Sunday, August 19, 2018

in one accord

My blogger pal Al alerted me that this morning's church service would be a bit different.

He was correct.

When I come to the Mexican highlands, I attend services at The Community Church of San Miguel. The church is similar to mine in Villa Obregon (Costalegre Community Church) in that both minister to the multi-denominational protestant English-speaking population in their respective communities. The biggest difference is the church in San Miguel is far more liturgical -- representing its initial Anglican and Presbyterian roots. What I call the United Kingdom of God.

Several years ago, a portion of the group initiated a lay-led service that was less liturgical and more personal in size. I usually attend that service when I am here.

And I did so this morning.

Al had told me the service might seem a little odd. The liturgy would be based on the Taizé Community. Like most Christians, I have heard of the community, but I knew very little about it.

Al's email caused me to do a bit of research. The community believes in the ecumenical power of Christianity. The group emphasizes basic Christian virtues -- kindness, simplicity, reconciliation.

The worship service includes music from around the world -- sung as chants. Eastern Orthodox iconography is common. The music is almost always based on lines of scripture -- often from the Psalms. Having grown out of the horrors of the Second World War, the community's goal is to rely on Christian tenets to reconcile humanity with one another and with God.

I am glad Al asked me to do some research because it gave me focus for the service.

The service began with a traditional instrumental hymn. One I did not immediately recognize because the electronic keyboard arrangement sounded a bit like something you would hear at a cocktail party. Soft, jazzy. I kept wondering where the waiiter had gone.

Music has a wondrous way in altering our minds and spirits. As the pianist played, I let go of my focus on myself, and placed it on God. That was the reason we were.

The "we" was a small group. A dozen of us. And that was an auspicious number. It was as if The Twelve had gathered together in the early church.

For those of you who have pulled "New Age" out of your grab bag of labels, you would be wrong. The first word out of the reader's mouth was "Jesus." The name would repeatedly appear in the service -- a truly Christian service.

After that prayer, we sang a two-like song "Come and Fill Our Hearts." We sang it through numerous times. Each time the words seemed to hold more meaning as we chanted them.

I have attended several churches over the years where popular choruses are sung repeatedly. A somewhat-cynical music director told me he called them "7-11 songs," Eleven words sung seven times. But even those choruses can work for their own purpose.

We sang three more ("In the Lord I'll Be Ever Thankful,"  "Live in Charity," "Jesus, Remember Me"). Most from the Psalms. All of them in the same chant form.

A prayer, a responsive reading from Psalm 104, a 10 minute silent meditation, and a prayer of intercession rounded out the service. In its basic elements, it was not much different from any other church service.

With one big exception. I have always enjoyed praying with this group. The small size gives it the intimacy and honest decency of an AA meeting. One of Philip Yancey's best essays compares the bare openness of AA meetings with the spirit of the early church. It is a compelling argument. And it is that spirit that I so enjoy experiencing when I worship with this small congregation.

I would like to say that it was the Taizé liturgy that made the difference. But it wasn't. Even though it was refreshing to hear a prayer offered with a broken heart that God would give us the strength to "share your abundance with all,"  "turn us towards the tasks of restoration of pure air and soil and water," and "help us to make room for our companions on this blue ball spinning through space." After all, it was Jesus who taught us we were to have the hearts of servants.

What made the difference was this group of believers who are willing to be open and honest with one another while seeking God's help to be better Christians. Christians who are humble enough to realize they are sinners just like those to whom they bring the gospel.

The hymn that opened the service was "His Eye is on the Sparrow." It had never been one of my favorites until I heard Anne Lamott read her essay "Knocking on Heaven's Door" on This American Life.

That essay deals with the power of music to re-enforce how we live our faith. The service this morning enforced my faith life. I hope Anne's essay does the same for you.

Have a blessed Sunday.

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