Last evening I attended the first of a two-part Convocation on Worship South Church had that was led by Janet Walton, the creative liturgist/theologian/worship planner from Union Theological Seminary. I’d gotten to know Janet a little back in the 70’s and 80’s. I was down at UTS/Columbia doing the first year of my doctorate when Janet was finishing up the last year of hers. Once she finished she began as staff at Union, transforming worship in wondrous ways by adding more creative use of space, more female voices, more interconnection of body and spirit. More recently, she’s invited performance artists, musicians, and visual artists in to bring their unique voices and contributions into worship exploration and dialogue.
Because of this, I was so psyched for last night’s meeting, thinking that Janet would begin to dialogue with us about new ways to imagine the interweaving of worship, justice, art, and everyday life, ways that might engage the 20 and 30 year olds that seem to be to be so absent from our congregation these days. Instead what we got was South Church patting itself on the back for how well it was doing when, at Joe’s invitation (perhaps at Janet's previous suggestion to him?), those attending spent almost all of the hour and 30 minutes we were to be with Janet telling her what they loved about South Church.
We only heard from Janet in the last 6 minutes of the time, giving her just enough time to ask us a few provocative questions. For example, she asked: South Church is well-known for its social justice ministries, one of the reasons Janet said she was willing to come spend time with us. So, we both care about embodied justice and the journey and exploration is everything (as Joe had said earlier in the Session) then why wasn’t she hearing more about how worship reflected upon and prepared people for this kind of work during the week? And if we say (as Joe again said in another comment earlier) that we want to be anti-imperialist, then why was all the worship leadership done by only a few people and always up in the chancel area? They’re both good questions, questions that have bothered me for a long while that I think we’ll have to answer if we’re ever going to make a successful transition to a congregation alive in the 21st century. I walked away from the gathering disappointed that we hadn’t put our time with Janet to better use by diving into such questions and exploring their ramifications for the ways in which we worship. I'm hoping maybe Part 2 in December will be better, since it'd be impossible to use Janet's time with us in a less productive way than we did last night.