low church

“What color do we wear, is it still white?†Pastor Lois asks me. It is 9:50 on Sunday, January 22, and we are standing outside the door of her office.

I respond, “I think it’s green. We’re back in ordinary time. But I’m not sure. Let’s check the calendar.â€Â  We open her United Church of Christ desk calendar. For each Sunday it lists the lectionary readings for the day as well as the liturgical color for the current church season.

“Yep,†I say, “green, from now until the end of February.â€

“All this green gets a little boring.†Lois remarks. I have to agree.

We were discussing the color of the stole to wear to worship that morning. Each Sunday we wear stoles that correspond to the seasons of the church year. Each season has a matching color that is to symbolize some aspect of that time of year. Advent is blue, Lent is purple, Easter, Christmas, and Epiphany are white, and Pentecost is red. Everything else is green. We wear green a lot. All the Sundays that are not listed above are called ordinary time.

You may have noted from our confusion about our colors that we are fully Congregationalists. I don’t think our colleagues in more liturgically formal denominations would forget such a detail. Our style of worship is referred to as “low church†in religious circles. By contrast a Catholic mass is generally “high church.†As a low church we are more informal, have fewer symbolic elements, and a less structured liturgy—that is, the order of worship tends to be less fixed in a single pattern.

The term Low church has its roots in the 17th century disputes in England regarding the nature of the church. It was first used pejoratively by those who wished to preserve the in the new Anglican church the structure and practices of their Roman Catholic predecessors. Low and High church are, of course, relative terms. Some Catholic churches are lower than even some of our congregational colleagues.

Occasionally I like to go to a large Episcopal cathedral to smell the incense, watch the stately procession and follow along with the prayer responses. It can all create a feeling of mystery and awe that speaks to part of my religious sentimentality. That is high church at its best.

In my heart, though, I am a low church person. We may lose some sense of mystery with our worship style, but we gain a more everyday-like relationship to God. You might say our worship is more ordinary. And, like ordinary time, it is the time to connect with God as we are. I don’t try to pretend that I am different in church, though I pray that church brings out the best in me.


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