It began with a youth event at the Annual General Meeting of Manitou Conference. I had asked the young people to make a list of what they would like to see in their “ideal church” and at least three of them had included, “more dancing.” At first I was tempted to dismiss these choices – especially since one actually said, “More dance parties!” But then I got to thinking that having more dancing in the United Church might not be such a bad thing.
I remember the service that General Council Executive shared with the Ghana Calvary Methodist United Church last May, as we celebrated our new partnership with a two-and-half hour service that included dancing. Not just dancing in the pews when the rhythm of the music was irresistible, hips as well as heads in full motion; but also dancing up the aisles as the entire church, including the upfront clergy leaders, came forward to present their offerings. Despite some initial hesitation, it was clear that General Council Executive folk were eager to dance up a storm!
I remember a conversation with Adrian Jacobs, the Keeper of the Circle of the Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre (the educational/training centre for those preparing for ministry with First Nations peoples), where he talked about the deep importance of the circle dance, with the slow, rhythmic beating of the drums; and how people became immersed in that moment of celebration, bringing their whole selves into the dance, which then became a moment of transformation. I remembered the Transformation Dance I had witnessed in Bella Coola, at the conclusion of a long day of ceremony when the Nuxalk people had honoured the survivors of residential schools from their villages.
Dance…we could use more of this in the United Church. King David dancing before the Lord with all his might (2 Samuel 6:14); the whirling of the Sufi mystics; the Shakers with their simple community movements (“Lord of the Dance” is one of their melodies). Maybe it’s not really dancing that I’m talking about, but rather a way of worshipping that catches up our whole being, our hearts, and our bodies as well as our minds. I feel we’re often missing something in United Church worship – a sense of such joy that we can’t stop ourselves from springing to our feet, raising our hands, letting our bodies move; caught up in praise, joy, commitment, and thanksgiving.
Earlier this month I was an ecumenical guest at the General Conference of the Metropolitan Community Churches, a young denomination that began in 1968 as Rev. Elder Troy Perry founded a church, and then a movement, declaring that gay and lesbian people were just fine in the eyes of God, and that they should come together as Christians to worship the Lord. Well, Troy came from a very conservative Pentecostal tradition, and while he changed the theology, he included some of the Pentecostal traditions of praise – music, prayer, movement, speaking out. However, he also pushed beyond the boundaries of his own tradition, and turning to the Episcopal/Anglican Book of Common Prayer, he included several “liturgical elements” – weekly eucharist, anointing, standing for the reading of the gospel.
So, when we worshipped as a full community (an hour and a half each morning; even longer in the evening – and doesn’t that tell us something about making worship the most important part of such a meeting?), there wasn’t dancing; but there was music that pulled at your body, that invited you to move, to clap, to (almost) dance; there was powerful and thoughtful preaching; and there was always a ritual that had us getting out of our chairs, and going to the table for communion, anointing, prayer, a touch; something that invited a “whole body” response.
A few weeks ago the Comprehensive Review Task Group had its June meeting. We know we are mandated to bring forth recommendations for structural change. But we also know that the United Church is being invited by the Spirit into a deeper transformation, which is much more demanding; how does a “report” speak to our need for spiritual rejuvenation? We will continue to wrestle with this question, but right at this moment I wonder if maybe we need to follow the Lord of the Dance, and see where we will be led.