Sunday, June 03, 2007

Worship in Summer

Last night, we began our new Saturday evening worship service at 5:30 PM. The service is held - weather permitting - in our outdoor chapel, surrounded by the lush, green beauty of God's creation.

The service itself is very casual, somewhat spontaneous, and a little less "churchy" than our Sunday morning practice. Acoustic guitar accompaniment (my first public venture of that type in well over a decade) led in a mix of songs from different genres, adding up to a pretty "folk music" sound. In the weeks to come, I hope to have my daughter Kate adding her fiddle to the mix, and I may play the harmonica now and then. A teen percussionist in our church will be joining us soon as well (once he's back from vacation). I preached in my typical, conversational, "folksy" style, which really matched the worship environment. Attendance was good but could get better.

All in all, a nice first service. We will hold these services throughout the summer. Our hope is to draw folks who don't normally "do" Sunday morning; there is no other Saturday service in the Pleasant Hills/Jefferson Hills area, other than one Roman Catholic mass (in which, as per official Roman doctrine, non-Roman Catholics are not permitted to participate). If the new service doesn't really work out, then we don't need to do it next summer; while I have high hopes, I don't want to commit the congregation to something that "doesn't work", and worship services can get entrenched fairly quickly.

Today, we also went to our summer Sunday schedule, with only one service at 9:30 AM. JUMC folks are big on traveling and vacations, and we tend to have a lot of folks "on the road" in the summer, which is great; one service suits our needs well during the hot months, at least for now (it was pretty full today, actually, so we'll have to see how things progress). This also means that, amazingly, I'm done by 10:30 or 11 AM, and free to be with Robyn and the kids. Good stuff.

We have a wonderful, growing church...last week we took in 5 new members and have 4 more "on deck". We live in a vital, vibrant growing area that is close enough to enjoy all the amenities of city life while still remaining a distinct suburban community, not too far from the beauty of the country. I have a knockout for a wife who exudes the grace of God, and four unbelievably loud but otherwise healthy children. I am blessed!


Eric Park said...

It all sounds great, my friend.

Thank you for your the leadership and vision that you are providing so faithfully.

I'd be there on Saturday night...if I didn't work weekends!

Keep us in the loop on how things go with the new service.

Anonymous said...

What lovely pictures!
Whoever took those must have some mad skills!


Anyhow, nice idea about the outdoor chapel!

Luv ya!

Timothy said...

Greetings! Saw your post in Google Blogsearch...

>"Catholic mass (in which, as per official Roman doctrine, non-Roman Catholics are not permitted to participate)."

Someone may have misinterpreted Catholic doctrine as Catholic worship is open for any and all persons. There are restrictions on the reception of the Eucharist for non-Catholics, but all persons may enter and worship their Creator.

During Mass services at our local public university, we often have a Methodist minister who joins us for the service and luncheon. He does not partake of the Eucharist.

>"I have a passion to see the Church faithful in its calling to be the unified disciple-making Body of Christ."

Have you considered a concrete step in that direction by rejoining the Catholic Church, from whence the Methodist faith split off, and bringing your flock with you? Several non-Catholic pastors have done just that. I am most familiar with the few Anglican and Pentacostal pastors who have done that.

Unification is not going to come by creating additional church services outside the main body of the church.

God bless...

- Timothy

Keith H. McIlwain said...

Hi, Timothy.

We obviously disagree as to what comprises "the main body" of the Church. As a United Methodist, I don't believe any one sect or denomination, whether Roman Catholic or United Methodist, comprises the One Church...we are part of it, but not ALL of it.

The truth is that I AM Catholic, very much so, but am not ROMAN Catholic, for a variety of reasons...primarily because God has called me to be a part of The United Methodist Church.

I have attended Roman Catholic services and do a lot of ecumenical work with your denomination. But, I remain convinced that the exclusivity of the Eucharistic celebration by Roman Catholics is improper, Biblically and theologically.

Perhaps someday, the UMC will rejoin the Church of England, which will then rejoin Rome, which will then rejoin the Eastern Orthodox Church. I will rejoice with you on that day! Until then, I must remain where God has called me...The United Methodist Church.

Randy Roda said...

Keith...does this mean I have to preach Saturday night too? If so, the price will go up...Just kidding. By the way the comment from the RC guy gave me the creeps!

Keith H. McIlwain said...

I'm sure he means well.

Anonymous said...

The RC guy was right on one thing, to be sure. When you said...

"Catholic mass (in which, as per official Roman doctrine, non-Roman Catholics are not permitted to participate)."

...your comment was not accurate. All are welcome to participate in Mass. All Catholics, non-Catholic christians, and non-christians. All are welcome. Only Roman Catholics can take the eucharist (and, in some cases, members of the Orthodox churches), but all are welcome to join in and participate in the Mass itself.

Keith H. McIlwain said...

I would say that the Eucharist is part of full participation, as the high point of the worship service/Mass; many Christians aren't permitted full participation. Without that, essentially, we are permitted to observe only. That, as I've said, is a Biblical and theological problem that I pray the RCC deals with at some point...and what a great day that will be for the Church.

Anonymous said...

Just keep in mind that in the RC view, the ritual of Mass is more than just the eucharist. Granted, the eucharist is the keystone of the Mass. But there is much more to a Mass than just that one aspect. Even Catholics are not supposed to take the eucharist without first taking the Sacrament of Reconciliation, atleast once a year during Lent. So many, many Catholics participate in Mass without taking the eucharist. It does not negate their participation in, or obligation to, the Mass itself.

Keith H. McIlwain said...

We may be in disagreement over what constitutes "participation". In my view, full participation involves being permitted access to every part of the service. Definitionally, non-RCs (and, as you rightly point out, even non-properly prepared RCs) aren't permitted full participation. For me, that's equivalent to "look, but don't touch".

