August 1, 2020
AN ALTAR IN YOUR HOME
For several weeks, my wife, Reverend Shana Johnson, along with some of her colleagues have been hosting live conversations on Facebook on what it means to be the Church in the midst of a pandemic. I thought I might share one particular episode with you as I think it speaks to where we are as a worshiping community of faith amidst the pandemic.
Shana and her colleagues hosted a pastor by the name of the Rev. Christel Emma Anna Weber, who is currently serving one of the largest churches in Westphalia, Germany. The conversation with Christel revealed the ways we, as the Church of Jesus Christ, are experiencing the grace and beauty of the Spirit as we adapt to the reality of not meeting in person for worship in the ways we have become accustomed.
What I found particularly interesting in their conversation was to hear Christel speak about her church and how many of the churches in Germany have enabled church members to transform their thinking about sacred space. She explained that even though she serves in an urban setting, her members and community do not have readily available access to the Internet or technology. Although she (with the help of a younger pastoral colleague in the city) has been able to produce a few videos for her congregation, primarily she and other pastors in her community have created worship materials for people to worship at home.
Each week, pastors make a liturgy and written sermon or devotion available for her church members. Church members are invited to worship at their kitchen table at 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings (the time they worshipped in their sanctuaries for years). On Sunday mornings, church members place their bible, their hymnal, the worship materials, and a lit candle on their kitchen table as they begin to join their hearts, minds, and spirits with other members around the city in worship. They have named the practice simply “kitchen table worship.” For so many, their kitchen tables have become their altars for worship.
What I find most compelling about this simple practice is it takes us back to the heart of worship. Too often, we have regulated our worship to specific spaces, limiting our times of prayer and devotion to a place outside of our homes, in a designated space within a church building. Yet, creating an altar in our homes not only takes us back to our historical roots of house churches, but also can serve to simply remind us of the presence of the Divine, which is with us at all times and in all places.
Throughout history, creating an altar is a way by which people of faith have set their intention to focus on the presence of God in their midst. It is a visible reminder of the One who is the Creator and Author of our lives and who is worthy of our devotion, time, and praise. In scriptures, we read of the people of God building altars on mountaintops, in the wilderness, or by streams of water to mark the places that they encountered the power and presence of God. Often their altars consisted of merely a collection of stones which represented that particular place. As time went on, altars became more elaborate and ornate. Yet, the concept was the same.
As many of us will continue to remain in our homes, not able or not comfortable gathering in the sanctuaries for worship, I believe the idea of creating altars in our homes would be a powerful reminder we can experience and worship the presence of God wherever we are. I encourage you to consider creating an altar in your home.
Simply choose a designated space in your home. The foundation of the altar can be a plate, tray, scarf, a piece of wood, a table, shelf, or even the floor. Upon the table, place items which will serve as visual reminders of your faith. This could be a candle, cross, a bible, pictures, rocks, flowers, or other inspirations, which are particularly meaningful for you. Then use your altar as your designated space to be in prayer, devotion, and praise. Create rituals such as lighting a candle or playing specific music when you are in the space, which will call your mind, body, and spirit to a time of worship.
The Spirit of God continues to connect us in the times we are not in the presence of one another. The Spirit of God is with us not only in the sanctuaries of our churches, but in the sanctuaries of our homes as well. May you discover the beauty and the blessings of the sacred wherever you may be as you continue to worship the Lord in these days.