And then there are those churches where they play the Flaming Lips.
That's right, folks, the Curious Pilgrim is back. I decided not to venture too far, and hiked over to Fremont to check out Church of the Apostles or COTA, as it's known on the street. I was met with tea, conversation and hip background music.
COTA is what's called an emergent church, which means it is part of a contemporary movement to reinvigorate Christianity. For one thing emergent churches reclaim old buildings, whether those are abandoned theatres or other churches that have gone silent. They strive towards four main tenents: authenticity, mission living, narrative theology and Christ-likeness. The congregation seemed, from what I could see, to be living those out--invigorated themselves, welcoming and eager to participate in the rituals of the service.
Tim, who was the greeter at the door, said his Catholic-raised friends call COTA's brand of religion "church-lite". I can see their point. However, stacked against the practices of the more traditional mainline denominations I have visited, I'd say it's more like "church-organic", in that other section of your local supermarket. Their method is notably inherited from Lutheran and Episcopalean structures, but it has been sown throughout with new life.
For instance this idea of "authenticity". I planted a seed at church. As an optional, experiential segment of the worship proper there was an agricultuaral meditation station along with a discussion circle and journals available for prayerful etching. I really have never seen this before. But this was heavily tangible experience. Interaction on an intellectual level with peers and pastor was available and encouraged. I felt, and it was visceral, that I was making this journey not just alongside but joined with the other people in the building.
Just before we began I was sharing pleasantries with a guy in a Thundercats shirt--recently graduated, readying himself to study Philosophy and Theology at Princeton. Then he rises and takes his place with the band. I must have met the majority of the congregation one way or another--and it was not much smaller than the others I have visited. But there was a potent unity at COTA.
The discussion was centered on "Modern Parables". I don't necessarily agree with much of what was said--particularly one comment about the importance of Christ's stories because they are about the land (implying that there is no possiblity of an urban parable or an industrial parable). But that's what we're looking for in a church, capital C, right? A polyphony of beliefs that are interconnected and not mutually exclusive. Here, in the midst of a Sunday service, were folks chatting about whether contemporary moral tales exist or whether there is still relevance to be gained from Christ's. Even in this stationary moment I caught glimpses of the possibility of "mission living" in this community.
And the mass parts were there--the "Holy, Holy", the "Amen", the Eucharist. These were presented through digital music. The gospel was "read" by way of a video capturing the growth of a mustard seed (an example of "narrative theology", stressing the story and not necessarily any interpretation). These emergent churches have a strong allegiance to multimedia. They managed to respect the formality and process of the traditional system while infusing the service with much more to be felt, to be said, to be shared.
Yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. The pastor alluded to the "Yeah, Yeah Song" in her sermon. And then they played it as our recessional. Yeah. Peace be with you COTA. Rock on, and your mustard seeds too.