The four case studies in this book are well worth studying. Like all congregation-specific stories, they reveal struggle and triumph, challenge and joy, setbacks and revelations, moments of transcending grace, and moments of anxiety. From the case studies of congregations, we are reminded that there is no easy fix, no simple recipe where applying heat to specific, measured ingredients will result with some certainty in a pleasing outcome. For people interested in worship renewal within what are known as the mainline Protestant denominations, perhaps the case studies are notable because each one of the four of the congregations in the case studies reported in their demographic overviews that over 50% of their worshippers fall into the “elusive” age 20-54 cohort.
In reading these case studies, small ideas, intentional planning, prayer, hard work, and practical talk over work tables in the church kitchen point the way to how these congregations became and are becoming intentionally more culturally conscious.
For us, the book raised our level of understanding about the concept and practice of Hospitality.
Although it seems obvious to say it now, it felt like new learning to come to the understanding that Being Inclusive must always have at its heart Hospitality. But Hospitality, that cheerful extended hand of welcome and compassion, can, at its worst, be hostile and exclusive: we can choose to be welcoming only to those who we choose to welcome; we can be indifferent to who is or is not captivated by our ideas of hospitable overtures; we can be deliberately blind to the fact that there are individuals or groups who are not responding to our Hospitality. Indeed, a significant obstacle to
renewing our worship and becoming more inclusive or culturally conscious, may be our own prideful sense that we are already Hospitable, that “we already do that”. If you are reading this, you may have heard the mystified exclamation,“But we’re so friendly!” Perhaps hospitality without conscious sensitivity is like the loveless cacophony referred to in 1 Corinthians.
This book really delivers in the last Part. Each congregation’s worship service has its own “feel” including the nature of the worship space, how the space is adorned and symbols are used, the manner in which the congregation interacts, and the nature of the musical sounds. This section highlights the musical sounds, especially as they unite the written word, the spoken word, and the sung word in congregational musical sound. There is much wisdom in this section about integrating music and worship, especially culturally conscious worship where the church musician is attempting to capture a congregational vision of inclusiveness in sound. There is a lovely discussion of the
concept of “Valence”, Michael Hawn’s own term of how music interacts with other elements in the worship environment to create something larger than the sum of the parts.
The role of a church musician is discussed, in contrast to the role of a worship enlivener. Our interpretation is that a worship enlivener has the privilege of enacting sensitive, intentional hospitality by inviting and encouraging congregational participation and engagement in worship, especially in musical sound and movement. Anyone interested in worship renewal would benefit from a study of the role of the worship enlivener whose tasks are discussed at length in this book.
There is also very interesting material on song structure, music selection, and liturgical movement, all parts of what can contribute to culturally conscious worship.
The book ends, true to all that has gone on before, without any “easy recipes” but with strategies that may be starting points towards culturally conscious worship to include more worldviews at the
Holy table. There are ten practical strategies offered, and each one stands like a navigational beacon, both informed and informing. For example, extensive discussion is offered on worship planning, hospitality, leadership, non-verbal communication and the worship space. An initial worship audit is offered as one of the helpful appendices.
The book opened with the compelling question: Is there room at the table for my neighbour? This book points the way to a resounding, Well yes, of course there is!
So we end our final posting for One Bread, One Body –Exploring Cultural Diversity in Worship by C. Michael Hawn, with the Hope we received from reading this great book, Hope that we’ll all move a little closer together to make room for more at the table!
Until we meet again,
The Book Group from St. Andrew’s United Church, Calgary.