Another spiritual game in town

December 2, 2013

For more commentary on this week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which includes Kim's current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine and blog content. For full-text access to all articles, subscribe to the Century.

I am lucky enough to serve a church, in Chicago, where people are excited about coming to worship. I teach new member classes, in which many people cite worship as the thing that has really drawn them to want to get better connected with the church.

Our church worships according to a very structured, and very traditional, Presbyterian liturgy—we don’t go in for all the modern niceties of one-on-one interaction during the worship hour, or the razzle-dazzle of modern instruments and multimedia presentations. And the music, beautifully and faithfully prepared choral renditions accompanied by a grand organ, is hardly what you would call contemporary (though more recent anthems from American and international communities are regularly included). It’s not just older people who rave about worship, the liturgy, the music, and the intellectual preaching, either. All these things connect with younger people as well.

Still, even as I sit in worship and appreciate all these things, even as I greet the new people who come inquiring about membership, I am aware that there is a whole life outside the church that is going on in Chicago on Sundays. This life is full of amazing and diverse opportunities. It is vibrant, and far from soul-less.

In fact, unlike other clergy-people who are quick to dismiss those who claim to find spirituality outside the church, I’ll readily acknowledge that there are many events outside Sunday worship where people can get the best of spiritual enrichment, expressions of joyfulness, and an awareness of God’s presence through stimulation of the senses or intellect. They can even get a good dose of community and the chance to serve others.

So when the scriptures present a story of Jerusalem’s top religious leaders heading out into the wilderness to question John the Baptist, I see more than just a showdown between competing theological viewpoints. Perhaps the temple leaders recognize that there’s another game in town, and they want to see what they are up against. Maybe they want to see whether there is something to it, something they could learn from.

Maybe that’s what we all should be doing.


Spirituality outside the church

Very interesting article if for no other reason than I have had exactly the same experience regarding Advent hymns versus Christmas carols at some of the UM churches I have served.

But I also want to make one comment on one line in your article.  You, I believe, are referencing Lillian Daniel in your comment about "other clergy-people who are quick to dismiss those who claim to find spirituality outside the church."  If I'm wrong, stop here and accept my apology.  If not, then here is my comment:  I do not know of any clergy person who dismisses those who find spirituality outside the church for God is at work all over creation in any every person's life whether they know it or not.  The issue is, and I have experienced this as well, are those who believe that can find spirituality all on their and of their own definition, that is, to the exclusion and rejection of organized religion as represented  by churches.

Again, thank you for the article and the helpful links.

Print Friendly and PDF

Email this page