by Betty Lynn Schwab
Whether we preside within a ‘fixed,’ ‘ordered liberty,’ or ‘free’ liturgical context, we share some interesting realities, here, in our western setting. As the Minister for Worship, Music and Spirituality in The United Church of Canada, I was privileged to discover a wonderful shift taking place among our worship leaders.
A significantly increasing number of our ordained clergy have also become fully trained and practicing spiritual directors. Their training takes place in Roman Catholic institutions for the most part yet they are even more deeply committed to their Protestant faith than before their training.
Parallel to this shift, there is a noted international growth in the numbers of monastic oblates, particularly of those oblates who are rooted in a wide spectrum of Protestant denominations. Most of these oblates are, likewise, ordained people who are also worship leaders. They are asking similar questions to the worship leaders who are also spiritual directors.
A group from both streams gathered to meet one another and to share about the connections between their spiritual training and their worship leadership. All of them hunger for worship with a lot less words and with spiritual practices intentionally integrated throughout.
There is a third stream flowing in our times – the growing prominence of and comfort with the concept of ‘spirituality. ’ Across Christian denominations, spirituality is no longer only ‘what Catholics do.’ The word is now part of many Protestants’ faith language and of congregational programs. This comfort level is buttressed by the enormous growth of spirituality resources in ‘secular’ bookstores. And on our campuses, ‘INRIS’ is a common acronym for “I’m not religious; I’m spiritual.” With all our theological, pastoral and liturgical training, you and I may dismiss this last development in various ways both positive and negative. However, among the INRIS are many of the young and mature adults whom congregations long to see in their church.
A New York Times article “Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?” (Ross Douthat, July 14, 2012) concludes that mainline denominations need to be ‘doing’ something ‘religious’ if they are to survive. Again, with all our seminary training, you and I can rationalize that comment. However, important questions echo quietly within such a statement. So often in worship, God is thought about and talked about, and sung about and to and prayed to. Yet do the worshiper experience God’s Presence?
- How much wonder and awe does anyone experience in our services?
- Beyond the institutional requirements, does my personal presiding manner move worshipers into the sheer Mystery of God?
- How emotionally stirring is my absolution?
- During each service, do I model the spiritual depth that lies within the words of the service, a depth modeled by how I speak the words week by week?
One ordained clergy writes, “we deepen our worship when we…invite people…out of their in-control, evaluating, thinking, selves, …and they encounter their true selves – and God.” It “happens when we get out of our heads, when we move beyond words and concepts and thinking. It happens when we go beyond talking…when we make friends with stillness…when we let go.” Such “deep worship can happen in any church, whatever its worship tradition…in a Catholic Mass and in Quaker silence, in a small rural congregation and in a massive French cathedral.” [J. J. Springer, Nurturing Spiritual Depth in Christian Worship, Resource Publications, 2009, pages 132, 3, xi.]
Much is at stake in how worship leaders respond to the opportunities and challenges of spiritually hungry people today. But, they are attracted to something organic, not institutional. Their hunger is not an idea but an inborn instinct that safeguards life. Hunger is powerful. It drives people to know what they need and to search for that until they find it. Hunger drives people even to leaving their ‘homeland.’ Such hunger is a sacred gift for the whole church. Do we risk ignoring the triplets – worship, spirituality, liturgy – that long to be re-united?
The Rev. Dr. Betty Lynn Schwab M.Div. PhD, is a member of The United Church of Canada. After 26 years of parish ministry, she became the national Co-ordonator for Worship, Music and Spirituality.