Faith Works 6-20-15
And now, a bulletin from the field
Midsummer night, longest day of the year, summer solstice. That's where we're at.
Midway between a more ancient measure of summer as a season, from May 1 to August 1, in today's America June 21st has really never felt like the middle of anything, until very recently.
Now, with school schedules running until Memorial Day and even beyond, and classes starting up again in the middle of August -- unless you have sports or band camps that mean it's more like end of July or the first of August! – June 21 is back to feeling more than a bit like mid-summer indeed.
If you have kids in school, scheduling vacation time is ever trickier. Will snow days eat into June? What is the first thing your child has to be in town for before classes themselves start? So church camps, summer revivals, and family treks to distant relatives are all as under pressure as are resorts and theme parks.
But I still suspect many of us will be taking some time away and out of town this summer. Family visits or vacations mean that church on Sunday (or other days!) may be somewhere else other than at your home place of worship.
Which can, itself, be a source of refreshment and renewal. I'd like to suggest that wherever you're going this summer, you would to plan to attend worship somewhere. Truly, you can come home to your own faith community with a new and different bulletin and two blessings in your pocket: you may find new ideas for how to greet visitors, share worship life, and conduct prayer and praise by seeing how someone & somewhere else does things; you might also realize in ways you'd never considered how your congregation is doing things well! Either are lessons worth learning, and sharing when you get back home (including that bulletin!).
Through the years, some of the most meaningful and memorable worship services I've attended during the summer have taken place in the middle of a lake with a cluster of canoes gathered around a pontoon boat with a preacher and communion table, in the shadow of Southwestern canyon walls in a national park before the sun even cleared the local horizon, or gathered with a congregation in a resort community where the outreach to the world beyond their walls had some interestingly unique challenges. I've been inspired by preaching and spoken prayers offered by people I might never had heard the like of, if it weren't in a vacation context.
And yes, not infrequently when I worship on the road, there are things that are done that make me wince, and realize "that's really better the way we do it." Which isn't about smugness or being resistant to change, but it's about consciousness of parts of our worship pattern we can go years without actually considering.
For some of us, worship on vacation may involve a very large stretch of our spiritual muscles, attending a service of a tradition very different from our own. Again, we may see and hear and experience elements that make us think "we could try that back in Newark," or notice parts of the program which cause us to newly appreciate something we even thought we wanted to change, because we got to see how it worked when someone else did it, and it didn't.
There's a Benedictine monastery my wife and I have visited twice and hope to make a third time to this summer, up the Chama River far off the beaten track in New Mexico, and candidly? There's really almost nothing I could imagine directly borrowing from how the Monastery of Christ in the Desert does their prayer and proceedings that's useable back in Newark at our church.
But the length and format and setting of the sanctuary all combine to allow me to step back from myself and my own tastes and temptations, and see worship in a new light. Jolted out of my usual ruts, the landscape suddenly looks entirely different all around me.
If you get a chance to attend a different service this summer, my prayer is that you take advantage of that opportunity. It may just be going with ol' Aunt Alice to her Wednesday night prayer meeting, or getting in the car with Cousin Zach to visit his sharing group. You may not end up wanting to do that again, but I strongly suspect you'll be glad you tried it once. (The canoe service thing is really cool!)