Today was the 175th anniversary of the founding of the congregation I attend, and it was also Youth Sunday. This meant that the service was conducted by the middle and high school kids (overseen by the adult “youth leaders”), complete with a sermon written and read by a graduating senior. The Spawn of Mondo was dragooned into service, which of course meant that Mrs. M and I were there.
I’ve mentioned previously that I’m not too keen on what are described as contemporary worship styles — my inclinations are more High Church, I guess, but I also like the older rituals because of the sense they give me of connection to the believers who have gone before. Sure enough, the first three “praise songs” (because hymns is apparently too musty) felt to me like the sort of stuff the South Park guys were talking about here.
After that, the middle schoolers (including MondoSpawn) did their thing, and it was a nice little piece about doing nice little things and being nice little Christians. It was the Gospel of Nice, for a congregation smiling at the altar of Cute.
Just before the sermon, however, the senior high kids did a skit — more of a pantomime, really, with some other nondescript “praise tune” as background music. And things got really different, for me anyway.
A lovely, small girl sat before us, and a much taller boy dressed in white stood behind her. He embraced her, helped her to move, and the two danced joyously. After a moment of this, other kids came onto the stage, separating the two, distracting the girl with a boyfriend, money (cast on the stage), bottles of beer, and representations of the pressure to look right and fit in. Eventually, a figure dressed as the Grim Reaper entered the tableau, handing the now miserable girl a weapon and encouraging her to end it all. At that point, the boy in white stepped forward, cast the Reaper away and sheltered the girl from the others for a final dance as the music faded.
And I was touched and moved to a point that not even the limp “Christian music” could mar. You see, I study the morality plays of the Middle Ages, and this five-minute pantomime was a perfect encapsulation of the form. I saw the elements fall into place: the innocent beginning, the distractions of the World and Flesh, catastrophe and salvation. It even had a brief “reclothing” that a viewer of Mankind or The Castle of Perseverance would recognize. The structure was there, the elements were there, and the audience/congregation was moved — and as I said, I was as well. But for me, part of the wonder came from the scholar’s part of me that realized that this form was real and vital and capable of doing the same things now that it did more than 500 years ago. The plays were no longer simply objects of study — they had become, once again, acts of worship.
And that, in turn, let me feel a connection to the Church, past and present, that I haven’t felt in quite some time. In short, it was a blessing, with all the community and danger and Power that goes with it. Pretty good, for a mainline church in Mondoville.