The Gathering, or Your Horn Is Cramping My Style

Every 15 years or so (at least that's what I'm told) The Salvation Army in the western United States holds a territorial congress. This is a big weekend full of meetings, concerts, theater, workshops, food, etc. The first weekend in June was my first congress. It was called "The Gathering" and that's what we did: there were over 5,000 Salvationists present from Alaska, down the west coast, Hawaii, Guam, the whole territory was represented. It was pretty cool. This event immediately followed Boot Camp at the same location, the Pasadena Convention Center. A couple thoughts: 1. At Boot Camp, Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute taught on how church can be compared to the "adult table, kids table" arrangement at holiday meals. All the basics are the same, but the kids are segregated and separated. The tone and feel of their meal is markedly different from the adults. Bill Davenport actually pointed this out to me, but Boot Camp was the kids table. Everything there was specially arranged for the youth workers in attendance. As soon as The Gathering started, the tone and feel of the week changed drastically. This isn't necessarily a criticism, just an observation. I'd like to criticize it, but I'm not sure if I can.

2. That brings me to #2. I hate it when, at the close of the message at our church, people get up to leave. It's my assumption that they don't understand the importance of musical worship, they are self-centered and not concerned about the body as a whole, church is all about their private consumption of an entertaining message, blah, blah, blah. It really gets on my nerves. I especially dislike it when I believe that individuals choose to come to church late or leave early because they don't like the style of music being played. I make the musical choices that I do for a lot of reasons (which I might write about later) but I find it annoying when someone's perception of what good music is doesn't allow them to see through their preference and worship with the assembled body.

Having said all that, I was that guy at The Gathering. My party almost always came late and definitely left early. I was absolutely interested in hearing the word of God delivered by the General (our international leader) but totally disinterested in the pomp and pageantry of the rest of the meetings. Now, I could come up with a list of "holy" reasons why I have "theological" or "philosophical" problems with the liturgy of the event, but the bottom line is I just don't like it. It doesn't relate to my past or current experience; I have trouble connecting with the forms used, and the rituals are foreign to me.

There are many people in the army that have problems with the way we do church. I definitely have my thoughts on this, but my realization at The Gathering was that I can very easily become the guy that I am so easily annoyed with. All it takes is a liturgy that is not my "style" and I become the person that I so easily accuse of carnality, self-centeredness, or lack of understanding of corporate worship.

The truth is, there were a whole lot of people at The Gathering that were blessed by the services as a whole (I still loved what the General had to say). If I had been in charge of the corporate worship experience, it would have gone differently, and I would have probably created an environment that was foreign and disinteresting to many in that population.  With 5,000 people from a whole bunch of different backgrounds, you can never please everyone. I don't have any wisdom on that front. I do hope though, the next time someone walks out of service in The Kroc while we are singing "From The Inside Out" or "The Stand" when I think everyone should be rushing the altar, that I am a little less judgmental and a little more understanding of the foreign culture that I am presenting to some in our church. If my role is to lead our people in corporate worship, I need to be aware of how to guide them into the forms that I am presenting and help them navigate what is foreign. Maybe "when we've been there 10,000 years" the church will have this multi-generational thing figured out. I look forward to it.