Goodbye to GWILT, at Least for Now

In conversation over lunch one day last winter, a friend and I agreed that there might be some interest, out here on the prairie just northwest of Columbus, Ohio, in a worship service that would combine a focus on serious Christian discipleship with liturgical worship forms. We had both served Mennonite churches and institutions, where we had embraced that tradition’s emphasis on faithful service as the mark of genuine faith. At the same time, we were both drawn to the beauty and mystery that are at the heart of the liturgical tradition in worship. I had even been ordained an Anglican priest in 2011.

A small Mennonite church in Plain City, Ohio, graciously permitted us the use of their sanctuary for our services. After our first scheduled service was canceled because of bad weather in late February, the Gathering for Worship in the Liturgical Tradition (GWILT) met for the first time on March 7 and then every other Saturday (except for Holy Week) until mid-July. After a two-month hiatus to allow for summer schedule conflicts, we met again on September 26. We had planned to meet twice more before the end of the church year in November.

In light of impending schedule conflicts and the uncertainty of trying to meet over the Thanksgiving weekend, we have decided that the meeting scheduled for Saturday, October 17, will be our final service… at least for now.

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From the beginning, this was mainly an experiment. That is not to say we were not serious in this endeavor. I’m confident that all who attended any of the services would agree that God met us when we gathered. By “experiment,” then, I mean that we did not set out on this venture with a specific goal in view, other than to observe whether or not a service of this nature would meet a need for persons who made up our natural constituency.

The services were never well attended. After an encouraging start back in March, some of us hoped that word-of-mouth sharing would encourage others to check us out. That never really happened.

We made it clear from the beginning that this was simply a service of worship with a unique blend of emphasis and form. It was not undertaken as an attempt to plant a new church, although I, for one, hoped that a shared vision for such an effort might arise within the group. That never happened either.

It’s difficult to be disappointed over the demise of an experiment undertaken with no firm, long-term goal in view from the outset. At the same time, it is difficult not to be disappointed, at least in my own case, that something I regarded as having great potential for the service of the kingdom of God should come to naught.

I have said or written many times that it is not my intention to ask God to bless my endeavors but rather, to find what God is already doing and join it. For the time being, at least, God is not apparently energizing the further development of this Gathering for Worship in the Liturgical Tradition. We gave it a try, and we carried it out with care and commitment. Particularly at the table of the Eucharist, God met us every time.

In January, I will present a workshop titled “Liturgy as Spiritual Oasis” as part of the School for Leadership Training at my alma mater, Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, VA. (Click here for more information.) After that, Shirley and I will have to decide where we should live following her retirement from Rosedale Mennonite Missions in the spring. At that time, we will re-visit the question of involvement in a church planting endeavor in the Columbus area. We will also need to determine what theological communion, if any, we will identify with for the closing chapter of our lifetime of ministry. At present, both the Mennonite Church and the Episcopal Church are possibilities.

My heartfelt thanks to all who have attended one or more of the services at the Gathering for Worship in the Liturgical Tradition and to those who have prayed for this endeavor. If you live in the Columbus area, I hope you will consider joining us for our final service (at least for now) on Saturday, October 17. Check my Facebook page and the Gathering’s page for details.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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