We have a cool ritual on Sundays at the International Protestant Church of Zurich, something I look forward to each week.
But first a word about that word “ritual.”
Where I grew up, ritual was always a bad thing. For one thing, maybe the most important thing, ritual reeked of Roman Catholicism. Catholics had rituals. We Protestants didn’t. It was that simple.
And when we spoke about ritual, the word was usually preceded by another word – “empty.” Ritual, almost by definition, was empty. In other words, mindlessly going through the motions.
The ritual I am referring to here is neither empty nor mindless. In fact, it’s exciting. I thought I might tire of it, but the fact is I get more and more interested each week. I look forward to it. Which is the best kind of ritual, I suppose.
What happens is that I stand up at the beginning of worship, move to the center of the church in front of the first row of seats, and then – in a non-ritualistic manner – offer a welcome to all in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. I also offer a special welcome to visitors and ask if they wouldn’t mind introducing themselves.
Each week, surprisingly, they do. Introduce themselves, that is.
Where I come from, asking visitors to introduce themselves or say anything at all in worship would probably make visitors feel uncomfortable and not want to come back. But here, in Zurich, something very different happens. As one stands to speak, another will feel more confident about standing, and then still others will pop up, until we have several people, maybe 10-12 of them, waiting their turn.
An usher hurries over with a microphone (and a welcome package) so that all can hear.
I sense that everyone enjoys this moment as much as I do. Even the youth, who sit in the same place each week on one side of the balcony. (Another ritual, but then I’ve probably made my point about that matter.)
What makes this time of worship so interesting?
First, of course, it’s the places people come from. Australia, Greece, Singapore, the U.K., Korea, South Africa, and – yesterday – Princeton, New Jersey. An audible murmur is heard when a far-off and exotic country is mentioned.
Princeton, New Jersey! Can you imagine?
The other reason this moment in worship is so interesting is that it reminds us of the global reach of the Christian church. If we had any doubts whatsoever that the church exists (and thrives) all around the world, this ritual – sorry, not sure what else to call it – reminds us that we do not exist alone, that every Sunday on nearly every continent people of faith are gathering and singing and listening and offering themselves in worship.
Yesterday, much later in the service, as members and visitors came forward to receive the elements of communion, I was aware – as I am nearly every time we do this – that the family of God is far more varied than I sometimes imagine.
For God so loved the world…
(Photo: My Saturday morning hike took me away from the village where I live. This was my view somewhere near St. Moritz. That’s a cell phone photo, regrettably, because I left my fancy new camera at home.)