Little Gretchen in her Sunday best. Circa 1979.
There, I said it. I unashamedly call myself a Christian, an adherent to the Christian religion. I love the word religion. It ties me to something a faith, a tradition, a person, Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. And I love religious things – dressing up, wearing a cross necklace or charm that shows my faith, hymns, prayer, churches, stained glass, creeds, liturgy.
Growing up, church was a sacred event. It was a time to wear your Sunday best, sit quietly, and have a reverent attitude. We attended a mainline Protestant denomination church until I was in eighth grade. Typically my family attended with my grandparents at their small white church that looked like a postcard. My other grandparents belonged to a different church in the same denomination, and I sometimes went to church and Sunday school with them. Usually when Dad had to work on a Sunday. We sang hymns from the late 1960s red hymnal and occasionally pulled out the older black hymnal. Each service had order. There was “Gloria Patri”, responsive reading, silent prayer, a pastoral prayer, recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, “The Doxology”, scripture reading, and a sermon. For some, that would have been stifling. But for me it was beautiful. I was somewhere holy.
Since then, I’ve attended several evangelical churches over the years and various moves. All of them similar. Singing. Prayer. Sermon. While I still dress up, sing, pray, and enjoy the sermon, it’s harder for me to truly worship. Something is missing. It’s the formality. Singing hymns all the way through. Reciting creeds or scripture. Saying The Lord’s Prayer. “Gloria Patri” and “The Doxology”. I know there are a lot of people who don’t get much out of responsive reading. But I do. It’s how I worship. Like saying the Pledge of Allegiance demonstrates my patriotism, saying The Apostle’s Creed affirms my faith.
There have been several articles about Millennials in the church spanning the spectrum of faith. One article on one end mentioned Millennials were drawn to the beautiful old churches, liturgy, and reverent hymns. At the other end, an article spoke about how Millennials aren’t drawn in by “hip” rock-and-roll churches. These are my interpretation, but I think I captured the intent. Maybe peppy praise choruses and full bands aren’t always what young people want. Some may want to step somewhere separate from everyday.
In an effort not to place emphasis on repeating words that may be taken as a “sounding gong” or considering religious jewelry and ornate stained glass as idols, the modern evangelical church has swung the pendulum to its opposite arc. We now have loud music, Starbucks, and blue jeans in church. I’m not saying this is wrong, but there’s a place for hymns, Lifesavers, and dresses. Recite the Apostle’s creed or Nicene creed and set the keyboard to “organ” and sing all four verses of a beloved hymn. As for pantyhose they can remain a relic of the twentieth century. And when there’s 6 inches of snow on the ground, I’m wearing pants and knee-high boots.
My favorite part of worship is responsive reading. What is yours?