Who remembers going to church and seeing the priest or pastors back most of the time? Older churches often had the altars against the wall, so that during the celebration of Holy Communion, the presider was turned away from the people. It wasn’t just Roman Catholic churches – many Lutheran and Episcopal churches were designed this way as well, not typically changing until the mid-20th century. Nowadays we tend to talk about gathering “around the table,” and yet, we are still normally oriented in rows, facing forward.
This summer we’ll be doing something different on Sunday mornings as we worship “in the round.” Sundays at Christ the King, the sanctuary will be rearranged so that we will sit in circles around a central altar. We’re able to do this with movable seats. And of course, summertime often means lower attendance (we can’t fit quite as many people with this arrangement). This affords us the opportunity to worship in the round – to truly “gather around the table” together.
And yet, there’s something disturbing about worship in the round – we have to look at each other! When you gaze up from your bulletin or hymnal, it won’t just be the backs of a bunch of heads. You will see your brothers and sisters in Christ as we sing and pray and worship together. This is an obvious yet oft overlooked part of our worship – it doesn’t occur in a vacuum. When we worship, it isn’t just “us and God” – it is our whole community, gathered together, to do this this thing called “liturgy” (which translates as “work of the people”) together.
When we worship in the round, we’ll do two things differently from our current worship booklet. The first is the confession. Instead of the standard confession in which the assembly confesses their sins and the presider proclaims God’s forgiveness, we will be using a form of confession often used in monastic communities. I will begin by confessing that I have sinned — to you, my brothers and sisters — and you will assure me of God’s forgiveness. In turn, you will then confess to me that you have sinned, and I will assure you of God’s forgiveness. It is an intimate, and communal act of seeking God’s pardon from the pastor, but also from one another.
We will also be doing the prayers of the people differently – various petitions and thanksgivings will be offered, but they will be very general. For instance, we will pray for “the people in countries ravaged by strife or warfare,” after which a pause and silence will follow. You will then be invited to offer your prayers, for instance, for the people of Syria. There will also be time to bring forward our various prayer requests, being able to see one another, and to very intentionally pray for each other and those we love.
And of course, we will gather around the table to celebrate Holy Communion. Lutherans and now many Episcopalians have moved away from speaking of the priest “celebrating” the Eucharist, as the celebration is something we all do together. In a very visible way we will be celebrating this gift together – as we gather together for worship in a very visible way. What a wonderful opportunity this will be to gather together – to pray for each other and for our world, to seek God’s forgiveness, and to receive God’s precious gifts offered up for us all.
See you in worship!