University Baptist' Celtic services steeped in tradition

By BUSTER WOLFE,

A different type of church service is available in the Hattiesburg area when University Baptist Church holds its Celtic Christian service on the second Sunday of each month.

The traditions of the service date back to 300 A.D., said Associate Pastor Kat Spangler Kimmel.

“It’s a come-as-you-are kind of service,” she said. “It is steeped in some of the old traditions of the idea of God being found in Creation and grace, and God believing that we are innately good.”

The service, which begins at 5:30 p.m., doesn’t dwell on the sermon (there isn’t one), but it offers the congregation the time to reflect on Christianity and to honor God with communion and lighting votive candles.

“It’s kind of bare bones, and sometimes we need that,” Kimmel said. “There’s a lot of flash in this world, a lot of big, flashy programs to draw people in. sometimes we just need to sit and be and recognize that God is here with us. We need to have a moment of quiet. There aren’t a lot of quiet moments in this world.”

A program is given to the congregation members with readings, songs and directions for the service.

“We certainly give space for people to feel the Holy Spirit,” Kimmel said. “There is communion every time. There are candles to light our prayers for people every time. There are moments for silent reflection every time. There are musical meditations to take things in and be still for a bit. There’s always some sort of reflection to help people think beyond what might be obvious in the text. There is always some type of cover art to help us think about the story.”

The people who conduct the service are not clergy.

“It’s a lay service,” Kimmel said. “The only thing that I have any leadership in is over the communion. Everything else is done by lay people, and not only members of our church. People who come to the Celtic service are asked to participate, so we have four communion servers every time and a leader and a reflector every time.”

Kimmel, whose doctorate project is on Eucharist and communion, said many Baptist churches are holding quarterly communions.

“We do it about once a month, but it’s a different model,” she said. “I’m glad to see the Protestant Church and the Baptist Church valuing Communion. I am happy to see it valued because it is a really important part of who we are. It’s a reminder that we can’t do it all ourselves and that we have God’s grace.”

While many churches of different faiths will recite creeds during the church service, those creeds aren’t always available to anyone who is not familiar with that religion.

“Even the Lord’s Prayer – we are in a time when a lot of people didn’t grow up in the church and they don’t know these routines,” Kimmel said. “They don’t know the creeds, the prayers and everything they are expected to recite in the middle of the service. We don’t know.”

The Celtic service also appeals to other people who are looking for a different way to worship, Kimmel said.

“Then a lot of people got burned out on church and they left,” she said. “They need to see something a little different. They need to feel some authenticity, I think.”

The service begins with a story from a lay person in connection with the theme of the readings.

“I think this is refreshing in that you hear a story and then you hear a person’s story and they tell their experience with God,” Kimmel said. “It’s not them telling you how you need to experience God. They are simply saying, ‘Hey, this is my experience.’”

Kimmel said the service, which lasts about 45 minutes and is followed with a community dinner, is borrowing the practices of other religions.

“This is interesting about what is happening now, at least around the nation and also around the world,” she said. “Some of the Protestant and Catholic churches are beginning to look like one another as they go back to more ancient model of word and table. So the Catholic Church has implemented more word recently and more homily-type sermon in their worship and we are implementing tables more often.”

The similarities between the two worship services are getting closer, Kimmel said.

“They look a lot more like one another than they used to, which I think it is a wonderful thing,” she said. “Really, I think that’s what we should be doing, getting closer to figuring out how we can be one. How are we all going to be the body of Christ if we can’t even worship together?

“It’s bad that we have to have different worship spaces because we know the whole world can’t fit in one place. We have to have different relationship models, but we need to be able to talk to one another and to get along with each other.”