The Sunday Morning Worship Blues Imagine you are a corps officer and a new family is attending Sunday morning worship. You’re glad they are worshipping at your corps, but they always cause a disturbance. The children run wild during the congregational singing. The parents’ cellphones ring constantly during your sermons. Some of the long-time members of the congregation have complained, but the family doesn’t seem to notice or care. Do you stage an intervention with this family or endure the complaints and be grateful that your corps is experiencing growth?
No, don’t intervene. Let’s welcome everyone, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Salvation Army worship has always been a bit chaotic. BY MAJOR KAREN HOEFT I have been invited to comment on a hypothetical situation that I have dubbed “The Sunday Morning Worship Blues.” We have a new family who doesn’t understand the unwritten, unspoken rules that govern the congregation so that everyone can have a pleasant worship experience. These rules seem simple enough: children should not run in the aisles and cellphones should remain off. At least those are the rules we will tell you for now. When you break another one, don’t worry … we’ll let you know. Sunday morning, all across our territory, Christians gather to celebrate the good news of Jesus. We gather as communities of believers with many styles, forms and distinctions. Historically, The Salvation Army’s distinct characteristics were not just our uniforms and brass bands but our ability to “sacralize the secular” (Diane Winston, Red-Hot and Righteous). Much to the dismay of other denominations, the Army was able to provide an atmosphere that was both welcoming and familiar to those who didn’t fit in to more traditional worship services. We took what was common 18 I March 2010 I Salvationist
in the world and used it to promote the gospel message. Usually this came with lots of noise, movement, music and theatrics, both from the leaders and from the congregation. The sounds of Salvation Army worship were a cacophony of music, shouts of joy, dynamic preaching, loud hallelujahs, shocking testimonials, halls filled with laughter and mercy seats lined with weeping sinners. Silence was rarely, if ever, found in a Salvation Army meeting. This was not an accident, but intentional. The mission was to bring the gospel message to the people in a way they could understand it. If they never came in the doors then they might never hear the message and be transformed by it. Early Salvationists believed that it was the gospel message, not the meeting, that would transform people. Has The Salvation Army changed since then? Have we adopted the unwritten rules that we once avoided? Have we scripted the sounds, so that only “acceptable” ones are allowed? Who decides what sounds enhance worship and which detract from worship? Is a child’s laughter and tendency to be rambunctious good or bad? Cellphones, texting, reading e-mails on a Blackberry—or the use of any electronic device for that matter—what gets the thumbs up or thumbs down? The Sunday Morning Worship Blues has been sung before and we’ll sing it again. Who writes the rules, who changes the rules, and why? Many say those who have been there the longest, since it is “their” congregation. Others say the leader or tradition or whoever has the most power. As a corps officer I have heard the Sunday Morning Worship Blues many times: at corps council meetings, at visioning meetings, at one-on-one chats. My own journey has been one of intentionally leading to create an environment where anyone could feel welcome, familiar and comfortable. This is done first by example. I have to be OK with sounds and movement and maybe people