(worship led by alternative worship community: ‘Grace’, Greenbelt 2011)
The biggest challenge facing the curator of worship in a transitional context is surely managing the difuse psycho-spiritual states of the congregation as they arrive at the top of an hour with varied and hidden expectations. Grace is a well-known alternative worship community so I was expecting something ‘different’ but arrived with my head in another place not at all ready to engage in the theme of global poverty, prayer or worship. Characteristicly, ‘alternative worship’ is a total sensory experience and entering the darkened venue with distinctive sights, sounds an
d smells tried its hardest to transport me from the everyday outside to a moment of engagement.
The first half hour we are invited to wander around at our own pace and engage with 4 different stations. There was no prescribed progression and indeed I wandered around more than once like a travelling wilbury. It was easy for me as an educated worshipper to equate the stations with an element from the traditional liturgy – confession; intercession; bible reading; and response (living life as praise). Three of the four stations involved reading and writing and it would have been difficult to engage without those skills, though you could work together with a friend. For the bible reading were we invited to read two contrasting passages on poverty, laid out on the floor at either end of a strip of paper. Our response was invited through writing a few words on a post-it-note and placing it somewhere on the spectrum between the two passages to indicate our own reading of them.
The other station was an interactive game with an upbeat ‘game show host’ who invited 4 players at a time to use themselves as markers on a giant board laid out on the floor. Players moved forwards and back in response to questions about their lifestyle’s impact on global poverty (eg. 3 spaces forward if you buy fair trade; 2 spaces back if you owned more than one car).
Without any noticable instructions or direction, other than the wrapping up of a final ‘game of life,’ people started gathering in the central open space and taking a seat on the floor. Soon someone made their way to the central microphone and introduced himself as a corporatations social responsibility consultant. He speaks briefly about our everday choices that affect others and introduces a simple graph of cost and impact before inviting us to place ourselves on a floor grid with a decision about a new choice we could make to positively impact global poverty. Many people participate, many remain on the edges and watch and listen.
To close, two members of the community lead us in responsive prayer for the world and there are words for us to read projected on the screen behind them.
The creativity in this service was always purposeful and the congregation were reverent throughout. The extended verbal interactions worked to make the engagement with God very practical and ‘life oriented’. However, I wonder whether a prior experience of God is critical to the success as it was much more a reflection on my life than the life of God or Jesus. As alternative worship tries to reduce the distinction between religious and not, committed christian and not, this may have been intentional and certainly has its place in drawing some people in to an experience of the divine, or drawing different people in different ways.
On the other hand, I was struck again by the importance of finding a way to bring a sharp focus on God if worship in a transitional place is to have really engaging power. Preoccupied with my own thoughts upon entry, I was not inspired to give them up for the sake of taking up a different set of thoughts about myself and my life, though undoubtedly a worthy exercise. I felt guilty for not being committed enough to the global poor to leave my own selfish concerns behind. However, God – by definition- is beyond me. And that which is beyond has the power to bring new movement.