All Hail the Power of … Stage Lighting?

Our congregations should be formed by the Word, not by the flashiest technology.

Lights.”

I wasn’t sure I heard correctly. I asked the student to repeat his answer.

“Lights.”

Again I was reduced to silence. Clearly I was missing something.

“Do you mean electricity? Like, instead of candles?” I asked uncertainly.

“No,” he replied. “I mean lights—you know, lights.”

And then it dawned on me. The student meant lighting—dimmers, spotlights, colored lights, the whole array of controls for “stage lighting”—what you might find at a stand-up show, theatrical production, or concert.

I had proposed a question to a room of 40 college freshmen: Suppose you traveled to a new city next weekend, and on Sunday morning you chose to visit a church. What would you expect to find?

I often ask this question to begin a discussion about liturgy, the “script” that different traditions follow in their public worship, however “high” or “low” the church in question may be. Students typically think of greeters, ushers, pews, people, preaching, tithing, prayer, Scripture. Sometimes Communion gets a mention. Creed and confession of sins rarely do.

Increasingly, though, students talk about technology: screens, videos, cameras, livestreaming. Other elements are equally technological, though they don’t think of them that way: mics, headsets, multi-piece bands, a complex production with many moving parts. All signs of technological development and adaptation; all relatively new to Christian liturgy; none more than a few generations old, at least in terms of common church usage.

All this came home to me in my student’s honest first thought in response to my question: Lights. When he imagined going to church, when …

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