By the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, Bishop of Virginia
With this last issue of Center Aisle for General Convention 2012, I want to continue with a theme I noted in the first issue: fundamentals in our life and witness as a church. Specifically, I happily consider our worship throughout the days of this convention.
It is my firm belief that worship is the first “response-ability” of the Church. It is our greatest privilege and our primary means of identity and expression. Whether in the day-to-day, week-to-week ministry of a congregation or at this massive triennial gathering, our worship is what empowers us, above all else, to live more and more fully into the creeds and our Baptismal Covenant, both personally and in community.
This conviction that I hold so dearly is why I’ve been so encouraged (not to mention strengthened) throughout this convention. With the Holy Eucharist being celebrated each day, we gathered to be the people of God and the Body of Christ as the very basis of all else that faces us.
Attendance has been consistently strong. The quality of planning and execution was truly exceptional – from the logistics, to the music, to the preaching, and in all else that made this convention’s spiritual life deeper and richer. To borrow from the unforgettable sermon preached by the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, bishop of North Carolina, we are all “crazier Christians” because of the care that was lavished on this central aspect of our corporate life as a church in council.
The very fact of worship each day carried us through the many long hours that followed. Time and again, I both engaged in and overheard conversations that overflowed with the energy, spirit and message that worship brought to us.
This convention prompts me to suggest that we would all do well to think again about the power of worship in our congregations. That power is truly defining.
In my experience, most seekers and newcomers still encounter the Episcopal Church most meaningfully (or not) through our liturgies. Perhaps that is different in other places, but then I suspect that those who are engaged by our Church through specific ministries and other activities look next to go deeper, to connect more to the Church’s broader life and expression.
By whatever means people find themselves at worship with us, we must never underestimate the fact that it is their experience of our liturgies that makes sense of their spiritual yearnings and confirms the presence and movement of God in their lives. It is for us, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, to let a predominantly secular culture know that the living and loving God can indeed be found in and through the Church.
All being said and done, it is worship that unites us as a church and makes us the best that we can be. To be sure, we differ in many ways with respect to how we express ourselves in worship, but I strongly believe that this diversity is all to the good.
Even more than that, it is the postures of praise and thanksgiving, of intercession and supplication, that bring out the best of us as children of God. Whatever our programs and issues, however we go about our mission to proclaim and serve the Gospel, it is the font and the table that make us who we are, most recognizable to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. And it is the journey from font to table that is our center aisle.