Back in 2002, I attended a prayer service where the topic was idolatry. At the end of the sermon, the presenter stepped away from the lectionary and bowed right at a vase of flowers on the altar before going back to his seat.
It seemed fitting in a service focused on not worshipping anything other than God!
In all seriousness, it was the first time I’d ever considered why I worshipped the way I did, making the gestures that I made in the sequence I made them.
Fast-forward to Winter of 2007, when I started attending Anglican services at Dio. The first thing I noticed, besides the fact that it might have been helpful to pick up a prayer book on the way in, was that not everyone was doing the same thing. Some people bowed and some didn’t; some people crossed themselves, and some didn’t. Some people used the holy water and some didn’t. The congregation included people from churches all over the Anglican liturgical spectrum, and our resulting worship was sometimes whimsical and eclectic.
What I appreciated most was the freedom afforded me to play with all sorts of gesture. My expanded awareness of how it’s possible to move and worship in church began showing up spontaneously in my spiritual life before I’d even noticed that I was falling in love with Anglicanism.
I experienced high church Anglo-Catholicism when I attended a different parish during Holy Week. High church liturgy fits into an aspect of my personality that tends toward scrupulosity, toward the piling-on of gesture and action in precise ways as if the sheer volume of symbolic meaning is the only thing making my worship acceptable (and Lord help me if I forget anything)!
My church life became something of a mishmash as I tried to observe multiple traditions at once, but I loved it. I was beginning to understand that I felt powerfully drawn to the liturgy I experienced in Anglican communities. Although I told myself I still had major theological positions to work out, the truth is that I placed much more weight on how I felt when I worshiped, when I prayed, and when I experienced the sacraments in community.
I spent that summer worshipping at an early morning BCP service. Again, it was entirely new to me: the gorgeous words of the BCP prayed simply in a small chapel. I felt a peaceful expansiveness as the words of the liturgy unfolded in my heart. I learned to see the beauty of letting liturgy happen without trying to fill up every single moment with something.
When I began attending a local Anglican parish, it was a very, very difficult experience for me. Although I knew by then that low church evangelical Anglican communities existed, I’d never actually been to one. I asked myself over and over again what I was doing there before ultimately embracing it as an opportunity to experience a different aspect of Anglicanism.
Over time, I started to see that there is a beauty in minimalism. There’s a sort of energy that can fill up those spaces, that reminds me how, as much as I appreciate all the stuff of church, I don’t need it to worship God.
When I found myself a congregant here at Christ Church Cathedral, I felt like I could breathe again! At heart, I’m a broad church kind of worshipper because I find the greatest joy and fulfillment when I can play with my worship. I made the conscious decision to try not bowing to anything, to see how it would feel to walk in front of the altar or the tabernacle as if they were just pieces of furniture. I found it both uncomfortable and liberating. Changing the way I did things forced me to think about why I do them. While you’ll still see me crossing myself a fair bit, and I’ve returned to my more comfortable practices of bowing and genuflecting, I’ve tried to take a page from Eastern Orthodoxy in letting it just happen, letting it arise. If I don’t feel like crossing myself, or I forget, then I just don’t. If I feel like adding something I do rarely, I do it. I try to keep the prostrations to a minimum, because turning yourself into a human carpet in the middle of ablutions seems like it would be inconvenient.
I encourage everyone to experiment with the ways they do church. It can challenge you, help you realize why you do things a certain way and decide if you want to keep doing them, and open up new experiences of liturgy and God.
But, in all seriousness, draw the line at venerating flowers.