on worshipping as an other

i’m at the lifeteen youth workers convention outside of phoenix for a few days. lifeteen is a catholic youth ministry organization that is very much like ys at a soul level. we’ve enjoyed a very friendly relationship with them for years, and keep hoping it will develop into some kind of partnership; but that hasn’t happened yet. i told the exec director tonite that one of the reasons i want to partner with them is that i like them so much, i want excuses to hang out more often.

there are about 450 youth workers here, from all over the u.s. (and a few from canada). really wonderful people, passionate about jesus and teenagers. i did a seminar yesterday morning on middle school ministry, and felt like i was with my tribe. tonight i do a general session.

but, last night was a really interesting experience for me. i went to the “adoration” service they had: basically, a 2 hour worship and prayer service, with gifted worship leader matt maher (who we’ve enjoyed at some of the ys conventions, and will be with us again in pittsburgh and toronto this fall). it was a wonderfully powerful time of worship, singing, confession, and prayer. most of the service felt just like i would experience elsewhere in my world. but there were just enough cross-cultural moments to remind me that i was the ‘other’ in this crowd. in a room of 450 catholic youth workers, i was the sole (or, at least one of the only) protestants. like i said, this didn’t matter 90% of the time; but there were, of course, a handful of moments where i didn’t know what to do (like the two times they all kneeled – the first of which killed my knees on the cement floor, but the second of which i was saved by noticing that the guy next to me put his flip-flops under his knees), and a few moments when the theology was clearly somewhat different than my own.

i enjoyed this difference, actually. but it also put me in that place of realizing my “otherness”. i felt completely accepted and included, so i can’t compare the experience to that of a person of color attending an all-white church. i felt a bit disconnected, and even disembodied – like i was occasionally observing rather than participating. and that left me feeling a bit of an outsider. i know this is a regular experience for many in the church (no matter what theological stripe), and was a good reminder to me, and a good awareness. i found i was able to stay present to the moment, and not be overly distracted or removed, and that was a good thing.

anyhow, i’m not 100% sure what my reflections are on this experience, to be fully honest (obvious, i suppose, by this rambly post that isn’t going anywhere). it was a powerful time of worship. i think the primary gleaning for me was to soak in the reality that, while i was ‘other’ and there were differences between me and the rest of the crowd, we were all completely focused on worshipping god, focused on jesus, and sharing this community together. it felt like i was in a parallel universe, but one filled with people who share the same values, share the same calling, and worship the same god as i do.

13 thoughts on “on worshipping as an other”

  1. Thanks Mark for your honesty and humility. I am grateful that you were able to experience this night. Thanks for sharing your gifts with us here.

  2. Try going to an event of traditional catholics. You will REALLY feel like an outsider:) Not a slam on traditional catholics at all but as one who lived with them for a year in a Franciscan Friary I can tell you it is really different. Life Teen is the small evangelical (can I use that word?) part of Catholicism. It is the fringe for sure.

  3. So what is going on with eucharistic adoration?? Here’s a quick explanation: http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/May2002/Wiseman.asp#F4

    It is an not unlike experiences Mark Yaconelli writes about in Starting Right: Thinking Theologically About Youth Ministry

    Finally it is in the worshiping community that we can be assured of the Presence of God’s Spirit. It is in the physical gathering of Christians for worship that we offer God to one another (Ep 4:1-5). God’s spirit is made available to us through and for the community of worship (1 Cor 12:8). It is in this community that we make ourselves, our practices—our way of life vulnerable to God’s refinement. It is the experience of God within the worshiping community that comforts and encourages our journey with Christ. All practices need the rejuvination of touching God’s spirit, that is particularly available in the body united before God.

    http://www.ymsp.org/docs/starting_right.pdf

  4. It’s neat that you got to experience that. As a blond, very white person who grew up in Hawaii, I know well what it feels like to be the one who’s different. I’ve learned a lot through that and think it’s important for people to experience. Having that experience in a Christian setting while worshiping the Lord is a blessing.

