Worship: Living Room or Den Gathering? by Katrina Brooks

I just finished reading Susan Sparks’ Laugh Your Way to Grace. The premise of the book is the need for and the function of humor in spirituality. Sparks presents the notion that all human gatherings can be classified into two groups: living room gatherings or den gatherings.

Growing up we had both—only our den was called a family room. No one EVER went into the living room without permission. No one took food in there. There was no running, no loud voices, and definitely no fun unless the king of the castle [my dad] authorized it WHEN special guests arrived. The room was always kept spotless. The family room on the other hand was where we lived and played and ate and harassed each other. There we tickled and laughed and cried together. We didn’t need permission to have an “outburst” if an outburst was necessary, and special guests were invited into the life that was being lived in the room.regardless of the room’s order.

In her book, Sparks suggests that as evangelicals we have delegated worship to a living room gathering. In order to “protect” the reverence we define as proper worship behavior we enter worship spaces with hushed tones. There is no running, no laughter, no loud voices, and no food.  Our worship places are always spotless. Ironically, we worship the living God who created running, laughter, loud voices, food, and “outbursts” in a living room setting where these things are banned. Her question is: what would happen if we brought worship into the den/family room? How would the life of our churches change if we treated our worship spaces the same way we treat our den/family rooms?

Thought provoking questions.

Here’s my dilemma. I like aspects of both rooms. There are times when I want quiet and order. My spirit needs hushed tones in my worship. There are other times when laughter and chaos play and spontaneity order my worship. I don’t think I am alone here.

So here are my questions: is there a way to design a worship space that invites aspects from the den/family room and living room? Can we create worship entrance points that have hushed features and live out loud features?

On Vocation by Elizabeth Mangham Lott

An annual trip to the doctor this week meant answering the usual questions to update the medical records. Is this still your health insurance? Are you still at this address? Has your email address changed? And you’re still a homemaker? I paused and bristled a bit with that one. Well, I guess so. . . . among other things. The patient coordinator just looked at me. “Okay, yes, I’m still a homemaker.” She was satisfied. I needed to fill that box in her annual survey.

Virginia Baptist Women in Ministry hosted their second annual FEAST event this Spring, and  Elizabeth Melton Bartley shared a powerful reflection on the need for more Home Makers in the world. There are quite a few of us minister mamas who are cobbling together work to supplement our primary job of home making. Making home. She spoke of the lessons learned of embracing that home making identity and carrying it with her in her pastoral work of making home in all places. When church gets broken, when church starts to look like corporation, when church loses its way, we need good Home Makers to lead in a different way.

But I still bristle when I find myself in conversations about vocation that leave little room for nuance and discussion. I heard myself speak out of anxiety last month as I ran into old friends and colleagues at Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly in Charlotte, North Carolina. The question I most dreaded was typically the first: So, what are you doing now? I tried to stop myself but heard the paragraph come flowing out of me almost every time: “Well, I’m home with the kids while they’re still little, but I’m also blogging and writing curriculum and doing a lot of supply preaching. Plus, the housing market’s awful, so we couldn’t sell our house, and there aren’t many great part-time jobs in my area.”

Good gracious, woman. Breathe!

Sure, there are still the folks who don’t get my life and feel the need to say, “Oh, so you’re not doing anything.” See, I need to fill that box in their annual survey, too.  But in my better moments, I know otherwise. I know that I am learning more about vocation than ever before. Some mothers describe the task of raising children as a calling. They felt called to jobs, called to motherhood, and then called back to jobs. That doesn’t really resonate with me, though. For me, the idea of vocation has shifted to an understanding of who I am continually called to become; my pastoral self and my mothering self are but two parts of the whole of my vocation. When I move into the center of who I am uniquely called to be (for my life, not anyone else’s life), only then am I able to move best in the world in all the myriad tasks of doing that are sure to come.

Is there a box to check for that?

Why Did I Wait So Long? by Pam Durso

by Pam Durso

I have now been at youth camp for just over twenty-four hours. My daughter and I are attending Passport Camp this week in North Carolina. I must say that being an adult sponsor is much easier when you have only one teenager to chaperone.  And I must admit that youth camp seems different than it did when I last attended—twenty-eight years ago. The music seems louder. The games seem messier. And the cafeteria food seems blander. What hasn’t changed at youth camp for me is the unexpected ways in which God works.

Today I was in a group in which we talked about hospitality—Genesis 18. Remember the story of Abraham and his guests? Those three guests were strangers who dropped by, received a warm welcome, and were offered some really good food, and then the guests invited Abraham into a new conversation, a conversation about the surprising ways in which God was working, would work. The guests became the hosts as they welcomed Abraham into the story of God’s work of redemption, a story of a new baby to be born to very old parents.

I enjoyed hearing this story again. I enjoyed the conversation about hospitality, and I really enjoyed that our group then had the opportunity to do a little cooking. It was all fun, and I loved watching teenage boys and girls take over the kitchen and work together.

Later in the day . . . came the unexpected. I sat down—tired and ready for a break from the heat and from all the walking.  And I just happened to sit down next to a teenager camper. What you need to know is that I am generally a very nosy person. I don’t mind asking complete strangers lots of questions. It drives my children crazy that I talk to people in elevators and in the grocery store. But today, I had no questions. I just sat down to rest. And while I was sitting quietly, this teenager invited me into her story. She told me about her life, about her fears, about her struggles. And I just sat and listened.

The other thing you need to know about me is that sometimes I am slow. I don’t always put all the pieces together very quickly. And only now, as curfew approaches, am I finally figuring out that today God provided me a glimpse of true hospitality. A young woman shared her story with me—for a few moments she welcomed me into her life. She was my host. I was her guest. She taught me about welcoming the stranger.

I love youth camp. Why did I wait so long to come back?

“Everyone Should Have a Tommy, a Skipper, and an Ed” by Katrina Brooks

Sunday, June 27, was a special day for a small rural congregation in south central Virginia. Colby was being dedicated, and a potential intentional interim was preaching a “trial” sermon. The congregation needed an intentional interim desperately, and this sermon was his “test.”

In all fairness, I was glad not to be in his shoes. Any intentional interim worth his/her salt has skills in aspects of the intentional interim paradigm other than preaching. True, some are gifted proclaimers, but most have skills elsewhere. Yet for this man preaching was his “test.”

About mid-sermon my mind left “the moment.” Years flew by, and I remembered my first sermon in the same pulpit in which this man stood. The pastor had chosen the text and the title, and I was nervous. Looking around the room I spotted Tommy, Skipper, and Ed.

Tommy was leaning over the edge of the pew into the center aisle. Skipper was sitting on the “deacon” pew in the back of the church, and Ed was in the balcony manning the sound system. Each man was grinning ear to ear—the kind of grin a daddy has when his child does something spectacular.

Drawing strength from their grins, I took a breath and launched into my sermon. Throughout my time these men kept their grins. When I stumbled they put on their “Come on . . . we know you can do it” expression, willing me to continue. Truth be told they prayed me through and loved me through my first “test.”

The feeling of love and the sight of one of these men returned me to the present and for a moment the holiness of it all brought tears to my eyes.

Sunday, June 27, I left the small rural congregation in south central Virginia with no major epiphanies, no exegetical questions, and no unlocked theological mysteries. What I did leave with was a deep gratitude for three men who unapologetically prayed—and loved—this preacher through her first “test.” I also left with a powerful conviction: Everyone needs a Tommy, a Skipper, and an Ed.

Katrina Brooks is co-pastor of North Broad Baptist Church, Rome, Georgia.