Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Birthday and Rebirthday

Although I'm a Presbyterian, readers will have noted that I am not slow to criticize mainline Protestantism. It is nice to be able to report some good things about this important part of our spiritual heritage. This past Sunday (Pentecost) my family and I worshiped at the First Presbyterian Church of Havana, Florida. About 35 worshippers, across (at least) three generations gathered in a sanctuary that looked like it could have been in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Perhaps because it was Pentecost, the "birthday" of the Church, the sense of family and continuity was strong for me. The atmosphere was relaxed and informal, and it was an exceptionally friendly congregation. Yet, in good Presbyterian fashion, we prayed the Lord's Prayer, said the Apostles' Creed, and heard readings from the lectionary. The church used the same hymnal that I remember when I first learned to read the words of the hymns back in Richardson, Texas (which means that the horseperson of political correctness had not yet trampled the lyrics). For a closing hymn, pastor Bill Bless supplemented with a rousing 19th century Pentecost hymn Revive Us Again. People often don't realize that "hymns" of this era were often spirit-filled praise music some 150 years before the first Barco projected words on a church wall.

All glory and praise
To the Lamb who was slain
Who has borne all our sins
And has cleansed every stain.

I am pessimistic about the future of the mainline denominations, which unfortunately means that small congregations like First Havana will be hit hardest. This is a shame, because if we lose congregations such as this, we will lose something spiritually invaluable. We will realize this someday, but it may be too late to bring it back.

This is a shame, because with their lack of pretension, their authenticity, and their spirit-filled nature, these congregations out to be able to transcend generational worship styles. Churches like First Havana could become some of the most "emerging" communities around. This would be a wonderful "rebirthday" for the church in the U.S..

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