Visiting a Baptist church today, I was struck by how ‘liturgical’ it is, in the sense of following a quite rigid structure. This wasn’t altogether obvious to me growing up in Baptist churches; we were open to where God was taking us, unlike those Anglicans stuck in their prayerbooks. Our services were spontaneous and not bound by tradition.
But the Baptist service leader must make some gentle, cliched jokey comments to start out with, usually referring to sport, current events, or presently, the Christmas season. Then we have some songs. And strangely enough given how serious Baptist beliefs really are, the mood is never allowed to get too serious. The service leader then gets to give a couple of Daily Bread type thoughts for the day, a little like an anecdote from Reader’s Digest. Everyone sits and listens. (But what’s everyone thinking, that’s what I want to know?) One of the anecdotes today compared the job of a life insurance salesman with our job as eternal life insurance salespeople. Always look for a chink in a conversation to get the eternal message in. Oh dear, that’s reducing the gospel a little isn’t it? If I think about that too long, I will get really upset. I’m not going to think about it. I’m going to let it wash over me.
Some notices, another song, a sermon, and then perhaps the closing hymn. Oh, I forgot the offering. And every second week, the private cup of grape juice and piece of cracker. (We mustn’t have it every week or it will become a ritual, I was told growing up.)
And that is the spontaneous Baptist service – for better or for worse.