sacramental’ – the songs, the readings, the proclamation, the prayers - and, of course, communion (eucharist)…
And, yes, even the chaos – when a kid detunes the guitar, when the technology awkwardly fails, or a child pulls on the clergy’s shirt while eucharist is happening - or (heaven forbid!) drops the consecrated wine on the carpet...
Yes, it takes a bit of letting go, but we see all of this - perhaps even the messiest parts - as essential to what God is doing among us.
At the end of the day, I think we might be somewhat unique in that we don’t see these elements of how we gather as conflicting – but as interwoven ways which embody our call to radical hospitality and inclusivity alongside our desire to draw on ancient, holy wells of living water – all of which come together to reveal the sacred meeting the regular in some mysterious ways.
Yes, we see all of this God’s real presence among us.
I have a whole other reflection on both communion/eucharist and the vestments (robes/clothing) that we are currently wrestling with. Though I won't get too deeply into it here, the tensions we feel in this sacred meal - and how we approach it, speak deeply to this casual/reverent tension that we hold as a community - and I'm excited to share more about that in the weeks to come. In that reflection, I'll also speak of the 'sins' of the church around colonalism - and how this complicates and problematizes the reverencing traditions we sometimes invoke.
For now, however, I'm reminded that when AbbeyChurch began, we started in a storefront theatre, surrounded by community art and graffiti and were a ragamuffin group... At that time, when we donned these strange medieval liturgical garments, and chanted the eucharist - these were a contrast the beautiful edgy art around us – and we invited that contrast.
Now that we’re in a new space; a building which is the fruits (both good and bad) of Christendom, the contrast is less stark.
So, we are on a journey… Discerning. Dreaming. Deconstructing and reconstructing…
When it comes to both the reverent and the casual, I ask the community: What is it that is essential and helpful – and what can be left aside?
I humble admit – I don’t know.
And sometimes, I and we often play it by ear – sometimes erring in a way that doesn’t help.
And as we enter this new space (which I’m loving!) - even our ways of doing eucharist must continue to be challenged. I think we need to increastingly do communion around kitchen tables (their origin!), at oceansides and in forests in our Wild Church ways of being or with our new neighbours…
The Methodist roots of the United Church might help us here. Wesley and the Methodists were shunned by establishment Anglicans for doing worship outside of ‘consecrated’ spaces and with the 'wrong' kind of people (thankfully, Anglicans have shifted a bit on this since)!
With that on my heart, I love that Catherine Pate, on our Vision Team, reminded us of being a pilgrim people – and this space might just be the latest stop – and Lord know what the next one is – maybe it’s back into a storfront, or a park...
How is it that we are called to de-centre our buildings and they symbols they hold – even as we honour the stored faithfulness and beauty within them in? And our symbols, more broadly?
And so, with all of this swirling about in my mind, and in our community, I’d suggest that we’re trying to find a balance, to hold ‘sacred contrasts’ (not unlike the chaos and order!).
And, in that, we want to be challenged.
We want to be able to invoke some of the liberating and beautiful elements of those symbols and spaces and traditions, while being aware that people encounter them in different ways.
So lets talk what you experience.
What is essential and what is not?
How can the contrast be balanced and adjusted toward love, justice, truth & beauty.
So, yes, you will still see us ‘bling out’ our vestments (those 'robes' and various accoutrements) for high feasts or certain liturgical seasons. I, for one, believe that these may still have a potential to invoke a sense of wonder and connection with the world of Spirit that draws us into transcendence, enchantment and calls us ‘beyond the veil’ - or at least to reveal how thin it really is.
You may also find us wearing a t-shirt at a kitchen table blessing bread and wine and consuming it in a circle with olives and cheese and bread (as did the early Church) and eating it with a 6-year old crawling under the table and dropping crumbs everywhere.
For some, there will be times when we seem to be too casual (did that kid just knock over the chalice?).
For others, far too reverent (dang, that feels churchy!).
And, again, we’re ok to live in that tension.
Something to offend – and hopefully, some things that resonate – with just about everyone.
We live in this holy tension of casual and reverent as we seek to live sacramentally with each other.
And, at the end of the day, we seek to embody the powerful contrast of a radical welcome alongside that sense of holy wonder rooted in the Triune God.
Come as you are. Experience the holy.
For us, it’s all sacrament.