I love, love, love the experience of worshipping in an Episcopal service – the smells, the bells, the vestments, the music, the Book of Common Prayer, the layout of the worship space, the church’s beliefs, the history.
I’m also one of the first to say how easy it is to not be present in worship in a liturgical tradition such as the one I love. But, I always meant “those people”, those people who just recite the words while not living as Jesus would; those people who literally have no idea what words they’re saying while they’re thinking about coffee hour, the ball game, how much they don’t like the priest, the new vestments, the candles; those people who don’t work hourly at their relationship with God.
And I realized I was one of “those people” — Someone who is so hooked on the Episcopal worship experience that any other worship experience makes it difficult to feel like I’d been to church, or worse that I hadn’t even connected with my Father.
I don’t know about you but I am often at odds with God over His timing vs mine
As a woman of immediate fix-it action, the moment I realized this, I wanted to get started on the fix. And thankfully God provided (I don’t know about you but I am often at odds with God over His timing vs mine.) I knew that what I needed was to participate in many more worship experiences than the few I’d been able to thus far (and weddings and funerals don’t count because the focus is on the special ceremony with all its emotions, not on the worshiping and building of a relationship with God.) But how? It’s hard to get away from the responsibilities at our own parish. Being an acolyte and member of the choir were my responsibilities at the time. Our church was soon to be losing its priest to retirement, and we had no idea when we might be able to find the right person for us or even find a relief priest who could celebrate the Eucharist with us from time-to-time. The unknown frequency of the Eucharist meant no choir or need for acolytes. So I jumped right into my journey the Sunday after our priest retired. Did I plan what places of worship I’d go to? Did I set a more specific objective than worship and build a relationship with God no matter where I was? Being the immediate fix-it action me, no!
As I attended places of worship the details of my method and an objective began to evolve. Naturally, people at the places I visit are curious about what I’m doing, and I had to have answers for their questions: are you visiting? Are you looking for a church home? Are you coming back next week? You should sing in our choir, want to come to our spaghetti dinner? Want to be in charge of our youth program? Want to be on our governing body? I’m just kidding about the last two, but I have visited some small communities and I know that “we need more people here” feeling. By week four I had honed my method and objective. For the next year, I will go to a different place of worship within a one-and-a-half hour drive from home each week, so that I can feel and see God no matter where I am.
“Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself”
Having said this, I learned that my journey would keep evolving. In fact “evolving” was a hallmark of this journey for me. Seven months in I went to the Awakening event in Springfield and heard Presiding Bishop Michael Curry tell us that our job was to “Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself” … I realized he was talking about my journey — what can I learn about God, and what can I do to strengthen my relationship with Him? With other people? And with myself?
Picking a weekly Place of Worship
For the first eight months by Friday, it had just occurred to me where I was going. I called to get the times of services and the other things people normally do (education, meal, donations, etc…), any special dress requirements or actions I should be prepared for? And I confirmed the address (I recommend that you don’t trust websites, and plenty of places don’t have websites). In order to get to all the faith traditions I don’t want to miss, I now have a list and choose one each week based on the distance and time of worship. I liked the first method best.
Getting Something Out of Each Experience
- I trust that I’ll get something out of each worship experience.
- I participate fully in whatever that faith tradition does at their worship – sing, pray, Sunday School/education, share a meal, donate money, canned goods, etc…
- I take lots of notes about what I see, what I feel and what I learned.
People ask “which is your favorite place of worship” and I honestly say “I loved them all”
When I read all my notes from the past 10 months here’s where every experience intersected. I’ll call them the Outcomes of My Experiences. But these are not just my experiences, the people at the places I visit each week are also learning; as are people out in the community, as they talk about what I’m doing.
The Outcomes of My Experiences
- experiencing intense faith traditions which makes me think for days — as opposed to hours after my service;
- talking to people because I‘m always the new person — at my service I worship and go off to my next event;
- seeing a different emphasis per congregation and clergy leader — this is the only one on this list that I had expected;
- hearing preaching on the same scripture by different people — this has allowed me to understand some for the first time;
- opening others to my journey equals opening them to their own journey — always a part of God’s purpose for me;
- experiencing different music — my main form of worship has always been music and this has intensified that;
- learn something no matter who is preaching — I used to have a hard time getting used to a new preaching style;
- blessed with a Lent that I’d never have lived without this journey — and I’ve shared my amazing reflections with others;
- clear that I love the Episcopal Church — the ancient way of ordering time around the life of Christ, the Book of Common Prayer, because I’m praying the same thing as Anglicans around the world, and the variety of worship experiences.
Even though I spent the first eight months with no game-plan of where to go, it occurred to me that there were other places of worship I would like to experience and I made a list to be sure I got to them in my one-year timeframe. Here are the ones I didn’t want to miss:
- 7th Day Adventist
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
- Jehovah’s Witness
- Buddhist Temple
- Muslim Mosque
- Jewish Temple
- Reformed Church in America
- Christian Science
- Assembly of God
Places of Worship Attended So Far
|Worship Tradition||Number of visits|
|Disciples of Christ||5 (same church, asked back to sing)|
|Methodist||5 (same church, asked back to sing)|
|My church||6 (asked to acolyte)|
|Other Episcopal churches||8 (all different except 1 twice)|
|Worship CDs in my car||2 (driving long distance all Sunday)|
People ask “which is your favorite place of worship” and I honestly say “I loved them all”. When analyzing how that could be, I saw it clearly in my list of outcomes. I get something from every place I go to, and I think about that place and what I learned there for days afterward. And further, I expect to gain something from every place I go, and so, I love every one of them.
I know I won’t stop at one year, as that’s only two months away, and though I can see a huge change in my ability to feel and see God in whatever faith tradition I’m worshiping in, there are:
- more intensely different faith traditions than mine that I have yet to experience, and …
- I love the benefits of this worship style (see the first six outcomes above).
I’m not sure I’d get them if I went to one church every week and I’m not ready to give them up yet. I’m trying to listen and discern the journey God has for me. I know that some of my “I don’t want to miss” visits will challenge and help me to grow even closer to my objective of feeling and seeing God no matter where I am.
What Happened to Me Can Happen to You
Yes, you can follow my lead and go to a different place of worship each week. If that’s not for you, for whatever reason, you can take a new look at worshiping closer to home. What would happen to your relationship with God, with your neighbor, and with yourself if you tried to attain some of my outcomes each week? You can do it in the comfort of your own church, at your favorite time of day, with the people you know, with the clergy you’re used to listening to, in the comfort of your own pew. Don’t tell me you don’t sit in the same pew every Sunday because I know most of us do!
“God didn’t make us to have small lives”, Erin M Straza says in her new book, Comfort Detox. What would happen if you allowed yourself to experience the fullness of worship that God has planned for you? Not a small life.