This morning I observed three church services. I say observed because one was in German, another in Romanian and one in English. I guess understanding one out of three isn’t too bad. It was a beautiful morning and I walked to the Church on the Hill where the Saxon’s held their church service outside. On my way to the church the bells from three Orthodox churches were ringing and I could hear the Orthodox priests chanting as their service was also outside.
I reached the church and the Saxons were gathering. There were 20 total and my guess is at least 16 are older than I am. This is a rare experience because here most of the folks we relate to are younger than me … by many years. The bells from the Church on the Hill began to ring and throughout Sighisoara the bells were calling us to worship. I didn’t understand most of the text, but the songs were clear. Come Thou Almighty King was the first song. Holy, Holy, Holy was also sung. As the members participated in the ritual of the worship it was clear they were all familiar with the standing, sitting, responses and hymns.
As I pondered the moment, I thought of the building in front of me dating back to around 1200 and thinking about the many people – Romans, Catholics and Protestants who had worshiped there. Thinking of the present day I felt deep sadness. Sadness for the 20 who braved the walk up the hill to worship and for the thousands of Saxons who have left the city – all in the past 25 years. Their tradition has all but died.
My friend said to me this morning, “I hate this! This is theater”. His words struck me as being profound. The simplicty and the conviction of his observation made me think. His church is dying. It is dying because his people have left the city and because the church has not adjusted to a new paradigm. They clearly knew the ritual, but for younger folks the spiritual connection is not present. For the youth, the church is theater. For those who came I am sure it was a meaningful event and the community that remains has strong ties one to another but their church will be gone in less than 20 years.
The words “This is theater” touch me deeply. Having been involved in leading worship for many years I ask the question … has what I have done been “theater”? Worship needs to lead us to action where what we have experienced transform us and be communicated to others. I know I have attempted to lead my choirs and audiences to experience the music in a way that moves us all to think beyond ourselves, but have I fooled myself into believing that?
The idea of theater also enters my mind as I think about the events of the past week … theater of the President and theater of the demonstrators. If the events of the past week are to be more than theater, action needs to follow. For one of those two, history would say that the actions have indeed only been theater. It is my prayer that the actions of the demonstrators will move all of us to transform our norms, to move to a different understanding of community and our fellow humans. If the events of the past week are indeed theater … nothing will change.
After writing this, an incredible double rainbow appeared in our eastern sky. There IS hope!
P.S. To my theater friends, no offense intended.