Trader Joe’s Karaoke

What if church could feel more connectional and playful?

I found myself pondering this a couple days ago, and an odd scenario brought this to mind. Actually, it’s a great scenario, though it may seem like a stretch to make analogous comparisons to church communities. At least, initially.

The odd/great scenario is this: People are always singing at Trader Joe’s.

I’ve noticed this for a long time. In fact, about a year ago, I wrote a whole other post about people dancing in Trader Joe’s. Sure, people are there putting groceries into carts, and sometimes, it’s very crowded. But people actually sing and dance in that space! And it kind of fascinates me.

While I push my cart, I will inevitably hear someone singing, perhaps quietly to themselves, along with the music from the loudspeakers. This weekend, I saw employees singing to each other. That 80s song, “Sara,” was on, and someone started crooning it to Rachel.

Rachellllllll. . . RACHEL! Storms are brewin’ in your eyes. . .

Lately, I’ve started a bit of an experiment of my own. I’ve started singing – less under my breath, but actually singing – to the music to see if others will do the same. You know what? They do, and we smile at each other.

I came home and said to my partner Ian, “Why is it that I can sing aloud at Trader Joe’s, and that is somehow, completely acceptable?”

Ever since, I’ve been wondering what makes that so, and I’m wondering if there are any analogous connections to church.

I guess what I’m really noticing is that total strangers are able to connect with each other very easily in that space.

– Perhaps it’s because the store is small and doesn’t look like a grocery store in a warehouse.

– Perhaps it’s because people know what to expect. Folks go to the grocery often. It’s a routine experience they anticipate having with other people.

– Perhaps it’s because pictures of the neighborhood are all over the place.

– Perhaps it’s because there’s an entire wall with drawings from kids.

– Perhaps it’s because the staff seems to communicate that they genuinely enjoy being together and with us.

All of these pieces make the space feel very humanized and connectional. To an actual level that total strangers will sing and dance in the store, fully in the presence of each other!

Now I don’t really need people wearing Hawaiian shirts or singing Jefferson Starship in Christian worship, and the last thing I desire is for church to attempt to be “cool” and “edgy” in some marketing attempt. That always feels disingenuous.

But I will say that some of my favorite, sacred moments happen in experiences of what I call “Holy Low Church.”

I appreciate the sacred mystery and beauty conveyed in formal liturgy and classical music. Some call that “High Church.” That can feel wonderfully transcendent. But I also love when a sacred feeling emerges in worship forms that are a bit more mundane, where the sense of holiness happens less in the formal order but in the connections between the people gathered.

This actually takes planning too. “Holy Low Church” worship isn’t willy-nilly thrown together. It involves crafting a deliberate kind of community space with a rhythm that conveys that something special and sacred is happening. It’s more improvisational in a lot ways, and it comes more directly from the people themselves than the bulletin, though there may still be an order. All of this involves intentional efforts to craft a community culture and space that makes all of this possible.

Maybe Trader Joe’s has something to teach us.

Renee Roederer

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