Sunday in the Shed

With my first Sunday "off" since arriving in Grand Rapids, it was our first chance as a family to worship in the Shed, which, for those in the know, is the Sunday meeting place of Mars Hill Bible Church... the Rob Bell one... You know... NOOMA... Velvet Elvis... Sex God etc., not the Mark Driscoll one in Seattle... Don't, whatever you do, ever get them mixed up...
Rob hasn't been there all summer so I didn't get the chance to meet up... I had planned to mosey across a few weeks ago when Walter Brueggeman was speaking, but something else came up and I couldn't... So that is why I was particularly keen to take this final chance to experience Sunday in the Shed.
And a Shed it is. A big warehouse space with 2000-odd seats arranged around a central raised platform. There is nothing... Absolutely NOTHING, that marks this out as particularly sacred space... And the build up to worship doesn't help that... There was a distinct lack of welcome (indeed the only guy on the outer door had a very large badge marked "Security") and the first words from the platform in the centre of the hall were more like the introduction of an act at a night club than any sort of call to worship.
But saying that when the worship did begin it was very sensitively and creatively constructed around Psalm 24 with a mixture of old hymns and newer songs. Didn't quite get who the 2 young guys leading worship were, or indeed where they were from as apparently they too were visiting, but they led well, using the Psalm and songs in such a way that any separate prayers were superfluous. The only crass moment was in the introduction to the final song we were invited to "put your hands together..." Only for the song to include an invitation from God to "be quiet and rest."
Ah well... Couldn't possibly do that...
Then came the "sermon" which was a double header by father and son team of Ed and Kent Dobson, as part of a series on "1st Century Eyes; 21st Century Questions." This week they were looking at the Lord's Prayer in Luke's Gospel (Luke 11: 1-4). At the close of it my son Owain asked, "Well, are we going to hear that when we get home?" And there is no doubt that there will be plenty that I will recycle as it was really challenging on the whole...
However, it was a throwaway remark by Kent, when using the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32) to illustrate the nature of Our Father in Heaven that disquietened me... When referring to the wild living that the younger son indulged in Kent said "We call that going to casinos now!"
It truly was only an off the cuff comment I think, the sort that I am all too often guilty of... But in making that comment, I fear that Kent was putting himself in exactly the same position as the elder brother... Because it was the older brother and not the narrative up until that point which had been specific about the nature of the wild living. Might our conspicuous consumption not be equally described as "wild living?"
How quick we are to point the finger at the lifestyles of others and see them as prodigal... While we are the faithful, stay at home sons, letting our imaginations run riot as to what "the lost" are getting up to...
And I think that was my main problem with the Shed experience... It seemed to be for those who were already safely inside the household of the Father... Those for whom no welcome nor explanation was necessary... There were no prayers that reflected any concern for the world outside the walls of the Shed... And whilst it was a corporate experience, and not the individualistic claptrap that is pedalled in many mega-churches, it was definitely all focussed on those who were there. I know that is not true of Mars Hill as a whole, but it was my experience of this particular Sunday.
But the great thing about "Our Father who art in Heaven" is that he loves both sons with a love that causes him to go out to them... Both the mercenary prodigal and the self-righteous elder brother... Those outside and in...
So... do I wish Dundonald Methodist was more like Mars Hill in Grand Rapids... No. (Although a few more active members would always be good). I simply pray that both bits of Christ's great big body the church will more authentically reflect his word and character in the places where he has placed them.


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