I’ve been teaching a course on Alternative Worship at the Bible school I work at. Its for the second year students and I have thoroughly enjoyed it, I must say. Great discussions and it has highlighted some – in my opinion – important issues facing the church today. As part of the course the students have had the assignment to plan and arrange an Alt Worship service open for everyone at the school, which they did yesterday. And they did a great job, I must add (says the proud teacher!). 

One of the issues that was touched upon was the homeless situation in Stockholm. They had set up an installation by one of the walls (just under the cross), with some info about the issue, and on the floor was a sleeping bag, a bed-roll, some bin bags, beer cans and stuff like that. It really looked like someone had been sleeping there and during the service one could sit down, light a candle and pray and mediate over the whole thing. It was powerful and quite vivid, and as I was sitting there with a bunch of other people on the floor and by the wall it actually felt like we were sitting on the street among the homeless. It moved me tremendously and as I was praying I felt like God put the spotlight on my own life, because (and this is no new revelation, but it was a powerful reminder) much of the answers to what I was praying for lays in my own hands.

At the end of the service we ate some traditional Advent food together (glögg – like mulled wine – and saffron bread). As we were sitting on the floor by the small coffee tables we were talking about the homeless situation and sharing ideas about what could be done and experiences of what already is being done in various Christian communities around Stockholm. Many felt strongly about the issue and hopefully the students will rally a group together, either arrange something of their own or support one or a few churches that already are doing something.

Continuing the topic of Alt Worship I do have mixed feeling about the whole thing. Firstly, it has blessed me a lot in the last years and opened up my mind about how communal worship can be done and look like. If I had to choose between a service in which we were all sitting (or standing) in rows, staring each other in the neck and singing song after song after song etc or a highly participatory and creative service like the one I experienced yesterday, I would choose the latter. Easily. But that is, I guess, just a matter of preference and personality. Nevertheless I do believe that Alt Worship has a lot to offer the established church in general and the movement do bring some important issues to the table.

But I see some problems too. For starters there’s the issue of sustainability – it takes a lot of manpower and energy to pull off a service like the one yesterday. And I would say that a lot of that time and energy could be spent going out to people and joining the mission of God instead. Just as the platform ministry of the larger churches (with the worship bands etc) risks binding up a lot of people’s time and resources (because it becomes a big production with a lot of people involved), so does the Alt Worship service. The issue of sustainability cannot be avoided if one is to be serious about God’s call to the church to take part in his mission in this world. 

Another issue is that Alt Worship communities risks becoming quite inward looking and contemplative – just as the inherited and established church, it is the communal worship that is at centre and what sets the agenda of church life, rather than the mission of God. I have serious issues with this way of thinking. This doesn’t mean that I think communal worship isn’t important (I hope what I have written above about the service yesterday conveys the opposite message!), but I don’t believe it is to be the governing principle of the church. Communal worship is important, it is like “breathing in” (it can help us to focus and gain a renewed vision, support and strengthen us etc) – but we cannot just continually breath in! At one point we need to breathe out as well. The focus, agenda and mandate of the church is to participate in the mission of God, but for us to be able to do that we also need to meet together in worship and prayer etc. In order to breathe out, we also need to breathe in.

Well, anyway, this ended up being a very long post. If you’re still reading, why not have a look at alternativeworship.org and smallfire, there you will find more info and resources about the Alternative Worship movement.