The young woman in the video was excited. She was leading a quick tour of the church building that a very active and mission minded young congregation will be moving into soon. The younger church is swapping space with an older congregation that no longer fits. A kind of hand-me-up deal.
When she got to the worship space itself, she called the front part of the church, the focal point for all the seats, "the stage". Not the altar platform but the stage. In the full-page newspaper spread for a nearby megachurch, I notice that the focal point of worship looks more like the set or stage for American Idol than the focal point of the floorplan for a Romanesque, Gothic or even a modern church built in the 20th century.
There is no altar. There is no cross. There are video screens, lights and big speakers. There's a clear plexiglass enclosure for the drummer so that he can pound away vigorously without overpowering. What may have in the past functioned as a screen for the actual "sanctuary", the holy of holies in an Orthodox church, the place where the elements of Holy Communion were consecrated in sacred reverence, now functions as a sound deflector. It's transparent so we can see that drummer working his set. We expect to see that, don't we?
One could wonder, what god is being worshiped here--if this is about God at all? Is it the god of culture, the god of performance? The god of entertainment? The god of cool light shows and videos? Is what happens here about worship as the activity and participation of the people (the true definition of liturgy), or performance where one can either sing along and emote or just watch and be entertained by it all?
There are so many things that seem to be happening right: discipleship groups, not just outreach to but actual involvement by new ethnic and language groups.
And yet, I wonder. The only symbol in the entire full page ad, other than the logo of the church itself, is for Seattle's Best Coffee. Not the cross of Christ. What is being said between the lines? Has the cross become such a ubiquitous piece of costume jewelry that churches have had to distance themselves from it in order to not be understood? Or not be misunderstood?
Is it Seattle's Best Coffee that "does church" here? Is that what "doing church different" means? Jesus asked us to follow him. Is that different from doing church? How?
How much of what we think worship is about speaks to our culture? How much speaks to Christ? Does the term "corporate worship" mean something very different from what it did even 20 years ago? Do we understand that difference? And where do we go from here?
Is all the world a stage now? Has the church become one, too?
I hope that when we're not doing church we're still being church. With or without the coffee.
My hero, Joseph Sittler, wasn't much for the coffee. But when he'd lead worship, he'd go buy a bottle of good wine, very good wine, to go along with very good bread. He was insistent that like creation itself, holy communion was not an insipid thing to be dutifully trudged through but a marvelous giift to be enjoyed. So the wine and the bread should actually taste like something. Something good. Something very good.
For that, worship really needs an altar, not a stage.