I realize lately it seems like my blog is regularly punctuated by “I went to this concert and it was AWESOME!!!” posts, but you may just have to accept that music is a huge part of my life and I’ve gone to a lot of great concerts lately. Last night we went to St. Thomas’s Anglican Church to hear singer-songwriter Steve Bell, one of my favourite Christian artists.
It was a beautiful concert in a beautiful location, and we sat right at the front so it felt very intimate. As in the clip above, Steve was unaccompanied except by himself on the guitar. He’s a great storyteller as well as a very good guitarist, singer and songwriter, so it was as much a pleasure to hear him talk in between the songs as it was to hear the songs themselves.
As I sat listening I realized that this was the best, most healing worship experience I’d had in a long time. In fact, it occurred to me that this is what I wish worship were always like.
In 47 years of being-aliveness, I’ve rarely ever missed a Sabbath attending church. If you allow a few off a year for illness and the odd one for travelling in a place where I couldn’t easily visit another church, it still adds up to well over 2200 worship services — and that’s not counting Friday night programs, and Sunday services I’ve attended visiting other people’s churches. I’m practically a professional church lady. The vast majority of those 2200 services have been standard Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath morning services, a type of worship which is a direct descendant of the classic Methodist “hymn sandwich” — a solid 30-minutes-plus expository sermon, sandwiched in between a few hymns, prefaced by some opening exercises like offering, prayer, and scripture reading. Sometimes the sermon is longer (rarely shorter); sometimes there are worship choruses instead of hymns (I like both), but the basic pattern hasn’t changed much in 47 years and hasn’t been much different in the many SDA churches I’ve attended across North America nor in the few I’ve attended in other countries.
Out of those 2200+ services, I’ve enjoyed and been moved by many, and been bored, angry or frustrated in many others. The vast majority have just been OK. They’ve left me a little better or at least no worse off.
I’ve visited many other types of Christian services, from flat-out shoutin’ and praisin’ and gettin’ slain in the aisles Pentecostal, to Anglican liturgies as scripted and formal as Greek tragedies, and there have been times when both those styles of worship have fed my soul and given me what I needed. I’ve led countless discussions with youth Sabbath School classes encouraging youth to think about the purpose of worship and how they would design their “ideal” worship service. But I don’t think until last night, despite all this exposure to and thinking about worship services, it’s ever really clicked for me, what kind of worship would ideally bring me closest to God.
I would love it if I could go to church every week and, for an hour, there’d be a guy sitting on a stool with a guitar, singing some good songs and interspersing them with a few funny stories and thought-provoking observations. I’ve gotten more blessings in my life from three-minute songs than I ever have from thirty-minute sermons and I like my spoken-word exhortations short and with a bit of humour. It wouldn’t have to be the same guy every week and he wouldn’t have to be as talented as Steve Bell. He wouldn’t have to be an ordained minister, just someone who could carry a tune and string together a few thoughts. And he wouldn’t have to be a he. It could be a woman or a man.
It would, however, have to be a guitar. Sorry, I’m dogmatic about that.
Well, I realize I’m never going to get to go to Singer-Songwriter-with-a-Guitar Church every week. It doesn’t exist and if it did, it probably wouldn’t please most of the congregation, except me. And I’m OK with that. Worship is not about structuring the perfect individual experience for me to get one-on-one with God. Worship is a corporate experience and a big part of the process of being shaped into community is putting up with worship that blesses other people, even if it doesn’t do much for me.
Still, at this stage in my life it’s nice to recognize what kind of worship actually does speak to me on a spiritual level, so that when I get the chance to experience it, I know not to miss out on it. Last night, I worshipped. Thanks, Steve.