Joining In - When It Suits, And When It Doesn't

Author: 
Martin Rae

So, perhaps you’re wondering whether you can enjoy a church which gives you a taste of, but doesn’t regularly provide, your favourite style? How can I get the best out of Trinity Church? Here are some reflections from the experiences of Martin Rae.

Let’s start with a bit of history...

Diversity, Unity, Love

Trinity Church Eindhoven began as two groups of English-speaking Christians worshipping in different styles, who then merged to form one community. The work of preparing services could be shared over a greater number of people, which was a benefit. Better services could be held by working together. These different roots were the foundation of the two-style services pattern, and the two groups of Christians merged into one which was Trinity Church. After merging, Trinity chose to become part of the Anglican Church (the house-church Christians had links with the Methodist church, but in the end you need to choose one to link up with well...)

Mature Christians learn to serve the needs of others and not only seek their own preferences, and this, in our situation with so many of us being ‘strangers in a strange land’, is one area we think it’s worthwhile having patience. 

What held Trinity Church together in the past was love; love for each other, love for God, love of God’s purposes. And this has been greater than preference (love) for a particular style of worship. Some people find that easy, others struggle with some things. I don’t find it all totally easy, but I’ve found ways that help me make the best of things. Perhaps some of this will help others.

Change and Challenge – Appreciating Traditional Worship 

As a young believer my faith was formed in a mixture of semi-formal and very informal church settings. In my early 20’s my ideal church service was “very modern, very radical”.  (Actually, if I’m honest then that still is my personal preference – perhaps part of why I love helping out with Kidzchurch). Traditional worship seemed dull, good to take part in church but unnecessarily lifeless.

At one point though, God planted and answered a strange prayer which formed in my heart - that I could spend a year worshipping in a traditional village church. The tiny village of Cranfield in England, with its ancient Anglican church with beautiful patterned-stained-glass windows and grey stone walls, became my spiritual home while I studied for my one-year Masters degree at Cranfield University.

It was there that Sunday by Sunday I gradually learned the quiet joy of reading and speaking out the truths in the Anglican Service Book. Even though the words of the liturgies were similar every week, I found each time I could discover new truths, new angles, new perspectives as we went through the liturgies. I found my heart swelled with joy as we spoke out  “Glory to God in the Highest”. The amazing acts of Jesus Christ’s life reflected in the ‘Creed’ dug deeper into my awareness; the purity of our “Holy, Holy Holy God”, all good, no evil; what grace that the Holy Spirit comes to be with us today; I found joy in it all week by week.

What made this happen? Was it because I had enough practice to “get into” it? Perhaps it was because I decided to make the best of the situation? Perhaps people in that church prayed to receive God through the liturgy? I don’t know. Whatever happened, it grew on me.

I remember one day... there was one old man, a regular at the church, who used to mumble the words of the liturgies, and particularly one Sunday morning he often missed words, or spoke out of time with the rest of the congregation. A suspicion formed in my mind that he was not focussed because he was coming to church out of a personal tradition more than because of faith. I decided to speak with him, possibly to test my theory and possibly, if I’m honest, because I imagined I could ‘challenge’ his way of life. After the service I asked him, in a polite way “Why do you come to church?” The old man turned to me and looked fully at me; I had to look into his eyes. I realised they shone full of simplicity and purity. And he said “Because I love the Lord”. And that was all that needed saying. That put me in my place!

Over the first half of that year, while not diminishing my joy in other worship styles, I learned to really “love the liturgy”. I learned to appreciate the simple discipline it gives, refreshing the core of the Gospel and God’s work in me. An interestingly answered prayer! 

Informal Style Musical Worship – Is It So Easy?

Despite my love of modern music styles; catchy tunes, variety, still I find aspects difficult. Hands in the air; well personally I don’t find that a problem, we can let our bodies reflect our feelings in the same way an Italian waves their hands in conversation.

I’ve raised my hands in worship, and other times I have cried my way through a whole church service. I think that was a part of the freedom of discovering my home with God — a place where my spirit could unwind from stresses I may have been under at the time.

But other things can disturb me sometimes. For instance do you always feel like worshipping in the same way as other people do in modern services? Do you know what I mean?

Some days you want to sing a particular song forever, it just reflects exactly what’s in your heart, it speaks to you and fills you with joy, perhaps even a sense of God’s presence...

But then other days you’re just not feeling like singing, could be feeling low, unhappy, or tired. Or the worship band sings a song, you enjoy the singing it one time, but then they start at the beginning once more and you’re left feeling; “AGAIN?”

But it’s in these moments I remind myself that (for instance) I could think more deeply about the meaning of the words of the song, (I always find I can discover more depth). Maybe that day I need to be determined in my attitude of worship – remembering that worship is firstly God’s command to us, to offer Him something good. It’s not for my emotions only.  

Other times I do the obvious thing. While others sing, I sit down, I pray. Or I am just still, not even praying, just being. And that’s OK with the people around me. And it works for me too.

But I want to recommend again the attitude of encouraging ourselves to join in singing again. I find that as I join in singing - out of determination not enthusiasm - my heart usually expands beyond where I’d felt it possibly could, and I ‘get into’ worshipping God, sometimes with great joy. It’s worth trying, worship can be just the way God wants to refresh our spirit, but strangely enough when we’re needing it we may not feel like worshipping.

Here’s another tricky one – other tongues.

As a diverse and welcoming church, Trinity includes people from diverse Charismatic or Pentecostal streams of Christianity (ask around and you may be impressed by what God has done in Trinity members’ lives, there are a few interesting histories...).

The informal worship sometimes gives pause for people to pray a prayer they want to share, or be silent, or whatever they feel inspired to. These can be beautiful moments. But for some, it could be disturbed if someone prays publicly in an undecipherable tongue.

In the Biblical letter 1 Corinthians 14 we read that the speaking of tongues (aloud) in public should come with an interpretation; after all praying in tongues without interpretation benefits only the individual and not the congregation. We also read there how un-interpreted tongues as a public act can be actively unhelpful for some. How to deal with that then?

Trinity allows space for individual expression, so individuals may express themselves. There is no expectation that people should conform and join in. So again this is an area where we may put differences aside so as to follow God together. If it does happen and it bothers you, don’t worry - it won’t be a significant part of the service.

One Thing

But one thing which helps me always is what I call ‘looking at the big picture’. I’ve seen many difficult lives healed, peoples’ existences changed from gray grimness to beautiful joy, bit by bit as people show them love the way God made it, and as God seems to amazingly change things for them for better. I see church not just as a place to help myself, but a place where we join in working out of God’s passionate wish; to bring fullness to life, for us and others.

When I think of that, what I’ve seen and what God keeps doing, then the songs and the prayers and the words mean more; imperfections become part of this wonder  — a perfect God bringing imperfect people along, on a very good journey.