Barb said...

Help me understand why Methodists are not permitted to take communion in the Catholic Church? In the Methodist Church, all who are hungry can come to the Lord's table and be fed. I thought?! That division makes me sad, and makes me shake my head in confusion. Someone please tell me~~

Keith H. McIlwain said...

I share your pain there. Roman Catholicism believes that only properly ordained bishops and priests may officiate at the Eucharistic table and may only use officially approved liturgy. When others celebrate, it is a nice meal, but not necessarily sacramental.

Obviously, they believe their own priesthood to be proper authorities. They also recognize the ordained authority of most Eastern Orthodox communions. They do not recognize the ordination or authority of Protestant groups, such as the UMC, Presbys, etc. They practice what is known as a "closed table", which is an exclusive practice in which only properly prepared Roman Catholics may participate.

Conversely, UMs practice an inclusive "open table", in which every person is invited. There's a good new book about it that I really enjoyed.

At JUMC, we have lots of Roman Catholics who worship with us and receive the sacrament, though, according to RC teaching, they shouldn't do that. In my opinion, the UMC has it right in this area.

I long for the day when we can all commune together at one big open table, as Jesus intended.

Eric Park said...

As saddened as I am by the lack of a common Eucharistic table, I often find myself defending Roman Catholic sacramentology in the presence of smug protestants--a smugness of which I am often guilty myself.

Compassionately understood, the Roman Catholic understanding of Eucharist is driven, not primarily by a desire to belittle other traditions, but by a desire to preserve the mysticism of the Roman Catholic eucharistic doctrine.

Based upon my experience, a substantial number (perhaps even the majority) of United Methodists believe (erroneously, I think) that the Lord's Supper is nothing more than an act of symbolism, a memorial meal designed to call our attention to ancient events. This, I would argue, represents a sacramental distortion of what John Wesley believed and taught. Nevertheless, it is the sacramental theology with which many United Methodists and other protestants operate.

A faithful Roman Catholic, however, cringes whenever the language of symbolism is utilized in any eucharistic conversation. For faithful Roman Catholics, Eucharist is significantly more than symbolism. It is a communal partaking of the living presence of Jesus Christ, mysteriously present in the Host. Understanding this basic point does not require a detailed exploration of the nuances of the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

Personally, I find it easier to appreciate the Roman Catholic position on the sacrament when I remember that it is not simply a matter of Roman Catholics being sacramentally inhospitable. It is more a matter of Roman Catholics wanting to preserve a communal reverence for what has been handed down as a mystical celebration.

If we are to grow toward sacramental unity in the contemporary church, Roman Catholics are not the only portion of the church that will have to change its view. Baptists, Presbyterians, non-denominational folks, and United Methodists will also have to broaden their sacramental understanding. More specifically, protestants will have to acknowledge the possibility that, when we call upon the Holy Spirit to fall upon the bread and cup, something is going on that is far more mystical than symbolism.

Keith H. McIlwain said...


I could not agree more with your take on appropriate Eucharistic theology. I am a "high Church" UM, and believe that the sacrament is far more than symbolic (though it is that, too).

I don't believe, however, that Roman Eucharistic theology is driven by a desire to protect the Eucharist from "low Church" interpretations, but rather by the particular Roman view of apostolic succession and the inappropriateness of Protestantism in general.

In other words, I think it has more to do with their theology of ordination and (for lack of a better term) sacerdotalism than with a desire to protect the sacrament from misunderstanding.

But I could be wrong!

Anonymous said...

See, Keith, what a little aside comment can stir up.

I just wanted to comment to say your outdoor chapel looks cool.

My daughter looks forward to a summer camp every year because they worship in in a makeshift chapel at the foot of a giant oak tree.

Worshipping God in the midst of his creation can be a powerful experience.

Eric Park said...

I would imagine that whether the driving force is protective or sacerdotal would depend largely upon the perspective of the priest or layperson offering the explanation.

I do not mean to minimize the urgency of apostolic succession in Roman Catholic thought. When Vatican II spoke of the ecumenical relationship, for example, it was quick to highlight that the ecumenical relationship was hampered "especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Orders."

However, in the Vatican II documentation, these words are offered immediately before the statement on Orders: "The ecclesial Communities which are separated from us lack the fullness of unity with us...[because] we believe they have not retained the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness."

At least in the Roman Catholic official documentation, then, a desire to protect and preserve the "eucharistic mystery in its fullness" cannot be far from the center of the reasoning behind the closed table.

Eric Park said...

By the way...speaking of the ecumenical relationship...

Will you be incorporating incense in the outdoor service?!

The closest we get to incense at Central Highlands is the perfume of the person sitting in front of you!

Randy Roda said...

Boy...are you guys smart! I was Roman Catholic for 20 years and I didn't know any of this stuff.

Barb said...

We have a "fragrance free zone" at CUMC< I wonder if that would mean no incense in or around those two rows??!!
I actually like to sit near an overly fragrant women or man during a worship service, so when I am bored, I can play "guess the perfume"-- a game I have come to love over the years. I will teach it to anyone if they ask!

BruceA said...

I think the outdoor worship is a great idea. I wish I could find a church that offered that type of worship service.

Unknown said...

Keith,, I love the outdoor chapel! For a minute I thought it was at camp Jumonville.

Hey, you wrote, "The service itself is very casual, somewhat spontaneous, and a little less "churchy" than our Sunday morning practice." How long have you been at your church and you are still only practicing on Sunday??? LOL :-)

The above is just a little humor (probably very little) and no United Methodists were harmed in the writing of this comment. :-)