The Christians can get really pissy, and perhaps they are pissiest when it comes to their worship preferences, which they equate with the one true way to worship.
In 1989 I became the pastor of Wedgewood Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, which, believe it or not, was a progressive/liberal church. Wedgewood had women deacons, a female deacon chairperson, divorced deacons, and a female was chairperson of the pulpit committee. Decades before I arrived the church had been thrown out of the Mecklenburg Baptist Association for not requiring people to be rebaptized who had not been immersed. In 1989, the congregation, though it had 170 in worship at Easter and Christmas and 110 on a typical Sunday, thought it was on its last leg unless something happened fast. The church said it wanted to grow.
Saying you want to grow and wanting to grow are not the same thing.
We did grow, but the new people who came in were not pleasing to some of the powers that be, who by the way, were and are incredible people. My response was, “You know, we really can’t be picky. There aren’t that many liberal Baptists and there are three other incredible liberal Baptist churches in Charlotte from which liberal Baptists can choose. Tell me again how we can be choosy.”
The first disturber of the peace was a woman named Donna Carter. Donna had the audacity to laugh loudly in worship. (Please note Donna was laughing at something the minister said, not at him. Or, that’s what I’ve always thought.)
Ironically, Donna Carter is now Miss Donna Carter, a professional, as in paid, as in headliner at comedy clubs, comedienne. She describes herself as “a Southern Belle with a heart of cornbread.” She proclaims “fat women don’t wrinkle.” Miss Donna describes her exercise program of mall walking and doing really well on the program until she gets to the Cinnabon place. Miss Donna is hilarious, and we are so proud of her.
Do you think Jesus would prefer worship with laughter or worship without laughter?
Actually, I think Jesus would like for us to realize people worship God in different ways and to learn to bless distractions. I think Jesus would like for us to be less narcissistic, more “me for the community” and less “the community for me.” That said, it’s hard to have “blended worship” unless you’ve got some pretty mature and inclusive people. There is value in silence and there is value in laughter. Mostly, there’s value in community and love and humility.
There have been decades when I was not sure Wedgewood was going to make it. We got down to 20 people. One of the things that gave me hope was opening the mailbox and finding Donna’s weekly check to Wedgewood.
Thank God for people who keep hope alive in us, who make us laugh, who laugh loudly, and thank you for people who teach us the value of silence and community.