When we physically participate in something, we are more likely to remember that moment or lesson. More senses are engaged and so more of the action is embodied and stored away for later. This is one reason why many suggest that it is better to take notes by hand rather than on a computer (clearly, those researchers never sat through on Old Testament lecture the week before an exam!).
“Research” also says that Presbyterians are “The Frozen Chosen.”
We have all seen it, and likely participate in it from time to time, if not every Sunday morning…the polite and calm worship service during which each person stands at the right moment to sing a hymn and sits at the right moment to pray. The communion tray is passed just so and each person nods just right in appreciation for the sweet and melodic anthem. The wiggle-filled child is quickly calmed down by the parent who glances sideways in hopes that no one was bothered by that dropped toy, and the older gentleman is gently nudged in the side by his wife at the slightest sound of a snore.
When I was younger, it seemed that my sisters, my father, and I had a goal to break every rule of “The Frozen Chosen.” We giggled with excitement when we saw a multi-language hymn in the bulletin and belted out the second language with great joy when the time came. We followed our father’s lead as he literally stood AS he began to sing, slowly and deliberately, instead of a few seconds before like everyone else. It was almost as if Sunday morning worship wasn’t complete without that glare from our Mom and that single finger held up, indicating that if we (the collective four) didn’t get it together, there would be a price to pay at home.
Now, maybe we did take it a bit far at times but I wonder if we were on the right track? We drew pictures of the scripture and made jokes about the sermon. We read every last word in the hymn in hopes of finding something to point out and laugh about. We focused on the prayers, even if sometimes that was just to find the right moment to make our sister laugh. We participated. We worshipped.
A few weeks ago, I worshiped with Northminster Presbyterian in Hickory, NC where one of our current students from the Charlotte campus, Jackie Putnam, is serving as Director of Christian Education alongside Charlotte alum, Rev. Merri Alexander (M. Div. 2013)- and what a joyful and participatory service it was!
Congos accompanied the opening hymn and brought a liveliness that was welcome the morning after Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina. It took a great deal of control not to stand up and dance with the music! The call to worship was joy-filled and the passing of the peace was love-filled. I have always enjoyed those moments of moving around to embrace one another and share God’s peace.
Finally, the time came for the children’s sermon… my personal favorite part. Jackie asked that all children come to the front, and told them she was going to share a story with them but needed help. One by one, she asked ten individuals to come out of the congregation and help her. As they came forward, each was bandaged and given the role of one of the ten lepers from the Gospel reading for the day. One by one, each person helped to enact this story and bring new life, and new laughter to something many of us had only read up to this point.
The congregation laughed, the children bounced on their knees and clapped with excitement. The choir director, also known for the day as the Samaritan leper, demonstrated a praise for Christ like no other. The story was embodied. Each person learned something new about that story in those moments, my sermon changed slightly in response, and those children will not likely forget the day that Nathan threw himself at Jackie’s feet because he was the leper that was healed.
There is something to be said about sitting and listening, ensuring that every part of the service flows just right. It is helpful for those who like order and it is easy to know what to expect if you are a visitor. However there is also something powerful about a bit of laughter and truly embodying the scripture and inviting others to do the same in this Holy time and space.
Every person learns differently. When we open worship to every learning style…physical, mental, emotional, visual…every person not only feels welcome and comfortable, they are also able to walk away with a new and beautiful understanding of who God is.
How do you help your congregation worship with their whole body?
What would you try in worship if you knew that you wouldn’t fail?
Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer