There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: … a time to plant and a time to uproot… The season of planting is upon us. It’s a season of growth, but in order to get here, last season’s harvest must be uprooted, and the ground must first be tilled up.
The church calendar in many ways does not follow the same rhythms as the rest of the world. Sure, Easter lands conveniently in the spring (the quintessential season of new life), but here in MN we often get frost (or even snow) on Easter, rather than budding trees. Soon enough though, summer rolls in a season of abundant natural life, and we drop down to one service as God’s people prepare for the church’s summer hibernation.
Wait! What? “Hibernation”? I believe that summer is an important time of sabbath for the church. We all need a break. If we keep going around and around, we’d quickly burn out our wonderful Sunday school teachers, confirmation guides, and leaders of all kinds. Even God took a time of rest after creating the universe, so yes, by all means, take this time for some rest and renewal from business and programming, from schedules and preparations, and get outside to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. We seek rest and renewal because even God sought rest and renewal, but we must also remember that the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.
Of equal importance to our rest and renewal is our time in worship and prayer, time intentionally connecting with our God, and so while, yes, many of the church’s programs take a break for the summer, the energy we put into our worship life together will not wane. In fact the summer is a time for us to focus on the most important aspect of our life together as Christians, worship. It’s a time for us renew our perspective on what it means to be followers of Christ. It’s not just about coming to church on Sundays, it’s about living out our faith in our lives the other 6 days and 23 hours of our week!
On Pentecost Sunday we took an informal survey on how people felt about last advent’s 4 week experiment of turning the sanctuary on its side. It wasn’t a vote; it wasn’t a tally; it was a sanity check, a quick pulse check on whether we were right on track or way too far off the path of comfort for God’s people. We were not initially intending to formally publish the feedback (because again, the intent was never about taking a vote), but the feedback we received is just too intriguing not to share. In case you missed worship that Sunday, in reference to the idea of temporarily moving the sanctuary back on its side again for two months during the summer (given that we had worked out the kinks with needing a middle aisle for communion to flow well), I asked people to give us some very simple feedback by writing an “A” on the back of their bulletin if they thought the two month 90 degree shift would be additive to their worship experience, or by writing a “D” if they felt it would be more of a distraction.
By the end of the morning when I sat down at my desk with all that had been collected from the bulletin recycling box, I counted up the feedback, and there were 36 A’s and 36 D’s (and 2 bulletins with neither A nor D, including a message of total indifference). To my complete astonishment, from the random unexpecting sample set of Cross of Hope worship attendees who chose to give feedback that Sunday, it was a perfect 50% split. I would also like to add that there were some fervent A+’s with continued explanation about why it was so strongly supported, and a few Dissertations about the complications and problems with the idea, just to make sure that things stayed balanced. (Here’s another fun fact: the last time we took a full blown multi-question worship survey, the feedback was equally balanced in its spread, even with equally balanced fervent outliers just like this time.)
So what do I take away from all of this? I left my desk with a sense of celebration that such a beautifully balanced, diverse community of people, personalities, and spatial sensibilities gathers as one body of Christ each week. The worship and music table learned that we are in fact on the right track with the idea of thoughtfully changing up our worship environment from time to time, knowing that we should and will continue to return to “home base,” as I phrased it on Pentecost. As was pointed out, the room was surely designed with the notion that the chairs would face the far wall. That said, water was designed to swim in, but that didn’t stop Jesus from walking on it. The disciples were trained to be fishermen (and a tax collector), but that didn’t stop them from becoming students of the Messiah, evangelists, and eventually apostles who fished for people. They followed this Rabbi of theirs all across the countryside, rarely getting the opportunity to rest their heads at home, and so perhaps (from time to time, for the right reasons) it’s even spiritually healthy to leave the safety of home base, the safety of our usual seat in worship, or the safety of our usual orientation.
Please know that just because the feedback was a 50/50 split doesn’t mean that we have any intent of staying off home base for 50% of the time; that’s not how the survey was intended to be used, but it did tell us that for 8 weeks of this summer, it’s worth the effort to show the world that our worship life together at Cross of Hope is not settling down for summer hibernation. It’s doing just the opposite. We’re turning our worship to face the natural world, the beauty of God’s woods and wilderness to remind us that being a Christian isn’t just about sitting in reverence of a beautiful cross for 1 hour a week, it’s about what we do with the other 6 days and 23 hours.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: … a time to plant and a time to uproot. For 8 weeks this summer, it will be a time to uproot, a time to till our habits, stir up the soil of our Sunday mornings, and then it will be be time again to let the roots grow in their familiar “home.”
See you in worship!