Here is a little piece I wrote for our publication, Perichoresis that is distributed to students at our Sunday evening service. Originally written 10/30/08
One of the most challenging aspects of my work as Minister of Music and Art here at Hope College is finding ways to plan services that can serve a wide variety of people. Hope College is affiliated with the Reformed Church of America, yet we have faculty, staff and students who come from many different kinds of church backgrounds. That means that we all know different sets of songs and prayers and different ways of singing those songs and organizing those prayers into a worship service.
This organization of prayers, readings, songs and preaching is called the worship liturgy. In common usage, some refer to Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox worship services as well as Lutheran, Presbyterian and the other Reformed worship services as liturgical. In these “higher” worship traditions ministers usually dress in vestments; their worship space is often adorned with religious symbols, and the worship texts follow the church calendar. If you were to attend one of these churches, you would be handed a small booklet with the order of service so that you can follow along with the readings and responses and know when to stand, kneel, sit, pray, sing or meditate silently.
Baptist, Mennonite or Anabaptist churches, Assemblies of God, Vineyard along with the many other non-denominational churches, in contrast, are often referred to as “low church” and are on the surface comparatively less liturgical. These churches still have structure to their services; it is just simpler. Community announcements, singing, a sermon and prayers comprise the core portions of these worship services. Pentecostal and charismatic churches are even more simple in the way they value the freedom to spontaneously respond to the movements of the Spirit.
So, you can see that trying to plan a worship service at Hope, where so many of us come from different worship experiences, can be tricky. My hope is to make our worship ecumenical, meaning that I intend for our worship to include as many worshippers as possible. Planning this kind of universal worship is easier said than done. How is it possible, as in the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “to be all things to all people” in the context of worship? When reciting the Nicene Creed we confess together that “We believe in one holy catholic [universal] and apostolic Church.” Yet, how does that actually happen here, now, on this side of heaven? We are finite, particular beings with subjective tastes in music and preaching and liturgical styles, yet we are worshipping an infinite being, the creator of the heavens and the earth who sent his son specifically with the mission of drawing all people, all nations, tribes and tongues to himself. Whew!
Fortunately, I don’t have to figure this all out on my own. We have an historical “Great Cloud of Witnesses,” a host of worshippers who have gone before us who have much to teach us, much that we hope and rest in. By looking at a historical meaning of the liturgy we are able to get a better perspective on worship.
Liturgy, in its most basic and original definition, means “the work of the people.” The whole of a church is a “litourgeia.” In fact, it is impossible for any church, even the most spontaneous, not to have a liturgy. Theologian Alexander Schmemann, explains that liturgy is the notion that we become something as a corporate body of believers that we cannot be alone as individuals. Liturgy begins in the morning when we wake, clothe and feed ourselves, put our coats on and head out the door, walk or drive, and go about our daily movements—movements that eventually lead us to gather at our Lord’s Table to remember his death and resurrection. In this broader sense, all of life is liturgical, all of our activities are preparation for worship if they culminate in our gathering around the body and blood of Christ.
This original meaning of liturgy is not so concerned with what I do in my planning as worship leader. It is not so much an issue of guitars or organs to play, hymns or praise choruses. Liturgy is the work each of us does to prepare ourselves for corporate celebration. It is our modern, consumer culture that teaches us to think otherwise, that we come to church to be served by the preacher and the musicians, as if those of us in front were more important to God.
Think on this: what is it that you can do in your daily rhythms to prepare your heart and mind for chapel and the Gathering?