Monday, April 25, 2005

Worship Wars in Geneva, Too

Sunday morning, I found myself in the one Methodist church in Geneva. Located in the suburbs, the church is a wonderful blend of children, youth, young families, and elderly folks. The worship space was in the bottom floor of an office building, but lovingly decorated and quite modern in feel. A homemade banner was stretched over one of the windows.

I was also treated to the sights and sounds of a youth band, which leads music once a month. The leader, Olivier, was accomplished and confident. Besides singing, he played two saxophone solos. And two of the songs were his own creation.

I had a sense of nostalgia and homesickness as we sang "Come, Now is the Time to Worship" and "Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord" in French. It reminded me how widespread and varied, yet connected, our church and worship really is.

But then, after church, I had an uncomfortable double helping of that nostalgia. In a conversation with the pastor and another lay leader of the church, I was informed that the church was in the middle of a fairly contentious conflict over the style of music used in worship. I remembered that I had seen the elderly people in the congregation seated and mute throughout the service. Once, I watched as a woman put her hands over her ears, even though, from my perspective, the volume was perfect.

The pastor lamented the fact that, yes, this church was about to lose its young people to the nondenominational church down the road, where contemporary praise music was all the rage. The church was split down the middle, exactly like so many churches, Methodist and otherwise, throughout the Western world. It tried to placate both sides, but it wasn`t working. The young people wanted contemporary music in worship ... and the older adults demanded their old hymns and traditional music.

Frankly, it made me terribly sad. Here`s a church in Europe, the most secularized, unchurched population in the world, and the few people who are interested in being real Christians are bogged down in a fight over what kind of music to use in the worship service! It`s downright pathetic! But the same scenario is playing out in thousands of churches, in hundreds of similar circumstances.

It reminds me of a passage in Amos, I think (I don`t have my Bible handy at the moment). God says, in effect, "I could care less about your worship services, whether you sing choruses, cantatas, or polkas. And I`m tired of your Sunday morning rituals. What are you doing sitting there when this world is going to hell? Children go to bed hungry at night, injustice runs rampant, the rich get richer, and you all are worried about which songs to sing on Sunday morning ... Here`s all I want from you -- to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with me. That`s it."

I don`t mean to disparage my brothers and sisters in Geneva, or anywhere else. The worship wars are real, and they signify a deeper struggle which is going on across the Church. But I just don`t think God cares quite as much as we do.

I was attending church with my new friend, Rev. Njongo, GBGM missionary to Senegal. After we left the service, I turned to him and said, "Well, we don`t have that kind of problem in Cameroon. How about you?"

He laughed and said, "No, not at all. We have different problems."

We have different problems in Cameroon, too. Unemployment, poverty, corruption, disease, witchcraft. But at least when we get together on Sunday mornings, we seem to be on the same page. We sing loudly, in French, English, Bassa, Duala, or whatever else seems right and appropriate. We sing for a long time. We beat drums. We dance. Nobody questions whether it is appropriate. Because it`s all appropriate.

All of it is a lament, a cry, a shout for God`s deliverance.