Lectionary Reading: Genesis 1:1-5 (NRSV)
After Christmas, I was able to go with my daughter Kyla as a chaperone on her orchestra trip to London with Edmond North High School. We saw a lot of really memorable things: Windsor Castle, Oxford University, the Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus, and the Royal Observatory at Greenwich just to name a few.
However, for me, the most memorable thing was Sunday morning worship at Westminster Abbey. The grand architecture of this building is almost 800 years old and it’s vaulted ceilings draw the eye heavenward in a most impressive fashion.
Our walking group from Edmond
North Orchestra following worship
at Westminster Abbey.
The acoustics were such that the choir sounded angelic as they sang the Gloria Patri in Latin.
As we went into the sanctuary, we were seated in the South Transept which if you were looking at a design layout, would seat us on the right crosspiece (the Abbey is laid out in the pattern of a giant cross with the main entrance at the foot of the cross).
The only difficulty with being seated in one of the Transepts is that you can’t see some of the sanctuary, particularly the entrance where the priests bring in the cross and where the choir is seated.
As I looked around, I noticed two television screens placed on columns facing each Transept so that those in the wings could see what was going on. They did look at bit out of place in this ancient Gothic structure.
After worship was over, I asked one of the ushers about them. She visibly cringed and said, “Well, they are fairly new. Maybe a couple of years old. But they are not very popular with our regulars. The Queen and Prince Charles are not fans of them.”
Knowing how church traditions can be sacrosanct, I wondered how these screens would have ever made it past the proposal stage. The usher continued, “Well, the BBC used to bring them in every time they wanted to televise a grand event. And so it became easier to just leave them up.”
She did make a concession that “they do allow people to see what’s going on which will hopefully improve their ability to worship.”
Worship wars happen in every church and changes continue to occur in churches – even in grand structures like Westminster Abbey. As we consider that worship is for the people to wrestle with the divine whether that looks like praise or questioning, it is natural that worship would adjust from time to time. It is also natural that people would want to resist major changes to their worship patterns.
As we think about worship this Sunday, we will be celebrating the Baptism of the Lord. The baptism of Jesus reminds us of the ordering of our lives. The text from Genesis today also reminds us of the order God brings forth from chaos in creation. When too many changes happen all at once in life, we often turn to things that are stable – the traditions of the church, for example. Baptism is central to all Christianity. It is the reminder of the grace of God available to us in Jesus Christ. It’s message continues throughout history whether people meet in a grand building like Westminster Abbey or in simple homes with fellow believers. As we begin the new year together, join us in worship as we remind ourselves of the order amid all of the changes going on around us!