“. . . it’s a group of people making a piece of art together.”
Teaching Joshua 2:15-16b
Not So Churchy’s services occur once a month, so before the service, we set up the worship space, often trying a different configuration of the chairs and tables. Congregants enter a space both familiar and new to them, a reminder that though we have some idea of what awaits us in the liturgy, much of it is unknown, even to the leaders. The Eucharistic prayer, for instance, is always improvised. Not even the musicians know what they will play until the moment arrives and the spirit leads them. The musicians, celebrant, song leader and congregation create it together, and this is very much how we do church. As Hannah likes to say, “We tabernacle!”
Since undertaking the work of creating scripture presentations, the congregation’s capacities as artistic collaborators and improvisers have grown rapidly.
- The presentations draw us into songs, movement, and speech that we’ve never performed together and thereby push us to discover our abilities as artistic collaborators and improvisers.
- Creating scripture presentations has pushed each of us to discover our innate capacities as improvisers, because most of the presentations emerge out of improvised melody, movement, and speech.
- As we’ve taken turns leading others through our presentation, we’ve each come to appreciate the vital role played by the congregation around us. As one member noted, “the congregation is an amazingly responsive instrument that does everything one asks and sometimes more.” After taking our turns as presenters, each of us has gained a heightened appreciation for the collaborative capacity of the congregation. We receive the next person’s offering with greater willingness to enter into the work, to support and collaborate with whomever is leading us.
- Some of the presentations are created by way of collaborations between multiple congregants. For instance, a congregant who has a disability that prevents her from being able to initiate melody on her own wanted her piece to include singing. So she invited others to gather with her and try musical ideas. As her collaborators improvised melodic possibilities, she steered them toward what she heard working well, and her presentation took shape accordingly: she read the text between melodic refrains, which were led by one of her collaborators.
- The songs are led without paper, and this has pushed the congregation to pay greater attention to the leader’s gestures, eye contact, and spoken directions. This in turn gives the leader greater freedom to ask the singers to repeat one section or move on to something new. The congregation responds instantly. (Here we are especially indebted to the work of Music That Makes Community, an organization whose ideas and leaders have been a great source of inspiration.)
All of this has deepened our trust for each other and our appreciation for what such trust makes possible. By sharing in the work of creating the liturgy, we’ve discovered a more powerful sense of who we are as a community. And as Hannah has shown, that stronger sense of community has given each of us a platform to discover and celebrate our individual gifts
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