Before the worship service started we had eaten dinner together, me with my tape recorder and notebook by my side.
I don’t normally go to church on Wednesday nights, but I had come to New Beginnings Fellowship in Hernando, Fla., for a Religion page feature story and to take notes about their worship.
As the people entered the sanctuary, some grabbed musical instruments from a cardboard box in the back of the room — maracas and wooden sticks, cymbals and tambourines. During the first song, people used the instruments, making their own music.
At my church we don’t normally do that, so this was different for me. I thought of Psalm 150 that says to praise God with a blast of the ram’s horn, the lyre and harp, tambourines and dancing, with strings and flutes and a clash of loud, clanging cymbals.
After the first song, “Raise Up A Shout,” the pastor said, “Let’s do what we just sang and shout,” and people shouted.
During the next song (“I’m gonna dance for you like nobody’s watching”), a woman did just that, dancing and waving a blue scarf in fluid, graceful motions.
Earlier I had talked with a man who had had heart surgery and said God has healed him. He had white hair and he sang with all his might, lifting his hands, worshiping the Lord.
My eyes kept returning to the woman with the scarf, and I wrote in my notebook, “See how freely she worships!” Then I wrote, “I’m not that free,” but maybe that’s not true. Maybe I just worship differently, and that’s OK.
Because I visit a variety of churches, I get to observe and experience a variety of ways God’s people worship, both corporately and as individuals. Sometimes in the liveliest Pentecostal meetings with everyone on their feet or in the aisles dancing and singing there’s someone sitting quietly and worshiping nonetheless.
Likewise, even in Presbyterian worship you can find people lifting their hands in praise. Sometimes it’s even me.
And each church has its own distinct style of worship that’s often difficult to describe except to say that Baptists worship “Baptistly” and Catholics worship “Catholicly” and neither worship as the Assemblies of God or Salvation Army churches do.
In her book, “Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith,” Kathleen Norris says, “When people come together to worship, they come with their differences, their wildly various experiences and perspectives. And by some miracle, they sing and listen and pray as one.”
Norris says we’re this rag-tag bunch of misfits and that when we worship it’s like we recklessly let loose with our music, prayers, hymns and creeds, tossing them into the heavens and out into the world where they meet up together and mix and mingle, then fall to earth like rain to accomplish God’s purposes.
She says the easiest way to kill true worship is to put it in the hands of serious, religious people.
I agree. They’re the ones who put rules on worship, dictating what God likes and doesn’t like, as if they know God’s personal preferences.
Just my opinion, but I think such people are just trying to force their own preferences on others and blame it on God. He might like zydeco and techno-polka music for all we know.
I think God likes Quaker silence and Pentecostal exuberance and Catholic prayers in Latin. I think he likes it when Presbyterians enter the sanctuary with bagpipes leading a procession on Reformation Sunday and when Baptists sing verses 1, 2 and 4 of “The Old Rugged Cross” and when a new, young preacher in flip flops strums his guitar and conducts church in a downtown pub on a Tuesday night.
The important thing, the vital, primary thing, is that God’s people worship, that we meet together as a group and open ourselves up to the One who made us and who calls us to remember that he is eternal.
From inside ornate cathedrals and humble storefronts, from auditoriums filled with thousands to ramshackle structures where a faithful few struggle to stay together, wherever two or more are gathered with their hearts turned heavenward, worship takes place, God is glorified and his people set free.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via e-mail at email@example.com.