As a person with mostly “Broad”-to-“High” church experience, the liturgy at the Church of the Advocate was quite different than my accustomed norm. As a result, my liturgical imagination was challenged and stretched – especially my latent assumptions about the bounds of possibility in Episcopal worship.
I was struck by the Advocate’s approach to and execution of the liturgy. The Advocate’s approach to liturgy radically welcomed – and depended upon – congregational participation. During the welcome, a lay person greets the congregation saying, “We believe the liturgy is the work of the people. Our liturgy is what it is, because of your participation. So we invite you to join us and pray boldly and sing loudly.” From the outset, the congregation was invited to “full, active, and conscious participation.” There was an air of opportunity and expectancy, a belief that “the people” could and would engage. And they rose to the occasion. I experienced a higher degree of congregational participation at the Advocate than I have witnessed in most churches.
I also experienced newfound flexibility in how the liturgy was executed. At the Advocate (with the Bishop’s permission), alternative liturgies were regularly developed and incorporated. Through “Liturgy Brew” meetings, selected laity were invited to help plan upcoming liturgies. As a result, fresh expression was given to ancient liturgical practices.(The offertory is another notable liturgical practice imbued with fresh expression.) For example, the processional – where the cross leads the way as crucifer, Gospeller, and priest weave through a congregation seated in narrow rows of movable chairs – was theologically engaging, deeply moving, and inspirational. Given space constraints, people were forced to reposition their bodies to make room for the Cross – a physical reminder of a spiritual reality of welcoming Christ into our lives.
At the Advocate, I also experienced an authentic cruciform community. In and through spending time with people, I was taken aback by the diverse and even disparate groups of people joined at the Eucharistic feast celebrated at the altar and at the “agape meal” following the service. I witnessed this most profoundly as a chalice bearer when I served a woman who recently gained full custody of her sister’s child after her sister was tragically murdered by her boyfriend; and then served a man currently incarcerated for murdering a young female, allowed out only to come to service (accompanied by court-appointed guardians). Side by side, receiving the body and blood, these two individuals embodied both the brokenness of human relationship and the possibility for reconciliation, made possible in the Eucharist.zach:We really enjoyed the service including the sermon, music, good/friendly energy for the group assembled there. I found myself moved strongly during the service. As one who is pulled toward a Christian faith mainly (solely) because of the love message of Jesus – I found a service based unabashedly around that very refreshing. In this time when Christianity is so often represented as a judgmental and aggressive entity, or one which is silent on many critical issues, it is refreshing to walk into a place that openly expresses a forward-looking love-focused (forgiveness) message. Thanks again and we look forward to seeing you at the Advocate again soon.
Gordon: ”I’ve grown up in the Episcopal Church. But I’ve never been to such a user-friendly church as this. It’s like the Mac of Churches!”
Will: The Advocate is unlike any Episcopal church I’ve been to; it’s as if, in your newness, you’ve seen the opportunity to reinterpret our rich liturgical history in a playful and beautiful way. I think the Advocate could teach me a lot during my stay in Chapel Hill!
Luke: ”Every single word in the mass held such clear importance. I was so taken with the intensity and honesty and directness and clarity of the WORD… let alone the sensation of community around me… it kind of shook my conception of what a faith-based community IS, and how much simple attention to clarity of meaning can do to sharpen a community’s purpose. it was clear to me how much thought and awareness went into everything that was said or presented or implied. I thank you for that! I look forward to coming back, for sure.”
Joslyn: ”One of my favorite images of the Advocate occurred during table fellowship after our service. As my husband and I sat down, immediately three different hands were extended for a handshake and introduction. Literally, the “right hand of fellowship” (Gal. 2:9) had been extended to us. We thought this was emblematic of the hospitality we’ve encountered at the Advocate.”
The Rev. David Warbrick, Visiting priest from England: ”We have very much enjoyed our time at the Advocate and hope to go once more when we return from Boston. It is a special place with thougthtful attention to detail, unpretentious mood and calm, confident, good humoured demeanour. Quite an achievement.”