Immersed on the path of the gospel

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Angela Reinders is based in Aachen, in Germany, and recently used Dérive app, the mobile app by Babak Fakhamzadeh which helps to get you lost, as part of a liturgical service. She’s providing a writeup of her experience.
This article first appeared on the Dérive app website on October 22, 2023.

Getting hints and tasks to stop and move without even moving, does this make any sense? Sounds like kind of a play, and yes, it is one: Following famous catholic theologist Romano Guardini (1885-1968), the author Daniel Cardó tells us that “liturgy is a kind of sacred play, with beautiful rules and capable participants”.

So, a Christian worship service on a day in October was composed and celebrated like a “serious game” using task cards of the Dérive app. 

I’m director of the Episcopal Academy of the Diocese of Aachen, in Germany, and live here, too. I’m a catholic theologian, and contribute to several, mostly christian, journals as a freelance author. I do voluntary work in liturgy and public outreach in the parish where I live and. 
During the pandemic, I wanted to try out new routes and discover different places, and came across Dérive app. Now, I wanted to experiment with whether I could introduce the meandering, which the dérive facilitates, into my service.

The template text for this worship service was published in a professional journal called “Preparing Worship Services” (German journal, Gottesdienste vorbereiten, Bergmoser + Hoeller Publishing House). 

At the beginning of the celebration, I explained what the concept of the dérive is, and what it can be used for: “For those who enjoy walking, experiencing new things, and being creative, there is the ‘Dérive app’. This app invites you to discover your familiar surroundings, uncover them anew, and playfully, while intentionally getting lost.” The introducing text continued: “Task cards will guide us through the service. Don’t worry: we will remain safe, we will start from here, and we will return here as well.”

A Catholic worship usually offers three biblical texts, one taken from the Old (or: First) Testament, one from the New (or: Second) Testament, and a gospel text. 

The first two biblical texts were introduced by Dérive style tasks. 

The book of Isaiah 25:6-10a announces a promise: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples”, it reads. 
This text was introduced by the following task: “In your thoughts, go to the mountain where you were last. Go to the highest point, stand there, and enjoy the view. Then look around you, do it now: Who is standing next to you, in front of you, behind you? They are invited to the feast. It’s about to begin on this mountain. Make yourself comfortable in your seat, full of hope.”

The second reading on that day, read right after singing Psalm 23, is taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, 4:12-14, 19-20, and was accompanied by the following task: “Now we have continued our journey by ship. It has docked in Neapolis. Disembark with the Apostle Paul and follow him to Philippi. Walk with him through the city gate to the river, where he suspects a place of prayer. Sit with him and speak with the women who have gathered there. Get to know the purple merchant Lydia and witness her conversion to Christ and baptism. Follow her to her home, where the first Christian community on European soil is forming.”

The Gospel as read on that very day, Matthew 22:1-10, tells the story of a king who has had extremely negative experiences with inviting guests to his son’s wedding, which are even ending up in murder and violence. Therefore, he instructs his servants to “go to the street corners” and to randomly collect anyone they encounter. An experiment to get lost in a planned way and bring guests together for a wedding celebration, perhaps to bring fellow believers together as a congregation? 

The first task offered the opportunity to prepare, stand up and listen patiently, in order to react as the servants were supposed to: “Please stand up, but do not leave immediately when the king commands it. Wait in your place, even if the king sends the second cohort of his servants. Stay in place when the army goes out, when it returns, and reports terrible things. Only go on the third command and follow the king’s instructions.”

The interpretation following the reading of the Gospel dealt in a kind of metareflection on possible tasks for servants, or let’s say, followers of the King, which should in this case be Jesus Christ. 

The triple set of task cards introducing the biblical texts thus followed a path in three steps, trying to evoke answers to the following three questions: 

  • What if people in the congregation assembled were as connected as God’s future is designed? 
  • What if believers, once set out, could actually convince people? What if the members of the Christian community today found people like Lydia willing to engage in it? 
  • The interpretation went ahead: What if the task of the servants was fulfilled? What if all those people from the crossroads, the store counter, or the next café, came along to join the community? What if at the next crossroads, followers today engaged in a conversation about their own faith that left them both disturbed in the best sense, and enriched in the good sense?

This intellectual game then resulted in a next task: “In your thoughts, return to the banquet hall. Find someone wearing shoes in the same colour as yours. It’s a feast with many acquaintances and some unfamiliar faces. Instead of talking about your profession, the size of your dog, or the colour you plan to paint your living room, this time, talk about your faith.”

This led to a gesture of peace towards each other: “In your thoughts, approach three more people. With at least one of them, it’s challenging for you to offer a sign of peace because something significant stands between you. In your thoughts, extend your hand to at least one of those individuals. – The peace of the Lord be and remain with us always.”

After the blessing, the worship template offered just one further task to dismiss the congregation into their everyday life: “In the first encounter of the new week, seek and say something good. Let us go and remain in God’s peace.”

Since the day of the worship, October 15th 2023, was the feast day of saint Teresa of Avila, the template also offered to incorporate task cards with her quotes, such as: “If there are many mansions in heaven, there are also many paths to get there” (from “The Interior Castle”); “Choose the path that you believe is right to accompany someone to their destination”, and “If we only look at the path, we would soon reach our destination”; “Walk the next path you come across with this thought in mind and write down what you discover.”

Of course, there always are critics, in this case people joining the celebration who rejected the idea of the Dérive style task cards as not being an appropriate response to the dignity of the word of God. 

Several members of the congregation, on the other hand, acknowledged that this method of introducing them to the biblical texts, and to let those attending this service participate in what they are saying, made it possible for them to immerse into the scene, to feel how and where the words could change aspects of their lives, and take these thoughts from this Sunday service into Monday’s business. 

I consider this alternative way of conducting a service a success. I was glad to be able to offer a different way to experience the biblical text, which in itself is a challenge. Of course, whether this works, or not, depends on whether participants are willing to experiment, and use their imagination. 

For this article: copyright 2023, Angela Reinders

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