Corinne Ware remembers being struck by how tall the church was.
She was in England doing graduate work and happened upon St. Margaret's Church, a 16th-century sanctuary next to Westminster Abbey. Everything seemed vertical — the pillars, the stained glass windows, the massive organ.
"I thought, whoever these people are, they understand mystery," she recalled Monday morning as we sat in her office at the Seminary of the Southwest, an Episcopal seminary just north of the University of Texas. Ware, a slender, elegant woman who teaches ascetical theology, was sharing her own story as she explained to me the different types of worship Christians gravitate toward.
A Southern Baptist, Ware loved her church and the foundation it laid for her. But that day at St. Margaret's, she realized she had a thirst for that kind of church experience. She would eventually become an Episcopalian.
I remember as a teenager feeling that thirst for mystery, a component of the Catholic experience I worried had been lost in the post-Vatican II era. Don't ask me why I worried about such things at 16. The point is, while others clearly welcomed a folksy approach to the Mass, the guitar strumming and 1970s touchy-feely hymns left me cold. In college, I would go out of my way to St. Cecilia Parish, a musty, 19th-century church in Boston's Back Bay, because for some reason, I felt more at home with the old women huddled with their Rosary beads than I did with the students at the on-campus Protestant chapel that was also used for Catholic Mass.
Of course, this was long before I began reporting on religion. Now, I am able to enter churches as an observer and appreciate the worship experience through the eyes of the people in the pews, whether it's a foot-stomping, Holy Spirit-filled service at a historically African American church, a high-tech audio visual display at a hip, young church or a straightforward Protestant service with well-worn hymns and a biblical sermon.
But I do still wonder: What draws people to a particular worship experience? Why does a service that begins with four rock 'n' roll songs appeal to some people in their 20s and 30s while the incensed solemnity of a Latin Mass resonates with other young people? Or why still others from the same demographic are drawn more to refurbishing a poor family's house as an act of worship.
These were questions that tugged at Ware's mind as a student pursuing her doctorate of ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in the 1980s. She noticed that, after leaving church on Sundays, one person might say, "What a wonderful service," and another would shake his head and say, "I didn't get anything out of it."
How could two people walk away from the same service with such different reactions, Ware wondered. Determined to understand, she began researching the matter, turning the question into her doctoral dissertation. She picked up where the late theologian Urban Holmes left off. Holmes was dean of the University of the South's theology school in Sewanee, Tenn., and had explored spiritual typology in the same way the Myers-Briggs test helped people understand personality types.
Ware visited a variety of churches for two years and found that prayer, music and architecture all played a key part in people's worship experience. Ultimately, she presented four categories of worshipper: thinking, feeling, mystic, visionary.
A thinking person, Ware explained, enjoys saying written prayers and traditional music, while a feeling person prefers extemporaneous prayers and contemporary music. A mystic, on the other hand, does not address God but waits to be addressed, she said, and prefers silence. And a visionary might take yet another approach, saying his or her work is a form of prayer. Ware cited Habitat for Humanity and "social services, boots on the ground people" as examples of visionary worshippers.
Ware's dissertation became a published book, "Discover Your Spiritual Type: A Guide to Individual and Congregational Growth" (Alban Institute, 1985), which continues to stir interest on seminary campuses and among Christians in general. The book features a test to determine one's religious category, which Ware is quick to point out is but one aspect of a person's spiritual profile. Most people fit more than one type, she said.
I thought of people such as Alan Graham, president of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, who no doubt sees feeding homeless people as an act of worship but who also sees the importance of attending Mass and reciting written prayers and hearing traditional music. Or the congregation at Mosaic, a young, nondenominational church that plays rock 'n' roll music during the service but also observes periods of silence in the tradition of Christian mysticism. For more on that aspect of worship, see Ware's more recent book "Saint Benedict on the Freeway: A Rule of Life for the 21st Century" (Abingdon Press, 2001).
Different spiritual types exist in all churches, she said. Some find a way of satisfying the different thirsts. Her parish, St. David's Episcopal Church, offers several services, including a Compline service, which is chanted, and a contemporary Celtic communion.
The way Ware sees it, God speaks to people in the language they understand.
"All languages are equally valid," she said.
And, as she learned from her study of Holmes' work, "all are needed for the whole body of the church."
Ware smiled. "That's a nice conclusion to come to."