Sunday, September 18, 2011

Worship and Experience

Today I took a giant leap out of my perceived comfort zone. I joined a group of classmates who were heading over to here:

Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church. I'd heard about this place. They have the Liturgy of the Word in one place and dance to another place where they have the Liturgy of the Table. They're touchy-feely. They are not as orderly as most Episcopal parishes. They're different. Did I mention that they dance?! As part of the service! I was expecting a disaster in terms of how I felt about this place. I am trained in a set liturgical style, highly ritualized and pretty rigid, and that is where I am comfortable. Dancing? In church? Not me.

What I was not expecting was the vibrancy of the place. You walk in and are engulfed in an icon-style mural of saints, all dancing. Some of those saints are pretty recognizable, even if the Church doesn't particularly call them Saints or celebrate their feast days. Some I had to look up in the little booklet. But all of them holy in the eyes of the parish members. Lady Godiva. Shakespeare. Saint Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio. Desmond Tutu.

The dancing saints are not the only colorful part of this building. There is color everywhere from the fabulous fabrics on the crosses to the brilliantly colored vestments to the sparkly parasols used to place the Gospel Book and the Presider in the crowd gathered. People were friendly, and I assume rather used to those of us hanging around the door wide-eyed and a bit skittish about this whole thing. Please wear a nametag - use the red pen if this is your first visit - so that we can call you by name when we share communion with you. Here is the book you'll need, we'll tell you what page as you go. Have you seen our dancing saints? Want more information about them? How does our service move? Let us help you.

One fascinating thing is that we were there for a baptism. Actually two, twins. The baptismal font is just outside in a small courtyard off of the main rotunda space; a large dark grey rock with water trickling down the face and gathering in a small pool before dribbling down the rest of the way or being re-pumped to the top. Simple and beautiful against a backdrop of vines and other plants growing down and covering a very tall wall. In the sunlight I noticed some berries that glistened like rubies, perhaps under ripe blackberries or maybe they were raspberries. It made me think of the abundance of God's love and nourishment of all of us.

I surprised myself by not feeling quite so out of place as I expected. There is no organ so the music is acapella, and there is a lot of it. The majority of the service was either sung or chanted, and I found myself relaxing into it after a bit. Even the dancing wasn't as scary as I was prepared for it to be, though until I get the hang of it I think I will have to focus on either singing or dancing.

All in all it was a good experience. I have been hoping to explore the breadth of the Episcopal tradition as lived out here in this area and this was one of the places on my list. By far the most intimidating to me as it was the farthest from my comfort zone, but I am glad for the experience and just might go back a few times to shake myself up.

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