Growing up in the Presbyterian Church in Canada, I learned that worship—and just about every other aspect of religious life—was realized through the words of the Apostle Paul written in 1 Corinthian 14:40: “ Let all things be done decently and in order.”
What this can represent to the world beyond the walls of Presbyterian churches is that church is the meeting place for a group of detail-oriented, type-A people. Sometimes this is closer to the truth than we like to admit! As a young person, I found myself drawn into the folds of this church: a church whose strengths, I’ve discovered, lie in the same category as its weaknesses.
I was never the type to be held fast by rules. They often seemed more of a suggestion. I have since changed my ways. I realized, as my adult years loomed ahead of me, that perhaps the orderly practice of faith formation inspired direction and discipline.
Every week I would look forward to singing the Hymn #100 Doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow”). I would listen to the choir as they broke off into four-part harmony and would expect that the heavens themselves were about to break in through the church ceilings. The order of the service, the familiarity of the songs, and the repetition of the comforting words of the Lord’s Prayer all swam together in soul as I stood in reverence.
Order, a very biblically rooted idea, first arrives on the scene at the beginning of creation. Whether you read the text literally or more broadly, the implications of God’s desire for order from chaos are clear. God saw a need to bring to light a sense of direction and guidance for the world.
Order creates a space for guidance and growth through which God bestows upon creation God’s wisdom. What a gift.
Currently I work part-time for a Unitarian church in Toronto. It is a wonderful exercise in learning from other faith traditions and rituals. I also work part-time for a small community café that serves local, organic foods. It is striking how both of these positions require creating order from chaos.
Within the Unitarian church there are so many people who come from different beliefs. It can be hard to find common ground. The impulse toward order has called me to a higher level of articulation and thought so as to draw the circle of inclusivity wider. It has been the disciplined practice of my faith to leave no one outside the communal walls.
Similarly, there is something quite beautiful about taking simple, healthy food ingredients and creating works of art. In the best moments, nothing less than ministry happens.
It happens when you feed someone a bowl of soup or a cup of coffee. It happens when you finally get to know the name of the customer that has been coming in daily. It happens in order. First, I take their order, literally. And the order is comforting.
I know that I can count on order because, like God, I call it to be there. I make a request of myself, and my tendencies towards chaos, to choose otherwise and allow God to fill my journey with the joys and sorrows of order.
Once I became more in touch with order, I realized that many things made more sense. You live and someday you die; you share love and you receive appreciation; you practice order and you grow in faith. Now, it is not always this simple but it is beautiful and that is what I count on.
Spirituality as a practice for me, and I would be so bold to say within the Presbyterian Church, is the finding of decency and order in chaos. It has recognized that the much-sought-after and ever-evasive gift of wisdom, which God wishes to give God’s people, can be present in order.
Order is a way of drawing us close, toward as The Artist and Master Chef who creates the divine canvas and bids the heavens sing. Of course, we all know that there will be chaos too, that not everything can be controlled.
But as God sought out and created order from the chaos in Genesis, to gift us with wisdom and right relation, so too are we beckoned into God’s decent and ordered love.
Margaret Evans is a recent M.Div. graduate of the Vancouver School of Theology. She is currently working as the Director of Lifespan Learning at Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Toronto, Ontario.