The Altar Call
As an evangelical kiddo, the altar call was one of the most important parts of our weekly worship services — arguably THE most important. The “Altar” for evangelical christians is less about a specifically-designed table where the communion is consecrated and is more about an open space where the people of God are welcome to re-committ themselves to the work of Jesus Christ — publicly. If you asked most folks in an evangelical church where the “altar” is, they’d point to the steps near the pulpit. A lot of methodist congregations have a fancy railing with cushions so you can comfortably kneel. Either way, the looks didn’t quite matter. It was a place for prayer. It was a place for conversations with God. It was a place for conversion. It was a place to lay down the burdens you’d carried throughout your week. For many, it was the place they met God for the first time. For many it was a place where they found relief they’d never felt before. For a significant number of people, it was unfortunately a place where shame and guilt reigned supreme.
In addition to that, the altar call in many progressive congregations has been liturgically sucked dry of any emotion or significance. It is merely a placeholder for a bygone era of mass conversions and spiritual commitments.
Throwing the Baby Out with the Bath Water
As humans often tend to do when feeling deep trauma about something particular, the baby gets thrown out with the bath water. For many progressive-leaning congregations, that meant eliminating the “altar call” altogether. Perhaps for some congregations, that is the healthiest way to reframe how God includes us into their loving community. I would argue, though, that just like the Lord’s Supper or Baptism, the invitation to the altar is just as much an “ordinance” or “sacrament” as anything else.
The Liturgy of the Altar Call
There is immense beauty in the invitation for parishioners to collectively respond to God’s call through public movements. The alter call is inherently liturgical in the sense that it is the work of all congregants as they seek to communicate with and…