Faith Works 9-3-16
How did you worship this past summer?
Somehow there's always a glorious horizon around when the Hartford Fair is going on.
It probably has something to do with the first full week of August always being when the warm air masses have settled in over Ohio, and the brushing by of cooler air as always happens in the natural course of events gives rise to cumulonimbus thunderheads all around the compass.
Yes, this means you occasionally get one right over the top of you, with lightning and winds and heavy rain, but more often they're going by, at a stately remove, occasionally backlit and underlit by crackles of lightning through the lower purples and the rosy glow of a setting sun radiating off the puffy climbing caps.
Or a rising sun catches the mere hints of cloudy towers to come, a sharper salmon lining the wispy white emanations racing to the east. I enjoyed that display as I headed up the road to lead worship on the first day of the fair, in the friendly confines of the Natural Resources shelter, with a chorus of sheep bleating as background music.
Did we have church that day, in that place? You better believe it.
One of my favorite parts of the summer is how I often get to enjoy the experience of calling on God's presence, and seeking the divine will outside of the usual churchly surroundings. I love our sanctuary, the stained glass windows and the organ and choir (did I mention ours is a fairly traditional worship program?), but I think I appreciate them all the more through getting a sense of what it means to pray an invocation with some extra distractions in the atmosphere, to sing without those mighty chords supporting our music booming out of the chancel, to preach where there's no carpet or often even a sound system.
And to worship among a different group of people, to see what they respond to or how they react at different points along a different order of worship: it gives me a place from which to reflect on my own supposed preferences or expectations in church.
I think back over summers past, and times of worship in a flotilla of canoes around a raft in the middle of a lake; sitting on log benches in a forest where bird song threatened to drown out even hearty hymn singing; a gathering for communion around a tailgate turned down on a dusty pickup truck; a national park amphitheater toward which a very few early rising campers walked, smiling in recognition of a common purpose at complete strangers, gathering as a congregation which would assemble but once then scatter on their way; family devotions in a hotel room; worshiping as visitors in a congregation where we entered unknown and left as friends.
Back at the beginning of the last three months, I hope I encouraged you to consider worship while on vacation. Even (especially?) if you haven't been that into corporate worship recently in your life. There's something about a service chosen on the road, away from the familiar and well-traveled paths of home, that helps us get back to what we're really looking for in a church service, and why we want that discipline in our weekly routines.
What did you do this summer that was new, different, or reaffirmed the familiar for you? Where did you worship, with whom, and in what ways – and how did the experience speak to you about what it means to look for the presence of God in your life, as guardian, guide, and friend?
I look forward to hearing from you, and hope to have your permission to share (within certain limits of privacy, of course!) some of those experiences in a couple of weeks with all the readers here.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's really interested in hearing how you "did church" this summer, especially on vacation or just out and away. Tell him through email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.