05 November 2005

Solomon's Porch

I ran into a little bit of a traffic jam on the way to Solomon’s Porch, so I got there a few minutes late. (Side note: driving in the Twin Cities was, in general, a very pleasant contrast to driving in the DC area!) They were already underway with a first worship song of the evening: a good, well-played, inspirational alt rock tune that they composed (like all the music they use) themselves.

So here’s the picture: SP is currently meeting in a traditional, older Presbyterian church in urban Minneapolis. When I walked into the sanctuary, I was immediately struck by the extent to which they had transformed it. The front part of the nave, ahead of the pews, had been turned into a living room, with comfy chairs, sofas, and floor lamps. To the left, where the choir might be in regular Sunday morning services, they’d set up the band, and lyrics were being projected on the high white walls to the left and right of the pews. To the right of the central living-room area, the sanctuary had a removable wall that opened into what appeared to be a parish hall. They had more comfy furniture set up in there, facing the central area, and beyond that they had coffee and other refreshments. Behind the central area were raised wooden chairs that were part of the church itself. Members of the congregation sat on those, in the central area, on the comfy furniture in the parish hall area, and in the pews, all facing the central-front nave area. The overall effect: very “round”, very warm and welcome and comfortable. The light from all those floor lamps made the space very soft/warm and living-room like. They’d hung the walls with artwork that contributed to the homey, communal feel.

There were also little tables set up among up front and among the pews, accompanied by those soft floor lamps and laden with sliced bread and jugs of grape juice. As I found a pew to sit in, I almost grabbed some, thinking “refreshments!”, before the reality of the situation (“communion!”) dawned on me. :-) So I sat down and enjoyed the worship music. One thing I noticed was that, despite the projected lyrics, not many people were singing along wit the band. This may be a consequence of their always writing new music, so the songs don’t have a chance to become favorite hymns—I don’t know.

After the music, I think they launched right into the evening’s readings: Romans 1-4. Yep, that’s right: four whole chapters of St. Paul’s magnum opus! First, three congregation members stood up, one after the other, wherever they happened to be in the church, and read a portion as it was projected on the walls. Then, Doug Pagitt (the pastor) explained how the evening was going to work (four chapters of Romans!). The same three folks each read another portion, there was a musical intermission, and finally the three readers finished reading the text. It was an effective way to make the reading of such a long text not seem boring, and having the readers stand up and read from wherever they sat in the congregation was also effective—it seemed very egalitarian.

Then we had communion. The majority method of doing this was to go to the nearby tables, get some bread and juice, and bring it back to where you were sitting. Then, when everybody had some of the elements, we would share the body and blood together, like a big party. There were also other options, though: at the front and back of the church, there were places where folks would serve you bread and wine Anglican/Catholic style. Even there, you could take the wine in a cup, by dunking, or by sipping. This last option being the one most like “home” for me, I chose it. I don’t think many people do choose that option, because the young lady who served it to me poured it down the front of my sweater. As Blair remarked later, I was truly “bathed in the blood of Christ”. ;-)

After communion, they began what would often (I gather) have been a sermon or message. Doug Pagitt introduced this evening’s concept, spinning slowly around on a bar stool so as to address everybody in the round-ish congregation. During the previous week, four congregation members (including Pagitt) had written their own versions of Romans 1-4, and once again they stood up one by one wherever they were in the congregation (Pagitt ran up to the choir loft for his) to read their compositions. These ranged from a “The Message”-style paraphrase to a very broad meditation on Paul’s themes. The last interpretation was addressed not to the Romans, but to the people of Solomon’s Porch, which I though was effective, though I wished the writer had found a way to extend the metaphor throughout: are there any groups that the Christians of Solomon’s Porch can’t believe God is working among, just as the Jews of first-century Rome might have had trouble believing that God could be at work among the Gentiles? Thankfully, none of the presentations was as long as the Biblical passage itself.

After that, there was a brief time for the congregation to gather in small groups and discuss the passage and the interpretations, and then to share insights with the whole group. I never would have believed that a group that large (I think there were at least 100 of us) could have profitably grappled with a text that long in a less-than-two-hour church gathering that also included musical worship and a shared Lord’s Supper. But it really worked!
Well, that was more reporterly than contemplative, and even as a piece of reportage, I probably got some of the details or order of events wrong (it was two weeks ago). But overall, it was a wonderful, worshipful, and fundamentally communal and welcoming experience.

1 comment:

Alexander M Zotlai said...

I appreciated reading about this service!
I'm a Baha'i and, since we're a Baby-Faith, not very many cities have Temples, let alone "Centers", so most Baha'is worship in each other's homes.
Sounded very homey what you did at the Porch...
~Alex