Friday, September 02, 2005

An A to Z of Alternative Worship

An A to Z of alternative worship.

I've been playing with the idea of an A to Z of alternative worship, to help describe what its all about.
I think this one sums it up fairly well.

A = ambience

Ambience is important. Making the worship space warm and welcoming.
Ambient music can be pretty helpful in that task too, as can gentle lighting,
(tealights almost ended up being the T here) and rugs. Which leads me to

B = Beanbags.

Or even sofas. People shouldn’t have to sit on uncomfortable chairs or even more uncomfortable pews.

C = community

Church isn’t about being an island. It is about community, and teamwork. Batting ideas around with other people, praying with them, and crying on each others shoulders when life gets tough.

D = dreaming

Its important to dream crazy dreams about the way things could be. And then work out how to make those dreams possible. Its how we imagine a better world. Or in Christian terms how we “seek the Kingdom”

E = experiential

Worship should be an “experience” . The most wonderful experience ever. Well at least that’s what we’re aiming for.

F = friendly

The worship space needs to be a friendly, safe space. For everyone. Which means being sensitive to the hurting, and not a platform for people’s prejudices. Jesus made a habit of being welcoming to those everyone else wanted to ignore.

G = graceful

There is something wonderful about a worship service which has “flow”. Where
your prayers sprout wings and go somewhere wonderful, in contast to a “strained’ worship service which is desperately trying to be “trendy” in a shallow way and bumps around with no space for prayer. (I’ve done those ones too, but not intentionally!)

H = honest

Honesty in worship is important. Its OK to ask questions. Its OK to bring our doubts, fears, angst and anger to God in prayer.

I = images

A picture speaks a thousand words they say. The Word was made flesh and was visible. Sometimes talking in pictures can be the best thing we can do.

J = junk

There is something amazing about taking bits of junk and turning them into
something beautiful for God.

K = kleptomania

Alternative worship “steals” all the time. Borrowing concepts and ideas, songs and visual ideas from the world outside, but then baptising and subverting those ideas.
Then we can never see them in quite the same way again.

L = labyrinths

The prayer-journey or labyrinth is a very meaningful thing. The idea of pilgrimage, and of time and space spent actvely trying to follow in Christ’s footsteps. Its somethign we have found really helpful.

M = multi-sensory

Good alterntive worship involves all the senses, not just sound, but touch, taste and smell too.

N = nameless

In a way this is linked to community. It is also linked to a concept we talk about but don’t always “Glory to God”. When we plan as a community, and make a joint act of worship, there shouldn’t be one “big-name” that gets the credit, just the Eternal Name.

O = Orthodox

The environment might look different, the music might be more electronic, but
the theology is Orthodox. We believe what Christians throughout the ages have believed. “In One God, Father Son and Spirit.” In everyhtign the ancient creeds said. We pray, we worship we listen to God speaking to us, through the bible, through each other, through the “still small voice” in our hearts.

P = play

Alternative worship tries not to get *too* serious. We follow a man who said “ Unless you become like little children, you’ll never get into the Kingdom of Heaven”. Its Ok to play sometimes!

Q = quality

We aim to try as best as we can to create something of quality, of value. It isn’t always possible to be perfect, but we don’t want to create something slipshod and messy either. (well, not unless we’re working with clay...which is very messy!)

R = ritual

Sometimes the thing that speaks loudest is an action. A prayerful action the most classic of which s lighting a candle, but there are many more.

S = Sacramental

Outward signs of the inward hug that God is giving us, are immensely powerful.
Not just the “official” ones, involving bread and wine, or oil or water. But the unofficial ones too. Such as the sacrament of the smile.

T = technological

We tend to use whatever resources we have to hand to give to God, including technology. Yes, you’ll often find a lot of it in alternative worship, but if that’s all you find then there’s something wrong.

U = under construction

We don’t feel we have all the answers to the perfect worship service. Everything is temporary, is under construction. One day it’l all be perfect but we’ll have to wait for that one.

V = video

St Francis said “preach the gospel at all times” if necessary, use words. Video is one of the ways of not having to use words. If a picture paints a thousand words and there are 25 frames every second then that is 1500,000 words every minute. Powerful stuff!

W = wondering

There should always be space for watching and wondering. What if? How? Why? Who? Its at those times that God speaks to us and inspires us.

X = x ray-ing

Sometimes, as with X rays. Its good to dig beneath the surface. Alternative worship seems pretty good at this. Looking at a well known bible passage and digging beneath it to see things that we had never spotted before. That fringe character there. What was the effect of all this on them? That person there. How did they *really* feel?

Y = yearning

Yearning restlessness will always be there. We have so much, and yet we are still pilgrims. We have not yet made it to the Promised Land. The yearning helps spur us on, further on the road.

Z = zest

That zest for life,that spice, that playfullnes, that fun, is still there, in alternative worship. And over the last ten years, I’ve seen that spice spread to bring a little zest and creativity to more traditional forms of worship too. Long may it last!


At 3:37 am, Blogger Paul Fromont said...

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At 3:37 am, Blogger Paul Fromont said...

Sue. Excellent. Thanks for sharing it. One suggestion, what about "P" articpatory - about involvement and movement; about joining in...? I recall Mark Pierson down here in NZ (when he was @ Cityside) putting a premium on participation of quality. It's stuck with me.PAX.

