the sweetness of doing church without power

Last week’s ice storm took out all the things we typically depend on to do church on a Sunday morning in early March:  the lights, the heat, the audio system, the organ console, and of course, the coffeemaker.

And yet we still managed to gather for worship.  In the words of one parishioner, it turned out to be an unusually festive way to celebrate the first Sunday in Lent.

We had a few things going for us, mind you: the temperature outside was already warming up, our sanctuary has lots of natural light, and our music director just happened to have chosen an a capalla anthem.  (A cappella , by the way, is Italian for “in the manner of the church”).

The service felt lovely. Folks were encouraged to dress in jeans and flannels to keep warm. As many still didn’t have hot water for showers, this turned out to be an added bonus. (Note to self: incense next time).  People huddled toward the front of the church together, rather than assuming the usual Sunday Morning Spread Formation that spans half a city block.

As everything else was cancelled – the early service, Children’s and Adult formation – the clergy and lay leaders could focus their energy on one thing at a time: the worship of God, followed by greeting one another out on the warmer-than-the-church steps afterwards. One person mentioned how this reminded him of the chilly worship of the early Christians gathering in the catacombs.

Phyllis Tickle talks about the seismic changes in the church as having their deepest roots not in the cultural influence of the late 20th century so much as in the discovery of electricity in the 19th century.  Perhaps we see there’s something to that, and something to recover, when we have occasion to return quite unintentionally to an a cappella fellowship.

It is strange, I think, that an experience which translates “in the manner of the church” should be such a novelty. Yet it is, and for those of us lucky enough to have seats in the sunlight, it felt wonderful.

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About bernardowens

I'm an Episcopal priest in Greensboro, North Carolina.
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