  5. Mark that rambling was a fantastic reflection. As a Roman Catholic I’ve grown up with very dear evangelical friends, attended their churches, received two degrees from an evangelical university and felt somewhat like you have – just from the other parallel universe. What I truly appreciated was your clarity, that we both love and give our whole being to Jesus Christ, and yet we do not gloss over the differences – they are significant. However that does not stop us from worshiping together and we are truly brothers and sisters in the Lord and disciples of Christ. We need to pray and work to be that one bride of Christ. Thank you Mark – this is true ecumenism.

  6. Mark,
    It is time for all of us to experience what worship is within different denoms. I have been in the SBC for 9 years now and feel that it is time for us to step out of the comfort zone of our tradational realm and truly experience Christ in a unique and streaching way. Thanks!

  7. I am the Coordinator for Youth Ministry in WI. I work for a Diocese with about 130 parishes and I am the director of those parishes.

    I am writing because I was moved by your experience. So, often, we oppose each other and while theologically and ecclesiologically we do hold different beliefs, we share a deep love for Christ

    I was a fallen away Catholic until about 6 years ago. My journey back to the Church started with the written word of God. And it only grew as I grew to understand worship and to see the written word come to life in the Catholic Churches liturgy. For many even inside the Church, it is seen as a human insitution and while we do make up the body. Christ is of course the head that moves should be the cause of our every movement.

    Through scripture I came to know and believe that Christ’s sanctifying grace has been left for me to recieve physically. These gifts sanctify and give life, they heal, and they steer me interiorly to continue to purify my life, so that I may no longer live, I, but he live in me. If my flesh is weak and my spirit is willing and I feed my flesh to to nourish and strengthen it, doesn’t it make sense that I would do that and more for my spirit? For it is where my strength lies, it is God’s very own breath that that gives us life. A physical action, he is the first mover that brought my soul to life. I could not get out of bed in the morning if he did not give to me the grace that moves my will to do so.

    Cahtolic worship when properly understood, is a life giving otherworldly experience, that is often very difficult to describe. Dr. Scott Hahn wrote an amazing book about it called the Lamb’s supper…which is a must read for anyone who loves scriptue and wishes to be drawn deeper into spritual union with Christ, and into and intimate life of worship. It is in some small way to touch the life of Christ, and to be engulfed by him, in such a way that you never want to be free of him again. It is to meet him face to face and weep for knowledge of the sacrifice that he made for me can never be repayed and yet he is with me always until the end of the age.

    My freind we may have our differences, but, it is Christ that compels us.

    Thank you for your blog it was pretty cool.

    Your brother in Christ, Ron

  8. brilliant quote on Eucharistic Adoration:

    “I just look at Him, and He looks back at me.”

    –a simple French farmer to the curé d’Ars (known today as St. John Mary Vianney)

  9. My prayer is that we can all become better and more sensitive to those who feel they are “others” in our churches every Sunday. Thanks for making me think today.

  10. I recently read something somewhere (yeah, I know) written by a Catholic youth worker that seemed to be saying that the Lifeteen movement had peaked and that Catholic youth leaders were looking for something else. What is your sense of that? Obviously, the leaders at the Lifeteen convention would not be the ones who had thrown it over, but did you get any hints of what might be next for them?

  11. richard, that’s not my sense at all. lifeteen is growing wonderfully, and has a new sense of humility in their leadership and ministry.

  12. Mark,

    I was also at the Life Teen this past week. I am very grateful not only for your presence there, but also that you could pray with us.

    (On a side note, I think that you and I were the only ones from San Diego at Convention. Could it be that everyone was “stuck” at the beach or at Torrey Pines getting ready for the U.S. Open…hmmmmmm?)

    Anyhoo, I am so blessed by your reflections on adoration. I am a “cradle Catholic”, and I’ve grown up experience corporate worship like that. But reading about what the “other’s” experience of that is a humble reminder that God is one and he wants his sons and daughters to be one as well. And the only way we can be one is by being in prayerful, humble relationship with each other through the One who loves us eternally.

    And your reflections on the joy of youth ministry were so powerful and very much needed for all of us, especially me.

    Is there any chance I could discuss those ideas more with you?

    Your neighbor in Christ,
    Pat Villa
    Coordinator of Youth Ministry
    St. James Catholic Church
    Solana Beach, CA

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