Vulnerable Worship


By J.C. Mitchell

                Growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition we would gather at special times for our Christening, First Communions, and Confirmation Worship Celebrations.  I was intrigued by the inclusion of these rites in the United Methodist Church that enticed me toward the Protestant expression of the church.  The baptisms were quite similar to what I knew, but the whole congregation and visitors were included, and at Confirmation the faith stories where shared with everyone.  Of course communion was always open to be the first on the first Sunday of the Month. 

                Serving a UMC church later, I recall having a child visit the time I was bringing a class to observe and partake in communion.  This child had one parent that was Roman Catholic, so she mentioned afterwards it was her first communion.  The parent that brought her confirmed this, but made it clear it was great how she was included, and there were years of relationship with this church afterwards to confirm this sentiment.  I wanted it to be clear we celebrated what she thought as special, so her first correspondence from the church was a first communion card and a small inexpensive cross..

                All of our worship services can be, and perhaps should be, a celebration of life together, neighbors and strangers..  At Hope Church Boston (now Hope Central Church), this became a common occurrence when many people were getting married, especially when Marriage Equality was achieved first in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There were many couples that had been in committed relationships for years and when they wanted to tie the knot, they decided to do so during the regular worship service.  Mixed among those dressed up were people visiting the first—but not last—time.  What a way to celebrate an important act in the life of not just those two individuals but the whole church!  This is why I believe it became standard practice at that church to ordain those in-care, such as myself, during the regular service.  While similar to a typical service, I was honored not just as the one ordained, but as the church universal celebrating the acceptance of an individual into such service. 

                Now I am serving a congregation that will call you a younger adult if you are 79 or younger. We even sold our building because the reality of the situation and our understanding of the Gospel has made it possible to free up funds for ministries and charities, locally and globally.  They did not stop worshiping together and have found a home in an elementary school’s multi-purpose room, not unlike the cafeteria they worshiped in as younger adults before the building of the complex we sold.  It becomes sacred space conveniently at the sacred time, with good flat access.

                We had a beloved man in this church who was in his mid-nineties who had no children with his wife, who had passed on a few years prior.  When he passed away, there was not a family asking me to find a church to borrow or rent for a memorial service.  I could tell that honoring his life was important for the church family, so I suggested we do a memorial for him during our typical Sunday morning service.  We even sent the invitation to some of his cousins who after the service thanked me greatly, and among those gathered were close friends and even the woman that just starting attending.  It fulfilled our need to memorialize our brother in Christ.

                Now we have done two more like this in the Multi-Purpose room, and others have mentioned how wonderfully apropos it was to incorporate the memorials into our typical services, and that they planned on such services in the future.  Of course, there is certainly some convenience for my congregants where travel is more difficult, and even though the church we borrow is lovely, it is not the space we gather in.  Of course this saves money as well, but I think there is something more to this practice, as Hope Church did with some marriages and most ordinations, including the life of the church within the typical service, which includes death as well.

How does our typical worship reflect the life we know as the church body?  Do we uphold mourning and celebration?  Do we celebrate the diversity of life within the uniqueness of our situations?  Does our typical worship service draw us into deeper vulnerability with not only our known members, but the visitor and even the stranger?