Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Life in The Crossing

A single coal does not stay on fire on its own. It needs the warmth and presence of the other coals to keep burning.
~ Jason Long, member of The Crossing community

Before I go to visit any group during this sabbatical, I explore their website. If you go to the website for the Crossing, a worshiping community out of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston, one thing you will find is a rule of life for the community. The above quote is used to introduce the idea.

Now, rules of life for monastic communities are commonplace. Generally speaking, they are written as behaviors for the individuals to follow. But how would you translate that idea to a worshiping community that does not live together and is made up primarily of young adults who are rejecting the old models of church?

At the Crossing, they have recognized that the rule of life is a collective statement for the community first and for individuals second. In fact two weeks after my visit, they will be having a service of commitment for those individuals who choose to make it their own. It is not a membership requirement. Theologically, I believe they have just blown up the Confirmation service and put it back together in a coherent fashion.

(To see what they have come up with, go here:

I joined the folks at The Crossing for Ascension Day services. The Crossing meets on Thursday evenings, in which they transform the sanctuary into alternative worship space. The altar is given their own decorations, the chairs are moved so that everyone can sit in the sanctuary (though other space gets used during the service); if you want, you can sit on the pillows. The service more or less follows the Episcopal Church Rite 3.

Yes, there is a band. But they are sitting down to the side. It’s like someone has figured out that the band is not there to give a performance but to be part of the liturgy. When you walk in, they are playing R&B and jazz riffs. I definitely heard some Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder in there.

If you have been reading these sabbatical postings you know that performance music in worship is becoming more and more an irritant for me. One way I know that they have crossed the line between worship and performance is when people clap after each song. That’s not worshipping God, it’s praising the artists. If you are all one community, you will have time to thank the musicians after the service for making the experience more, well, worshipful. How and where you place the musicians also indicates what importance you give to them; if you put them on a stage above everyone else, you are setting up a concert.
The Crossing also does not use projection screen. Let’s be fair; our worshiping community was about forty people, so printed bulletins could still be used. Projection screens would have detracted from the intimacy of the experience, which, in building that is a cross between gothic and colonial styles (Imagine that combo, if you will), looked much better with candles and softer lighting that screen montages of lyrics, sunsets, and crosses on a distant hill—let’s face it, we’ve all seen the crosses on the hill projections. Aren’t we tired yet of those same old filler screens? But I digress....

Leading worship is divided between several people. One interesting moment was a Spiritual Practice, which was a piece of poetry that we were invited to meditate upon. I like the idea of engaging spiritual practices in the midst of the service. That was a home run!

The reflection was given by the music director, who admittedly has a seminary degree. He played off of piece from Martin Luther: “Pray as though everything depends on God alone. Work as though everything depends on you.” He added one more piece: “Love others as though everything depends on them.” People were invited to respond to the reflection, and then we moved into the space to go deeper, either in mediation (with music) or in decorating a hanging or in further conversation.

The prayers had a chant response, the communion was offered in a circle with instructions for passing the bread and wine. Drop the second cup of grape juice guys. I understand the temptation to accommodate, but since you have to take the time to give instructions on what to do with two cups passing, you could just as easily explain why it is not necessary to receive both kinds to get the full benefit.

I also appreciate that each week, there is some activity after worship, whether it is dinner at a local fajita joint, a social ministry, or a discussion of a book. Fortunately, I was there for the fajitas, which meant we had time to talk with folks about the experience, the value of The Crossing for them, and the challenges they now face. The fact that Stephanie, their priest, is leaving is one. The need to provide a way for folks with children to participate is another; though The Crossing is aimed at young adults, some of them actually do have kids, and Thursday evening is not perhaps the best time for them. But these are the challenges that face growing communities. It will be exciting to see how they respond to them creatively.

I realize that my two favorite worship experiences have been of Episcopal communities, but that just means I can easily filter out the same old crap being done in typical Episcopal Churches and skip going to them. Notice how I have yet to mention a visit to the 9:00am Sunday contemporary service in the parish hall at St. Swithen's. That's because there's nothing new going on there.

All in all, The Crossing hit a home run, I think, if for no other reasons than that I 1) remembered the key point of the sermon two weeks later, and 2) plan to borrow copiously from them in the future. That community rule of life is one we are going to study this fall, I think.

Where is Christ to be found for the people at The Crossing? In the opens arms of acceptance. In the silences. In giving everyone a voice. In giving new energy to the old traditions.

Stephanie, Godspeed in your journeys, wherever they take you! To my priest friends: This would be a great position for someone. Keep your eyes open to see how it shapes up.  And, no, I am not looking to move (Anyone who may have had questions about that, let me be clear!), so the field is wide open.

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