Suzukimom, I loved reading your description of Easter at the Episcopalian church!!! I laughed out loud, because that's just so exactly what our local Episcopalian communities are like. Bubbles and streamers and all!!! And I think you really put your finger on the biggest problem I experience with the mainline liberal Protestant congregations. It's this tension between accessibility and diversity, on the one hand, and thoughtful, intellectually sound worship on the other. (Kathleen Norris writes about this a bit in her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith
. I may be paraphrasing her ideas here.)
Here's the tension as I see it. Those who plan the worship want to ensure that it is theologically appropriate and intellectually grounded, and they want to ensure that the people in the pews have that grounding as much as possible. So they work very hard to make the readings and sermon and music all fit together, and they include wordy margin notes in the worship guide to explain what they're doing. And, they're always "tweaking" the forms of worship to make all those pieces fit together. In order to make all this happen and still have people participate in worship, the entire worship experience has to be written down on paper and distributed in the form of worship guides or bulletins.
Worship "by the book" (or "by the worship guide" or whatever) is only appealing to a particular small demographic of people. As you mentioned in your post, this demographic tends to be white, middle-class, and educated. This style of worship also effectively excludes people who cannot read well enough to keep up, people who do not speak the dominant language of the church well enough to understand what's happening, people who are blind and cannot read the worship guide. Et cetera. Not to mention all the folks who struggle to stay afloat in the intellectually challenging worship environment. I've been to some services where I start wondering how many people can really be expected to grasp the language and concepts in the service, since I have an MA in religion and I'm
struggling to get through it.
Is it any surprise, from this perspective, that people with less education/ability, and those who struggle with language, and others, might seek out a worship that's less wordy and intellectual and more simplified? Not to mention those who simply want more emotion, movement, music, and sensuality in their worship (and less words). But this is also a danger! Because we also know that if you simplify church too much, you simplify yourself right into some serious theological (and political and social) nightmare situations. The dumbing down of Christianity has some seriously dangerous ramifications, we've seen plenty of the results of that
in this day and age.
So... how do you get a worship experience that's sensually stimulating, spiritually uplifting, AND has intellectual and theological integrity... while at the same time doesn't exclude people by being too dense, too wordy, or requiring a high level of education and ability just to participate? I don't have an answer to this question... but I think it's important to voice the question so we're aware of what's happening around us.
ETA: Happy Easter! Who's for starting a thread about "what does the Resurrection mean, really