My phone has several other unique aspects, things that really mark is as uniquely mine. The case, the ringtones, the screen. Even in a pile of factory-identical phones, I can pick out my mobile with barely a glance or sound.
Phones are not the only things that we personalize these days. Just about anything can be made to be uniquely our own. Companies are allowing folks to custom make just about anything they want: shoes, clothes, sunglasses, kitchenware, boardgames, kids’ books, even our cup of coffee or pint of microbrew. We have become a culture that seems to want to stand out, to know that we are unique, to celebrate being different. Conformity is to be avoided at all costs.
How, then, does the church respond to this trend? We claim to be a church that delights in “unity in diversity,” yet sometimes when we come together it can seem that we are expecting sameness – parishioners from a cookie cutter mould.
This is not to suggest that we have a lack of diversity and uniqueness when we gather – in any congregation I’m sure we can find a variety of theologies, perspectives, ideas, concepts, interpretations. Yet in the midst of worship, we all tend to do the same things at the same time. And, in some cases, this same worship happens the same week after week, year after year.
Please do not misunderstand: I love the liturgy. I love tradition. But I know that sometimes we all feel the need to personalize things, to make them our own. I’ve spoken to many folks who agree, sometimes we feel called to move a bit beyond the book in worship and study. We want to personalize our time together as the Christian family.
I think there is room to be liturgically diverse, I’ve been known to write and create liturgies that reflect a theme or event. I’ve known folks to offer the intercessions extemporaneously, others to only pray the litanies in the BAS. There is a time and place for different styles: part of what I love about being Anglican is that there is this room for personalizing our worship, our prayers, our study, our community. There’s the space to challenge ourselves to move and flex and grow. But there’s always the same core faith and liturgy to return to, when the world around us is causing enough confusion and we just need some stability.
There are some days I love that my phone is so personalized and uniquely identifiable. But at other times, I can just celebrate that it is a highly functional piece of technology – just like every other phone. I love that my church allows my to be an energetic, passionate, quirky member. At other times, I love that my church allows me to be just one of a group of people who are together for a shared celebration.
I think perhaps our challenge is to make sure that we do celebrate our uniqueness together, that we welcome the diversities that come to our doors; all the while without losing the traditions and commonalities that we share. It is a complex balance, to be sure, one that needs to be different for each community to meet the needs of it’s members. But I believe it is possible to do, if we’re all putting Christ first, if we admit that we’re all just wanting to be known and loved fully by God and God’s Church, to be ourselves welcomed personally with a “Hello Sweetie.”