My church is one of the countless number which will be closed for a couple of weeks while everyone tries to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. I’ll be there later this morning, all by myself in the church office. It will be strange. The building is usually full of people, teeming with activity and noise, especially on Sunday mornings.
We are a parish which has joined with congregations from two other denominations to share a building. We also share outreach, some adult formation, and fellowship. In fact, we are on our way to a full partnership in which we retain our unique identity while collaborating in many important endeavors.
This wasn’t how things began. My parish was just going to rent from the larger Lutheran parish for a couple of years while we found a spot on which to build a new church. The Ecumenical Catholic community who had been sharing space with us in our old building came along. What we all discovered was that joining forces with one another gave us new energy and joy. We decided to make our bivouac a permanent home.
The adjustment to a new worship space wasn’t easy. Our old nave was intimate. Rectangular in shape, it featured two rows of thirteen pews bracketing a central aisle. At the front a pulpit loomed on one side and a lectern on the other with an altar rail between. To get to the altar we had to open the rail and take a step up.
Our new space is circular and cavernous. There is no altar rail, and the altar is lower than the pews, which rise above it along a floor with an unsettling slant. Down in the center area with the altar is the baptismal font and a single lectern, which, depending on the preacher, often doubles as a pulpit. You can’t easily kneel, either for prayer or to receive communion. And we have to bring in our stuff — our banner, our books, our chalices and patens — just before worship and take it all out again just after.
Yet our parish is thriving. Something about letting go of our cherished sacred space has made us more available to be the beloved community. We spend less time worrying about bricks and mortar and more on — well, what we will become is not yet known. We love music, and our new church home has a giant pipe organ. We are curious people, appreciating a good experiment. And we have always been welcoming in that way where those we welcome change us.
The Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel story asks Jesus about worship. Where is the right place to do it, she wonders?
He says the time has come when the Father will be “worshiped in spirit and in truth”. God is spirit, he says, so worship from the part of us that is spirit, too. It’s not where you worship, it’s how.
We’re learning that at St. Paul’s. Spirit runs through every encounter. Sometimes it’s awkward, sometimes painful, but it always opens new windows on God.
Today, after unlocking the quiet church office, I’ll be initiating a new, creative way of worship. Our Priest in Charge will be joining me and as many of our congregation as wish to participate in a morning prayer service that relies on no building whatsoever. We’ll meet in a virtual “room”, on Zoom, and we’ll pray and sing together in a format that will challenge us yet again.
That invitation Jesus offers us — to worship God in spirit and truth — maybe we’ll learn even more about it today as we find one another in a realm where sight, touch and smell take a back seat and where there are miles between us. Maybe we’ll follow the Holy Wind into new understandings as we look over the tops of our computer screens and out our windows, realizing that God is present both here where we sit and on screen where we have gathered.
May we worship in spirit and truth — that’s a good prayer for me today. There are bound to be glitches, frustrating issues, maybe even moments of outright despair, as we try out this new form of being together with one another and with God in prayer. May we, with a combination of flexibility, humor, and welcome find our joyful worship space inside.
May you, too, find the Holy Spirit in the world and in your soul. No matter where you are worshiping today, may you stand in that place, right there, to pray, to hear scripture, and to praise God. Amen.
Image: the four pastors of the three congregations of the Tri-church partnership at Trinity in Fort Collins. L to R, Deacon Jane Reina, Mary of Magdala Ecumenical Catholic Community, The Rev. Felicia SmithGraybeal, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Pastor Rick Reiten, Trinity Lutheran Church, Deacon Rosean Amaral, Mary of Magdala Ecumenical Catholic Community