This is the first in a series that explains each component of the Sunday worship gatherings of Commoners – the Wesleyan Methodist community that I curate in Hamilton, New Zealand. You can read about some of the thinking behind Commoners here. I decided to write this as our service can seem very simple and quiet, but there is much thinking behind each component (not to mention, much history). By writing this series my aim is to help deepen the engagement of those who participate in our gatherings.
Our Sunday morning public worship gatherings take place in a church hall. St Francis Community Church have kindly made space for us on their premises in their community centre. We are thankful for our relationship with them. They have been a gift to us and we are truly blessed by their hospitality. Our space is simple and humble.
When you first enter you are greeted by one of our banners (I mention the banner because we were careful in creating a visual representation of who we are and what we wish to draw people towards) and a station where, if you choose, you can wash your hands. This symbol can mean many things. In my mind it can connect with the waters of baptism or the various cleansing rituals that exist in many different faiths. It wouldn’t be unfamiliar to those used to engaging with water upon entering something like a Catholic worship space. It’s a way of pausing and connecting with an essential element of life (water) in a very physical way. It’s a moment to mindfully turn ourselves towards receiving whatever the Spirit may have for us in the time that is to follow.
To begin our gathering I explain what is on the screen every Sunday (except the piece of art that is always present as that comes later), which shows what part of the liturgical calendar we are in. We join much of the wider Church in the 3 year liturgical rhythm. This solidifies us within a place in time and connects us to the Church’s historical cycle. In so doing we identify with the Church global and the Church historical, and we take our very small (both insignificant and significant) place here and now.
As individuals called and gathered together in community, we bring who we are to that long story and allow the liturgical year to shape our common identity in the same way that birthdays, shared stories, and yearly traditions shape the identity of a family unit.
Following that introduction, I (or whoever is curating the morning) call us to a moment of pausing in silence to ground ourselves in the present moment and dedicate ourselves to the public worship of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) during our time together. This brief time of silence is central to how we begin.
That silence exists because I know how easy it can be to go through the busyness of the week and Sunday morning with our heads darting all over the place and to then go through Sunday morning as just another activity that needs to be ticked off the list. It’s easy for Sunday morning community worship to just be another busy activity, sometimes adding to our sense of tiredness. That pause in silence is a chance to sense the here and now and truly find ourselves in the moment – to move our attention to conscious worship and recognition of the presence of the Spirit, who is always there.
It doesn’t mean our services and those moments of deliberate silence are absolutely quiet and still. We have the beauty of the sound of our children and all that they bring in our midst as they remain in the gathering with us. Rather, the silence is a dedicated and conscious pause within the sounds of life.
I see this opening moment of silence and the quieter nature of our services as a prophetic response to the cultural push for noise, busyness and constantly being ‘on’.
It’s important to point out that it is not a space to throw away what has been or to pretend like life, with all its ups and downs, hasn’t happened or doesn’t happen – it’s not an escape – rather it’s a moment to begin drenching it all in a recognition of the activity of God in the midst of everything. This silence is prayer.
This moment transitions to the next as I, or whoever is curating, pray aloud to honour the sovereignty of God and vocally dedicate our time together and in common, to conscious worship. I trust that the Spirit breathes through this prayer.
That is how our worship gatherings begin. In my next post in this series, I will walk through the video that usually follows this beginning.