This is a piece that first appeared in Testimony, the monthly magazine of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Randall Holm is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Providence College, and an occasional visitor to saint benedict’s table.
ecently I gave in to my daughter’s wish and joined the revolution otherwise known as Facebook – a cyber social network that appears to be the rage today. The real reason I joined is probably vanity. Later this year I turn fifty and I’m desperate to perpetuate the myth that I’m too young for the technology ash heap. Imagine my surprise then when I discovered I had friends already on Facebook, lots and them and they want to talk.
Imagine my further surprise when I was invited to join a discussion group called “Pentecostals who have not yet become Anglican.” The group of mostly young adults label themselves as “pointless” and “just for fun.” I might argue that their concern is overstated but you don’t have to be skilled in profiling to know there is a serious undertone to both their existence and discussion. As a professor teaching in a non-denominational Christian college, it’s not hard to notice a trend among many of my students away from their evangelical heritage towards more liturgically-based assemblies like the Anglican Church. They’re in search of something they feel is missing in their own church traditions.
Intrigued by such observations, I recently visited a frequent haunt of many such students. St. Benedict’s Table is in the heart of Winnipeg and is positioned with the Anglican tradition. It describes itself as “first and foremost a Eucharistic worshipping community that is rooted in the ancient future”—a paradoxical phrase that, nonetheless, is descriptive of the worship experience I encountered. Upon entering, visitors are simply greeted and given a double sided song sheet and what looks like a menu from a restaurant, the latter being the order of service which I suspect changes little from week to week. In place of video or even overhead projectors, St. Benedict’s Table prefers the use of the printed page as part of an effort to engage all of our human senses, in this case touch. At first glance, the setting appears sparse. Congregants are seated in traditional wooden pews that bear the marks and presence of many previous generations. The aroma of incense, another ancient church ritual fills the air. In the middle of the aisle stands a podium on which lies a Bible. During the service, several passages of Scripture will be read audibly from this Bible, encompassing the Gospels and usually both Testaments. At the front of the church, in keeping with the Anglican tradition is the altar. Gracing the altar to the side are pictures of Jesus or what the community affectionately refers to as icons.
In the early church icons were considered a visual scripture, the Bible of the illiterate. Early Christians made such images of Christ from cloth, metal or glass, in part, because they believed beholding such imagery would enable them to recognize Christ when he returned. By the 8th century, some believers, such as John of Damascus, went so far as to teach that honour given to the image is transferred to its prototype. Subsequently, a division occurred and icon lovers were identified as iconophiles. Those who denounced the use of icons, believing it to be a violation of the 2nd commandment, were identified as iconoclasts. They chose, instead, to center their attention solely on the text of the Bible, the bread and wine of the Eucharist and the empty cross as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection. At St. Benedict’s Table the icons are meant to function in the earliest tradition of the church as tools for worship, creating through their beauty a space of peace and expectation. In keeping with this objective, during times of worship even those leading worship direct their attention to the front of the church.
At St. Benedict’s Table worship, like the setting, is defined by its simplicity. This is a technology free zone. Instrumentation is kept to a minimum with only two or three guitars played in a “rootsy” not folk style. Other instruments are sometimes used provided they do not interrupt the rhythm of meditation. The music is geared to calm and quiet the soul. In fact much attention is also given to the practice of silence before God. Like Elijah hiding in the mountain, worshippers invite God to speak through the sounds of silence.
As a community of worship, St. Benedict’s Table is not alone. The practice of such a meditative community finds its origins in the small town of Taizé, France. An ecumenical community founded there in 1940 by Brother Roger now hosts tens of thousands of young people every year who come to pray, worship and hear God speak.
I confess, I walked away from St. Benedict’s Table refreshed. I experienced what the Taizé community describes as a “holy stop, a sabbatical rest, a truce of worries.” Will this be a trend in the future? I think it’s too soon to say. But in a world where the noise and demands of technology can wear you out, a community of faith that gives temporary respite can only be a welcomed invitation. I am no hurry to give up my Pentecostal heritage but before we abandon ourselves to the vagaries of technology we may want to pray Veni Sancte Spiritus – Come Holy Spirit.
Copyright: R. Holm, 2007 | Used here with the author’s permission.