My first Major League Baseball game was courtesy of a friend’s dad who had season tickets to the California Angels way back when they shared a stadium with the Rams. They were awesome seats, 20 rows behind home plate. When the 7th inning came, he said, “Well, it’s time for us to go.” My friend got up so I followed, very confused. I had been to many sporting events but never once left early. Starting in grade school, I went to the high school where my dad worked to watch the Cardinals’ basketball games. They went past my bedtime but we didn’t leave early. Likewise, we went to Spanaway Speedway to watch junker cars drive an 1/8th mile figure-8 track trying not to hit each other. Despite how crowded the parking lot was, I don’t ever remember leaving early. Thus, I found it strange leaving a Major League game before it ended.
The Episcopal Church believes in a God of order; therefore our worship service emphasizes order. To some it may appear to be rote; I find comfort and peace in it. The Russian Orthodox Church has an ordered service which is very long, usually over three hours. Most worshippers take prolonged smoke breaks – even if they don’t smoke. A new church by my house has a coffee stand in the narthex. During the worship service, worshippers sit there and watch the service. There are many varied ways of worshipping God through Christ. I would never say ours is the best but it is a part of the great tapestry that wraps all believers together into one Spirit.
Being a service of order, there is a clear beginning and end. The beginning starts with, “Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” The service ends with one of a variety of dismissals; my favorite is, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Rev. Cathey dismisses with words to this effect: “The worship service has ended. Service to the Lord begins. Go in peace.” At the 8 am service, we wait to dismiss until the candles on the altar are extinguished. Saint John’s lore has it that back in the old church there were many candles behind the altar and folks would wait until all were extinguished. At the 10 am service, there are more moving parts – a recessional hymn and a recessing choir with altar servers and clergy. We like to have the altar candles extinguished around the end of the hymn as the dismissal is taking place. It’s quite a feat and I wonder how many people notice how much syncing it takes.
The church I served while in seminary had a plaque that read “ENTRANCE” next to the green exit sign above the doors leading outside. The church lore there is that before exit signs were mandatory, a larger sign over the exit doors read, “ENTER the Mission Field where the harvest is Great and the Laborers few.” Because they could not legally have an “entrance” sign where there should be an exit sign, the large sign was removed. The Sunday after the illuminated exit signs were installed, someone took the “entrance” plaque above one of the doors leading into the church kitchen and installed it above the exit doors to the church. It is still there.
No matter how many ways the universal Church worships our Savior, each service has a beginning and an end, and the service we do in Christ’s name, as Reverend Cathey reminds us, continues out into the world.