Alternative Liturgies, Without a Hitch


"Alternative liturgies" and "alternative worship" have been hot-button punch words for decades now. Last Sunday and this coming Sunday, our parish is experiencing a couple of alternative liturgies, one quite wonderfully intentional and one not-so-quite intentional.

This past Sunday (Sept. 6), thanks to some elderly air conditioning equipment in the nave (main church), we had to move the 10:30 a.m. Sunday service into our beautifully recently-renovated Cheney Parish Hall, which was finished only a couple of weeks ago and unveiled on Rally Day (Aug. 23). With some quick thinking, some dedicated helpers and lots of Episcopal Church General Convention worship and liturgy experience, our rector Fr. Sandy transformed our parish hall into a beautiful, functional liturgical space. Indeed, the 10:30 service went off without a hitch.

Conveniently, the Parish Choir’s anthem that was already planned for this past Sunday was a cappella (without accompaniment). A God-thing perhaps? I’d like to think so! With a little preparation and some specific, thought-out instructions, our Parish Choir marched into the parish hall to vocally lead the service, again without a hitch. I was and am very proud of them.

My college choir’s motto is "Discipline - Excellence - Beauty" -- except for each spring, when two busloads of college singers went on spring tour together for an entire week. For tour week, the motto changes into "Adjust - Adapt - Accept." That tour motto helped me this past Sunday: put on your vestments, grab your piano (not your organ) music, warm up the choir, line up and go do church.

The "elderly" air conditioning equipment breakdown was not a complete surprise for us, as this equipment is about the oldest unit we have in the building. Our mechanical systems contract people are on top of the situation, but we actually do not need the nave air conditioning this coming Sunday morning, at least at the 10:30 service, because...

Our annual Parish Picnic is already scheduled for this Sunday morning, and the 10:30 service will be held outside on the lawn by our Memorial Garden and beneath some large, beautiful shade trees. As it is each year, Picnic Church is held on the lawn and accompanied by a very fine local Dixieland band. After the liturgy, the band leads us up the driveway to the front portico of the church where the parish picnic spread is laid out. The jazz musicians will continue to play during the dinner on the grounds, which is always a real treat, musically and culinary-wise.

Returning to the failed air conditioning, we have another God-moment: the A/C failed only in the nave but not in our beautiful, intimate Quilling Memorial Chapel, which is where the 8:00 Sunday morning service is regularly held. It is no secret that Qulling Chapel is about my favorite space of our physical plant, and the 8:00 service was not affected at all. Church again -- without a hitch.

After the 10:30 "alternate location" decision, we then had to make the decision about where to hold the 5:30 Sunday evening liturgy. We decided to move it into the chapel, which is actually where that Taize-styled liturgy began in 2001 before moving it into the nave only a couple of years later. Again, after a few quick decisions, we moved into this simple, elegant space: musicians, cantor, clergy, lay ministers, candles, bread and wine all, and the service again went without a hitch.

Sitting in Qulling Chapel, singing the Taize chants, and occasionally glancing at the gently blowing trees through the huge clear-glass Colonial palladium windows, or glancing upward at the clouds through the Colonial porthole window over the chapel altar, I found myself remembering and then feeling quite nostalgic. After arriving at Church of the Holy Communion in 2002, among my first memories are sitting in the chapel and singing those Taize chants. In the midst of quick adaptations and failed A/C, I found myself being transported, which is actually what worship of God should do anyway.

When we began the 5:30 Sunday service in 2001, we thought of it as an "alternative liturgy," but it has become quite regular for us. In fact, all of our Sunday services are in themselves distinctive and different, and each is beautiful and important to the liturgical life of our parish.

With or without A/C, I can confidently say that church will go on without a hitch. Indoors, outdoors, in the nave, in the chapel, in the parish hall -- God will be praised and worshiped on Walnut Grove at Perkins.