Various Baptist bloggers have been expressing our thoughts on this year's Assembly and leaving comments on each other's posts (I have been as guilty as any). Some of this has left me wondering about (a) our priorities and (b) how much we think about what we're doing anyway.
- We heard about migrant workers being exploited in this country and bonded workers overseas
- We were challenged to think about issues such as sex trafficking
- We learned about Street Pastors in our cities and towns
- and so on and so on, so why worry about why one person expresses a preference for quiet over cheering?
What are we doing anyway?
- What are we doing when we receive minsters who've finished their probationary period?
- Do we understand the liturgical/symbolic aspects?
- Do we even care? Or are our likes the be all and end all?
So, this is my take on what I think happened for me last Sunday, liturgically, spiritually or whateverly.
We were led, in a long line, into the room where PRISM was taking place. As our arrival was announced the congregation/audience began to clap, cheer and whoop, something that continued unabated until we were all in and the doors closed. There was a real sense of welcome and embrace as the folk were, basically, either side and around us. Words of commission were said to us, we were sung to and then people came a little closer as they prayed - corporately - for us. Having been blessed, we were released to go "to the other place."
It was good to go to PRISM, because it is part of Assembly. This was very much a corporate act of welcome and blessing which somehow prepared me for what was ahead, by making me smile and my heart sing.
Walking onto the stage to the strains of 'These are the days of Elijah' was interesting - it probably qualifies as one of my least favourite songs of all time (I think it's theological drivel; there's controversial for you) but it was truly inspiring to see all the people in the auditorium and I felt really uplifted by the experience.
The liturgy that was used felt very meaningful and touched the places it needed to touch. Not that I can remember it now, but at the time it was great. The affirmation of so many people praying for us was a very special moment.
I actually happen to like the change in the last couple of years whereby when names are read out ministers leave the stage and go out among the people - to me this symbolises exactly what we are doing. We are not a gathered elite, rather we are commissioned disciples.
There are as many views (plus 1) as Baptists on whether or not cheering is good at this point. I have mixed feelings (I so like the fence and have specially designed underwear so I don't get splinters!). For those who have no one there, it can be a painful reminder of lack of support to hear other people being cheered. On the other hand, knowing the struggles that many of my friends and colleagues face, that moment of support was equally special. As the first person to be cheered, I guess in some way I bear some of the responsiblity for the controversy it has managed to evoke in blogland!
The Central and EMBA ministers all stood up when we were to be prayed for among the people and were hastily sat down again! For me, this bit was less 'real' than the liturgy when we were on the stage, but it was stillgood to know I was being prayed for by friends and strangers alike.
There was for me a truly solemn sense to what was done when we are affirmed and there was also a sense of celebration. I don't envy the people who create the liturgies (actions and words) as they try to get the balance right. I suspect God is not overly fussed whether we cheer, whoop or stand in sober silence, so long as we are doing it for good reasons.
Maybe we ought to stop giving each other metaphorical earache over our preferences over style, accepting that difference and diversity are good, Baptist things and start putting our energies into the gospel.
Just a footnote... since I got back I and my church have had a rough week, the few moments on Sunday, solemn and celebratory have strengthened me to face what life/God/whoever has thrown at me. I don't expect perfection in our liturgies, nor doI expect tolike everything, I don't think the others who comment do either; what matters is that it enables us in some small way to glimpse God - for me, Sunday did that.