Background: For several years, and especially in the few years since I retired, Bill and I have talked about our frustration with most conventional worship services. We find the traditional language depicts a God in whom we cannot believe, and we find the whole enterprise of worship to carry too much emphasis on propitiation, guilt, and a sort of abject deferral to some being to whom we are supposed to owe praise and subservience. We have attended services in other traditions, read widely about variant understandings and experiences of God, but we’ve found little out there in books or practice that looks at worship in radically new ways.
We are searching for a way to practice something we might call worship that is genuine to our own experience and intuition as well as our thinking about God. We are interested in finding others who share these concerns and who might want to explore new ways of being together in worship. We are not wanting to entice people away from their current religious affiliations (if any), and we do not want to limit our exploration to the Christian tradition. But there may be a kind of home gathering on a regular basis for a fairly small group that could experiment with worship and develop some forms of language, music and ritual that would be meaningful to the group and perhaps to other worship communities.
Where to Begin: In terms of process, we had thought to invite a list of some 20 folks we thought might be interested to commit to a series of meetings to explore some very basic questions for this whole project. Ideally, about twelve of us would comprise the group. We would hope for an intimacy and candor in these encounters that would help us define us project more clearly and give us a good indication of who might want to be part of any ongoing community.
We are actually beginning to meet with such a group on February 18, and will meet monthly through June. We are calling it a Progressive Christianity Forum. Only after these preliminary meetings will we assess whether this group would want to continue on a regular basis in the fall. Another possible title for such a gathering is “Addressing God – An Exploratory Workshop”. This would be more suitable if the group included non-Christians of either no other affiliation or from another tradition. We’re avoiding calling it worship at this point, and addressing is a non-religious word. It also carries a possible double meaning. It can mean to speak to, but it also can mean to face or to embrace, as an issue. It seems very apt for what we’re up to in terms of figuring out what worship is all about.
Our first session will focus on how we, as Progressive Christians think about, experience, and believe in (or not) God. The following questions will structure our conversation:
1. What do we think about God? How do we define, imagine God?
2. Talk about how you might experience or have experienced the God you’ve talked about.
3. Given what we’ve said, how do you address this God? Do you call it prayer?
The remaining four session will focus on Jesus, Holy Spirit, worship and next steps for the group. We are hoping that some new practices that feel like worship will emerge organically from these sessions.
The exploration which begins tonight is a long hoped for attempt to search for new forms of worship to express progressive theology. I see such a project as something that could flourish alongside someone’s existing church affiliation or take its place, with costs and promises either way. I’m hoping it will plant seeds that may thrive in the rich earth of our combined discontent with traditional church and longing for authentic relationship with God. I’m hoping this forum take its place among many other such initiatives and will offer hope and sustenance in a time of enormous ferment in the church as we have known it.
The Rev. Susan Mann Flanders