At 7:15 pm, Blogger mike said...

I noticed you implied that the 'Word' would be 'preached' but it appears not to be stated explicitly. Perhaps "T" should be for teach and since you indicate the use of various forms or methods of teaching (not just speaking) and technology is spread throughout your A-Z, you could modify it? Remember, their is life in the red letters (dc talk's song)

At 5:06 pm, Anonymous Phil G said...

may I borrow this for a workshop I am doing on Alt-worship in October? All credit will go to you of course!!!

Phil G

At 2:23 am, Blogger Pernell said...

Excellent list Sue. I love it.


At 10:03 am, Anonymous andrew jones said...

nice one Sue

k- kleptomanina was an unexpected one - but its true.


At 5:21 pm, Blogger Lutheran Zephyr said...

Bravo. Excellent. Thanks.

At 5:36 pm, Anonymous Ryan Torma said...

Sue, we met in Seattle at COTA in June. I just found your blog thanks to Andrew Jones' blog. Some great thoughts here, thanks. Hope you are well.

Ryan Torma
Spirit Garage, Minneapolis

At 3:38 am, Blogger Anna said...

Hey, I did the list... but I have reservations about "E".

Is experience really the aim of worship? or is the aim of worship to return thanks and praise to our maker and our redeemer? If worship affects us the worshiper, so much the better!

At 4:14 am, Anonymous andy said...

V - Video:
I think this can be a great way to explain ideas, focus on God, etc.

However, MORE video is not always better. I was recently at a worship service where 40 of the 70 minute service was spent watching a screen. Each video on it's own would have served its purpose. Yet all of them (some contridicting points made in the 15 minute sermon) seemed to overwhelm the time and made us feel lost as to the point of any of it.

Use video, please. Please though, don't forget what Q stands for...

At 2:18 am, Blogger mark fletcher said...

This is a lovely piece of work on aspects of creative worship Sue, though perhaps it starts a bit cheesily. A is for Ambience, good. B is for Beanbags... hmmm.
Bible, bravery or brokenness would be my immediate suggestions. I particularly like K is for kleptomania and G is for Graceful.
Church on the Corner...

At 9:55 am, Blogger Tony Myles said...

Well written... nice job and I like your insights on where worship, culture, and God collide with the individual.

At 11:58 am, Blogger said...

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At 11:07 pm, Blogger Brandon said...

Great list, good thoughts. I linked to this list from my blog, is that ok? Just wanted to share the insight! Love your thoughts.

At 1:34 am, Blogger freenanoipod said...

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At 8:53 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 1:54 pm, Blogger Sue said...

Good point there! I can't believe I haven't got a participatory-type thing there. Mind you I like play too!

At 1:55 pm, Blogger Sue said...

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At 2:20 pm, Blogger Sue said...

Sorry I haven't got back to commenting till now. I had some seriously huge-essay deadlines. Anyway I'll do a joint sort of comment back. Hope you don't mind. I think I am wary of using t for teach, although we do teach at Visions but not all alt groups do. Perhaps on the whole they just provide an environment for learning? Phil its probably a bit late but I hope you did use the list at your workshop. Fine by me as long as its credited.
Anna, "enjoying God forever" was mentioned as one of the aims of our entire existence in an old catechism. Isn't that experiencing God? Although there are other elements to worship such as "giving worth" to God but ultimately worship in its broadest sense is about how we live our lives. But this isn't meant to be a definititon of worship full-stop, just a flavour of what is different about alt.worship.

Andy it sounds like the people doing video at the service you were at weren't really integrating it properly. It should always be apt and enhance what is going on, or provide a subtle background for it, rather than "fighting" with it. But there is also an element of personal taste in all these things too. However a good VJ should be able to sense when something subtle, gentle and non-distracting is the order of the day.I view video as being in a similar vein to moving stained-glass really and noone suggests we board up the church windows during the sermon :-)

And so to "Beanbags" - I really am *not* joking about Beanbags! The way a church is organised, particlarly with respect to the comfort and participation of the worshippers is ***vital*** Pews present a particular message about what is expected of worshippers "sit down and behave yourself in rows". And also state something of the power-play at work. "I'm in charge" - you sit there and watch me". Beanbags, cushions or sofas allow a more relaxed posture, allow reorganisation of the space (at a whim even)"i'll just move my bag here" and very very importantly allow a person to get in a posture suitable for meditative prayer, and simply being still to listen to God. We were gutted a few weeks ago when our youth department reclaimed their beanbags. We realised just how important they were to us, so important that if I had to choose between the projectors and the beanbags I might well choose the beanbags. Thankfully we managed to find some cheap replacements for them (phew!). Oh well hope that's covered everything. Thanks for the comments.

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At 9:09 pm, Blogger Clickbank Mall said...

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At 9:47 pm, Blogger Hunt and Fish said...

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At 2:06 am, Anonymous John said...

In true Alt. Worship fashion, I am unapologetically stealing your list for sure!

At 3:00 am, Anonymous kathy glovier said...

i really enjoyed your alphabet for alternative worship. i am part og a group trying to orgainize a service, and we get stuck on some sticky things. is it possible to get a copy of that to share with the team?

At 5:36 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1/12/2008 - Your music is exquisite! "Devotion" is my favorite.


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