Yesterday was Palm Sunday. In my congregation we waved palms, we processed into the sanctuary, we heard the passion story, interspersed with a hymn, and parts for the congregation. I had a short meditation instead of a sermon. It was a dramatic monologue, entitled "Bystander", about a bystander who followed Jesus during his week in Jerusalem.
After the first service, we had an adult study time. The subject of our conversation was worship. What is worship? Is it only what happens in church? Is it an individual activity, or the activity of a community? What does it mean for us? What is meaningful about worship? Why do we worship?
One thing we talked about was our experiences in worship as children as opposed to those we had now, as adults. Someone said that his favorite part of worship as a child was the benediction. Others mentioned that they came with their parents, and were there because it was a family activity. Someone else said they grew up on a farm, and it was an opportunity to go into town and be around other people.
Some people said that, as adults, they appreciated the opportunity to give back: to sing in the choir, or be a part of worship leadership. Another person said worship is okay, but she really likes Sunday School, this time of conversation and reflection. I suspected it was because this is more interactive, people sharing ideas as they look up Bible passages and bounce possible theological ideas off each other.
And then one person said it: "As children, we were bystanders."
I thought it was brilliant.
For the past few months, we have started to lift up the idea of intergenerational worship and faith formation, of cross generational activities. We have done a couple of service and craft projects with all ages together. We would like to do even more. I want everyone to be a participant in the body of Christ, not just a bystander.
The two words people often use to describe worship are that it is either "traditional" or "contemporary." Those are fine words, as far as they go. But they might mean different things to different people. And I can't help noticing that those two words divide people more than they unite. I have also noticed that people might be participants or bystanders no matter which kind of service they go to. I have been a participant in traditional worship, and a bystander in a contemporary worship. It has happened the other way as well.
But what if, instead of traditional and contemporary, we cared more about whether was engaging and participatory? What if the question we were always asking was whether everyone was active. Were there any bystanders today? Or was there a place for everyone: to move, to pray, to sing, to be a part of the story?
I don't want the children, or anyone, for that matter, to be a bystander in worship. I want all of us to know that we are a part of the story, a part of the body, a part of God's mission in the world.