In her book Traveling Mercies, Ann Lamott describes being slowly drawn into the fellowship of a small church during a troubled time in her life. It was the singing and the warm community that drew her in. She writes, “I couldn’t believe how run-down [the church] was, with terrible linoleum that was brown and over shined, and plastic stained-glass windows. But it has a choir of five black women and one rather Amish-looking white man making all that glorious noise, and a congregation of thirty people or so, radiating kindness and warmth.”
I have had a similar experience with our church. For a fleeting moment I considered turning around and leaving when my wife and I first walked through the doors into our depressing basement entryway that felt like we were walking back into the 1960s. I couldn’t do that because I’d accepted an invitation to preach. So we climbed two flights of stairs to the sanctuary where we encountered a very friendly and surprisingly diverse group of people who drew us in. I began to think that being the pastor of our small church here in the City of Fairfax could be a fun challenge—and it has been.
I find myself learning and growing with our church. Our worship is the heart and soul of our congregation. It forms us as a caring, spiritual community. It’s here that we experience God alive in our midst as God our creator, Jesus our teacher and redeemer, and the Spirit who empowers us. David Ray, the author of Wonderful Worship in Small Churches, says that worship is the work of the people and the fruit of their gifts. Likewise, the author of 1 Peter says that each of us has received a gift to use in serving each other (4:10). David Ray writes:
- Authentic Christian worship is the work of all the people—short and simple.
- Authentic Christian worship is a workshop in which all the people are encouraged and supported in naming their spiritual gifts and developing them as gifts for God and God’s people, as well as their own sense of self-fulfillment.
- Authentic Christian worship provides the precious opportunity in which those now employed in the community know deep in their heart that they are not useless and unusable. . . At its deepest core, Christian worship is both a gift to God as well as to the people themselves.
Such worship is like a structured but informal folk dance in which all participate rather than a concert put on by select performers for an audience.