This Thursday at 5:00 pm will be the first installment of a weekly evening worship called “Detox Vespers.” The first prong of my attempt to revitalize mainline Protestantism came in a renewed theology: grounded in tradition but free to revise, confident enough in the Gospel to expose the fallacies of our culture that just don’t match up. But I never expected mere new content in sermons to accomplish much.
The second prong is liturgical innovation. Perhaps the most significant path forward will come with a deepened confirmation process for youth; but more on that to come. As for worship, rather than play too much with the traditional Sunday service, I decided to add a new weekly service. What I hope it offers attendees (whether already members or the curious) is a time of re-centering, a chance to purify oneself of stress and malevolent influences that accumulate during the week. And also just an alternative worship time for those who can’t make Sunday.
What it offers me is a chance to experiment with worship styles and techniques. The Vespers do not closely stick to Catholic or Orthodox rites. While very Protestant in sensibilities, it will be a deeply sacramental service: a remembrance of baptism will be invoked, and a brief communion will be offered (which also quiets hungry stomachs!). These will change form appropriate to the liturgical season.
The mood of the worship is solemn and meant to reawaken a sense of awe before the divine. While low-church Protestant worship has fallen into a casual, seemingly embarrassed (‘this-is-just-a-thing-that-we-do’) attitude toward worship–which suggests to me that we really aren’t sure why we are doing it–the Vespers will use silence, material sacraments, and plain singing to make a simple, mystical point: God is more real than we are. As important and divinely blessed as our everyday lives are, they remain mortal, flawed, and parochial. Mainline worship has to some extent lost sight of that, and perhaps therefore clings desperately to social justice (very good of course), personal therapy (can be good), or just clubby fellowship for its own sake (meh). It’s not all or even mostly our fault; it’s very hard to believe in something–especially the biblical God–more real than the everyday stuff we see. But that is what we are called to do.
Please join me in praying that God may break into this feeble effort and give something of God’s weighty glory (kabod) to what we will do.