This year I turned 21 and experienced what I like to call a ‘quarter-life-crisis’. I realised that at 21 it was too late for me to become a professional sportsperson (not that this was ever likely), that I was far too old to keep attending youth group and that I’d missed my chance to be a rebellious teenager. Determined to set this right (the rebellion thing) I returned to university ready to demonstrate my independence by doing something that my friends, family and church wouldn’t approve of.
Turns out that it’s pretty hard to rebel against grace-filled Christians. I tried it all: my nose piercing barely raised an eyebrow, I played Losing My Religion loudly, on repeat, for a whole day and no one commented. I even went to see arch-atheist Derren Brown on tour without a single reaction. My nearest and dearest weren’t making this rebellion thing easy by being so damn accepting! (my subtle yet obvious minor blasphemies were also completely ignored!) Then I stumbled across the thing that confused my caring charismatics the most: I became a Methodist.
I would like to say that I felt the Lord calling me to my local Methodist church, but truthfully this decision had a lot to do with just how local the church was: two whole minutes from my front door. Which was perfect as I do enjoy a good Sunday morning lie-in. I wasn’t counting on loving the worship so much.
No one understood why I wanted to trade 40 minutes of flowing songs for the full body workout (stand up, sing, sit down… repeat as necessary) of traditional worship. I felt the need to worship in a new way. Having grown up in the church ‘modern worship’ had become traditional to me. The five-piece worship band with guitars and clever riffs was pretty conventional as far as I was concerned. Organs and hymns were something new.
Once I got past the initial confusion, (What’s this book doing in my hands? What are those numbers on the wall?) I saw a real breakthrough in my personal worship. I was stripped of all the things I had relied upon as distractions; the songs, the emotion, the routine, the musical skill(!), even my mid-worship cup of coffee. All that was left was me and God. It wasn’t always comfortable but it was always good.
Worshipping in a setting where being expressive was inappropriate made me question things that I had accepted since childhood. Why did I lift my hands in worship? Was it for God’s benefit, my own benefit, or to encourage the worship leader? Did I judge other people’s engagement with the worship by the angle of their upper limbs? What does this all look like to people who haven’t grown up in the church?
I’m happy to say that, following my traditional worship experience, I have returned to the biblical practice of raising my hands in worship. Unless I’m feeling provocative, then I keep them down and watch my nearest and dearest try to look concerned but accepting!
I don’t believe that Methodist worship is more sacred or more sincere than charismatic worship (there’s a topic for another post!) I benefited from a traditional worship style as it was completely new to me. I would encourage anyone to try to worshipping in a new way.