There are only about seven weeks before Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish new year. We might refer to a synagogue during Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur as a house of perpetual prayer. Imagine yourself sitting in the pews on parts of these days, for at least a few hours at a time. Overall, what has that experience felt like for you? Did you feel God’s presence or at least a sense of being part of something larger, more purposeful? Did these experiences bring insights into dimensions of your life that you don’t usually think about?
These aren’t only asked by those involved in the synagogue community; they are also questions people of other faith traditions ask. Just go to a recent blog post on The Alban Institute’s website, authored by Graham Standish, who asks: “Why Do We Worship The Way We Always Have Worshiped When People Keep Changing?” For many Americans raised and educated in our primarily secular culture, prayer is tough, regardless of your their faith tradition.
I encourage you to read the Standish’s full post and the comments on it. Here are some thought-provoking excerpts:
- “…what I think is paramount in a worship service [(is)]: encountering and experiencing God in a way that transforms us, even if just a little bit.
- Most generations approach worship differently from previous ones. They are not always looking to reinvent worship, but they are seeking a renewed sense of relevance to their context.
- Ultimately, the problem isn’t that each generation keeps changing. The problem is that as time passes congregations and their leaders forget to keep the focus of worship on the encounter with the Holy.
- Being intentional means…asking whether what we are offering actually connects members of each generation with the Holy. It means asking a simple question: Do people encounter the Holy in our worship services?”
Prayer, as currently presented, works for some people. And we know that good music, participation, less Hebrew or more Hebrew (depending upon the makeup of the congregation), a little meditation, teaching the meaning and the melodies—these tactics can enrich prayer, but they mask Standish’s question, “Do people encounter the Holy in our worship services?”
While we have some time before Rosh ha-Shanah, please answer: “Do people encounter the Holy in our worship services?” What can you do so that your congregation can answer this question with a resounding “Yes”?
Thanks, in advance, for your reflections,
Rabbi Hayim Herring