"One Bread, One Body - Exploring Cultural Diversity in Worship" by C. Michael Hawn.
Submitted by Lauralyn Chow, St. Andrew's United Church, Calgary
This is a book with three introductions: one foreward, an editor's preface (this book is one in a series called Vital Worship, Healthy Congregations) and an author's preface. We found these three folios to be so thought-provoking, that we thought we’d post some ideas that are directly from the book, and some thoughts that arose from our reading of the book. They are thoughts, or opinions for consideration, and are not posted as unassailable truths.
The uniting notion for these introductions is a theory or hypothesis that worship should be intentionally inclusive of a diversity of cultures, so that the gospel is shared, and so that all listeners and participants may call the gospel and the worship experience their own. The concept of "cultures" is used in a wide sense to capture groups who are distinct by culture, race, ethnicity, language, generation, and so forth.
A gathering of thoughts:
- Worship is always contextual: while the worship of a particular congregation is part of the worship of the entire church catholic and the work of the Spirit in the church, it is also the worship of this particular congregation, at this time in world history, in this particular setting
- So there is this dual context: the work of the Spirit, and, for this book, a focus on the growing multicultural society in which churches find themselves
- ·Looking at the story of Pentecost, we have always known Pentecost to be a miracle of communication. If we go a little deeper, beyond the description that everyone could hear "each in their own tongue", we may begin to understand that the communication was not merely the transfer of ideas from one mind to another, but from the Latin, communicare, to share or make common.
- True communication of the gospel means it is no longer the exclusive property of the original messenger, but is now fully shared with "the other". Sharing means losing control, power, and exclusive ownership.
- Many main-line denominations speak of the need to welcome diverse people and respond to new cultures in our midst, while membership continues to decline and little progress is made in attracting new constituencies
- A church may serve the community and be diverse during the week (offering food, clothing, counsel, and so on), but gathered on a Sunday morning, people from the community may only be welcome if they assimilate into the worship patterns of the existing community. And, there may be inconsistency between the explicit language (“All are welcome”) and the nonverbal signals.
- Does our church community seem more culturally homogeneous on Sunday, when compared to any other day of the week?
- Does our church community seem more culturally homogeneous than the community beyond its doors?
- Is our problem that we want to be welcoming, but only when people are either like us already, or do we explicitly or implicitly only welcome people who are ready to become like us, to adapt to our ways of being the church, our forms of worship (named cultural assimilation in worship in this book)
- Is our problem that we don’t want to share ownership and control over how we worship
- There is delightful foreshadowing that the book will consider solutions to crossing cultural boundaries to make church a welcoming place for all, involving some of the nonverbal elements of worship (music, gesture, sounds, movement, symbols, space)—attending to non-verbal elements of worship may take us beyond more than language barriers.
- At the same time, non-verbal signals have different meanings in different cultures.
- Worship is of course about meaning so language is central, but it also about non-verbal elements
- For the church born at Pentecost, to offer worship that is truly Pentecostal in nature, the church must seek to worship in a way that affirms a multiplicity of cultures
- The book will offer 4 case studies of 4 congregations in the Dallas area, exploring ways to share in worship across boundaries of race, culture and other boundaries
- Which is as simple and as challenging as planning worship that is more fully inclusive of God’s people, a taste of Pentecost, so that the church may be faithful to its nature and calling
- An emphasis that this is not easy work, a journey of pain and possibilities that will challenge people’s comfort zones
- Some comments about factors contributing to “spiritually vital” worship that will thereby strengthen congregational life:
* Worship that integrates with the whole life of the congregation, so that the worship will reflect and shape the life of the church, and the life of the church will reflect and shape the worship
* The congregation and worship leaders share a vision for worship grounded on more than personal aesthetic taste
* Worship as an expression of a congregation’s view of God and an enactment of a congregation’s relationship with God.
- The book is written in three parts: the case studies (Part II) and then the discussion of the non-verbal, with a focus on music and congregational singing (Part III) comprise most of the book. Part I identifies the tools to help determine exactly how a given congregation’s cultural content can be evaluated.
- However, the title of Part I is worth contemplating all on its own: Is There Room for My Neighbour at the Table?
Blessed Advent Everyone!
Book Group from St. Andrew’s United Church, Calgary.