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The Trajectory of Worship
Image: Gary S. Chapman / Genesis Photos

The first time I can remember singing from a hymnal was in 1972. It was the year between high-school graduation and college, the year I got my first full-time job. That year my mother's health began to fail, and my world shifted on its axis as I started to follow Jesus. That was the year I began to attend Glad Tidings, a plain concrete bunker of a church, whose colored windows reminded me more of ashtray glass than cathedrals.

Glad Tidings was a Pentecostal church, but of the reserved variety. Their Azusa Street brethren might whoop and dance. Let other congregations swoon in ecstasy, ravished by the Spirit, or speak in the mysterious languages of men and angels. Not the folks at Glad Tidings. It's not that they didn't believe in such things. They were convinced that God had the power to interrupt the service at any moment. He might send them all into a fit of shouting that lasted for days. Indeed, they prayed for such things to occur. But they never acted as if they actually expected he would.

Most of the time, or so it seemed, God respected their suburban sensibilities and kept a polite distance. But every so often the Spirit would stir the congregation the way the angel stirred the waters of Bethesda, and one or two voices would cry "Glory" or "Amen." They were always the same voices, of course. They never made this declaration at any volume that would disturb our decorum. But it was loud enough for all of us to hear. Just loud enough to let the rest of us know there was glory afoot.

Red Hymnals and Campfire Rounds

Glad Tidings was less self-conscious about singing. Three or four times during the service, the entire congregation reached for the old red hymnals in the pew racks ...

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March 2011

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