It’s Advent…….a time of preparation and waiting. We are getting ready for the arrival of Jesus and the celebration of God’s redeeming work in the world through Jesus.
Our sanctuary is decorated with blue paraments – cloths that adorn the communion table, pulpit and lectern at the front of the church. The ribbons going on the bell banner each Sunday are blue and I preach in a white robe and blue stole.
When I grew up, none of those things decorated my Disciples sanctuary. The cloth on the communion table was maroon with gold fringe regardless of the season and the preacher was a guy in a suit. People in my congregation in the 50’s and 60’s would have called some of what we do now “fal de ral” and blasted it as being fancy or showing off.
In the beginning of the Disciples movement, there was nothing fancy in worship. The space was plain with the communion table on the same level as the chairs so that the table was open to everyone. The pulpit was on a platform above the communion table to show the importance of God’s Word.
So, when did Disciples start doing things that seem fancy? When did preachers start wearing robes and stoles? When did colors become part of our church seasons?
The beginning of the Disciple movement in the early 1800’s was all about restoration. Our founders felt that denominations were sinful because the church was established to be in unity. Restoration of the oneness of purpose experienced by the earliest Christians was the goal. The Disciples threw off the taint of denominationalism to get back to what they thought was “primitive” religion……religion the way the first disciples practiced it.
Gradually, awareness dawned that we cannot know exactly what the early experience of worship was like nor can we repeat it. Nostalgia, not spirituality, leads people to believe they would be better off if only they could return to the “good old days.”
Scholarship moved toward a realization that it is impossible to recreate the past. God’s church is moving forward and we are called to join with God in God’s ever present, ever changing expressions of mission, witness, and worship for our time and place.
We are growing in awareness that God’s church is multidimensional and amazing in its depth and breadth and kaleidoscope of expressions. No one understanding completely captures the Church. Disciples have their focus but so do other groups. This led to our participation in the ecumenical movement in the 20th century. Ecumenical comes from a Greek word meaning household. The ecumenical movement sought to embrace the whole “household” of God. It concerns all churches and their relationships with each other as well as the relationship of Christianity to other world faiths.
Exposure to the way other churches did things began to influence the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Women clergy realized wearing robes when they preached helped show their authority in a way that was attractive rather than strident. Awakening to the way churches like the Episcopal and Catholic churches incorporated seasonal themes and colors helped us move toward colorful and interesting worship spaces. Paying attention to liturgy – the components of worship whether verbal or nonverbal – allows us to experience worship in ways that acknowledge our bodies and spirits just as preaching engages our minds.
Is our way the only way? Of course not. Can we get too carried away with ritual and decoration? Absolutely. Will we always practice worship in exactly the same way? Not if we want to continue to express a relevant and life-giving worship for the new day in which we find ourselves.
I love being a Disciple of Christ. I treasure the differences among Disciples churches and with other churches. I am excited about trying new things. I believe we all need tradition to keep us grounded. And we need new experiences to keep energy and enthusiasm going.
I hope you experience our worship as an unfolding journey each Sunday as we are called to worship, gather, and then move toward the remembrance of Christ through communion and focus on God’s word through the preaching. If you have questions about why we do what we do, ask! I would love to hear your ideas and share mine.
May our worship reflect our best work together as a congregation that loves God and continues to journey with Jesus not only when we are together at church but in every moment of our lives. When we leave worship, let us be the church in the world wherever we find ourselves.
Blessings on your day and your life.
Rev. Marcia Hagee
She graduated from Duke University and the University of Missouri-Columbia studying Psychology and Religion. She earned her M. Div at Phillips Theological Seminary and was ordained by the Oklahoma Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).