Monday, September 03, 2007

Some Promised Reflections

When I was out in California for Bear and Kristi's wedding, that Sunday I met up with my parents and sister, who live just north of Sonoma County, at a Covenant church in Santa Rosa. It is a large congregation, though I don't think it is large enough to qualify as a mega-church. However, the church is and has been what is often called a "seeker sensitive" congregation. Basically there were two parts of the service: praise and worship, with a band leading the singing and the Sermon. Some form of prayer marks the transition from the praise portion to the sermon portion. The only scripture read was what was used in the pastors sermon (I use the term loosely). It is a testament to an aspect of the diversity of the Covenant that I and the pastor of this church are from the same denomination.

It was slightly amusing to me to think that just the day before I had presided at a wedding with communion using the Covenant Book of Worship vested in cassock surplice and stole, and that before the wedding I was talking with the father of the bride about the nature of the real presence of Christ in the elements, he joking that since I and the Covenant claim a Lutheran heritage that what was to take place when I blessed the elements was consubstantiation. Somehow, I doubt the members of Redwood Covenant Church would have recognized the wedding as anything related to the Covenant and probably care very little about Lutheran Pietism. I wouldn't be surprised if the pastor cares little about articulating Christ's real presence in bread and wine of the Eucharist (and I am fairly certain he never calls it Eucharist.) It is a little astonishing to me that we are the product of the same spiritual tradition.

Much of this difference is due largely due to a particular approach to the Christian faith that emerged in response to the absence of Baby Boomers in congregations. Seeker sensitive congregations attempt to strip away as much of what are perceived as traditional extraneous elements. that might keep people away from church. The evidence from the age and dress of those present for the service I attended, it was at least successful for this church, though ironically this paired down praise and worship service was mostly attended by gray or graying haired individuals, and some families with children of various ages. Yet, there wasn't a whole lot of spiritual depth to the service, and the "sermon" was mainly a presentation on the congregations 40 Days of Community (the latest thing from Rick Warren, and Saddle Back Community church).

While the service itself evidenced little depth, it was clear that the pastors desire for the church was a deeper spirituality, which he hopes the 40 Days of Community will at least begin to foster in the congregation. (I have my doubts.) Then a very interesting thing occurred at the end of the service. the Pastor announced that the leadership of the church was considering an earlier 8 AM service and he wanted to ask the 9AM attendees if they would attend an earlier service, so he asked a show of hands, and a majority raised his hands. Then he announced that it would involve weekly communion and applause broke out. both responses seemed to shocked the pastor. That desire for weekly communion would indicate to me that even for those who might find these types of services attractive are also seeking something deeper spiritually than this "seeker sensitive service". To the credit of this church and its pastor they all seem to be able to change and to move, if things don't . The irony is this change (they also have had for two years on Saturday evenings a "post-contemporary" worship service, that is candle lit and with weekly communion) is a return to those traditional trappings once deemed unnecessary by the "seeker sensitive" philosophy and theology.

Given the return of things the "Seeker Sensitive" philosophy was willing to toss, and that these services do not actually lead to a deeper spirituality (which the "trappings" tossed were intended to express and lead one into), I can't help but wonder that there must have been a more appropriate response to the Baby Boomers situation. But then It seems to me that American Christianity as often as not believes in change and that change is by definition good, so Redwood Covenant Church and its pastor may not actually find this next bit of change something worthy of this sort of reflection. This to perhaps it is believed consciously or unconsciously will pass. But if that is so I would have a very hard time speaking of Christianity as being anything in particular, and seeing how belief in Jesus Christ would have any content. Christian faith to me has very concrete expressions that emerge out of the life and ministry of Christ and the founding of the Church at Pentecost. Church's like Redwood Covenant Church to me communicate a formless faith disconnected from any sense of continuity of the faith through history. What is slightly disconcerting is that my upbringing in the Covenant in part schooled me in the value of the form of the faith and in seeking continuity and yet their are Covenant Churches and pastors who seem to not value either of those things.