A brief review of our worship service will be our topic this month. I want to take a moment to explain some of the theology that goes into our service as it is, and some of the personal choices I have made in how to transact those theological moments.
Songs of Praise
The Lord’s Supper
Order of Worship
PRAISE and PRAYERS
CALL TO WORSHIP
GREETING ONE ANOTHER
CONCERNS FOR PRAYER
PRAYER OF GRACE AND ILLUMINATION
CONFESSION AND PARDON
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
THE GREAT THANKSGIVING
THE LORD’S PRAYER (in unison)
TAKING BREAD AND CUP
The preparatory time for worship in both services is a little varied.
During first service, we begin with the announcements, clearly placing these outside of worship. This is more confused in the 1020 service with announcements, which are not worship, and the time of greeting one another firmly placed in the allocation for praise and prayers. The Call to Worship is effected through the responsive reading in the 1020 service, and the music of praise and worship in the 830 service.
In the traditional order of service for a church service the greeting would come at the end of the service, as an addition to the benediction, with those who have gathered unsure of where they might be next, as they may have been interlopers present for a psingle service, or under some scrutiny for their faith, and thus subject to persecution which would prevent them from participating during the next service.
This time obviously breaks the flow of a worship service, and can make it difficult to bring the people back together, which we know to be the case in both of our services, using music and the children’s message to drag people back to their seats to continue to participate.
This brings me to the question of a children’s message. What I find interesting about this time, is that it is used in churches to do a variety of things. Some churches use it as a “dumbed down” version of the sermon, because the “kids” won’t understand what the pastor has to say. In some churches, like ours, it is used as a prelude to dismissal, where we tell the children that they are to be different and separated from the rest of the church body. The children’s message is a new advent in the church, implemented during the 1900s. Prior to that children were in the entire service with the entire congregation, to learn how to be Christians, to be a reminder to the entire congregation that we are all children in the eyes of God, and as a social trainer to help children learn how to act in the rest of society. The old adage from Africa, “it takes a village to raise a child” was the premise of the children in service. Kids were cared for by the entire congregation during the service. The other alternative, which was what some churches turned to was that the children were not in church at all, set apart for Sunday School during the worship service, or just allowed to be elsewhere to play games or be with other kids.
The location of the offering is always a question. As ultimately, the offering is to God, with the church as the means by which it gets conveyed. In true worship, our offering is given not in response to what the church is or is not doing according to our desires, but given to God as a means of sharing our adoration and praise for the God who has already given us everything, and freely so, including our salvation with the gift of His only Son Jesus Christ. The placement before the sermon signifies this more clearly, and after the sermon it is seen as a means of responding, in action, to the very message of the Gospel communicated in the Sermon.
The Scriptures we use for worship are also a little contrived, as we have not been following the Lectionary of late. The Lectionary is designed to help tell the story in thematic ways, with an Old Testament lesson, a Psalm, an Epistle (letter) and a Gospel Lesson (from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John), and intended to help teach the scriptures, though it does leave many passages out, and rarely deals with the troublesome or difficult passages of scripture. Our current method of selecting scriptures for worship comes from the scriptures you asked to hear more about, either because you felt you knew them well, and wanted a chance to share that wonder of Scripture with the rest of the congregation, or because it was a passage or segment of scripture that was pretty fuzzy and unclear to you, and you wanted to learn more. I have also thrown in a few other pieces to help stay with the Seasons of the church (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost) and affirm the traditions of the church by these means, as well as a few passages that have been “Pastor’s Discretion” with the idea that for the good of the congregational life of St. Andrew UMC we might need to review or learn more about a particular topic or passage of scripture.
In the Order of Service I have chosen to explain our service and the meanings thereof, I also picked a service that has Communion. Insomuch as the Sermon is designed to communicate God’s message in words of the Gospel, and the good news of Jesus Christ, Communion is a “Tangible Sign of an Inward and Spiritual Grace” which was freely offered in Jesus Christ. John Wesley called this a “Converting Ordinance”. If the purpose of a sermon is to encourage change in the life of the congregation member, through the hearing of the message, then Communion effects real change in the Spirit of the individual. The “Converting Ordinance” then is to say that if someone is being pulled to come to Communion and participate God has already effected a change in the person, and in the moment of participating in Communion, the individual affects the mantle of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and is made a Christian, and begins to live the life God has called us to live out the Great Commandment, “To love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind; and to love your neighbor as yourself”.
We follow the effected and affected changes of the worship, transmitted through the Call to Worship, Prayers, Sermon and Communion, with the Benediction to send us out in ministry to the world. At this point, our worship must really begin - with purpose and practice, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, in thought, word and action, according to the grace given us by the Holy Spirit, in the name of God.
I realize that I may sound overly harsh in my assessment of the way in which we do worship. The reality is that this is the form of worship we have learned and decided to participate. I want to acknowledge that I am very open to doing worship in the way of St. Andrew UMC, and many other forms as well. I have a hard time with High Church worship, with stalwart traditions, as most of us are, because it is not a particularly participatory worship, nor was it intended to be. Worship in the traditional forms, especially under the traditional Latin Mass, was for the priest to direct the attentions of the people to God, and the understanding of the language used was not as important as the fact that God was being worshiped properly.
It is from some of this background that I dissected the worship styles we use at St. Andrew. We tend toward the “Isaiah model” of worship which concludes with the sermon, and the idea that the sermon should be driving people out to action, and is the culmination of the work of the Spirit in the acts of worship preceding it.
I realize that there are a variety of theological and practical understandings for the way in which we do ministry, and practice worship. God is faithful in all of them. The various forms we use are tools for helping direct us, and are derived from the initial forms of worship established in Jewish Synagogues and the Temple many years ago, sustained through the ages since by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as well as the various denominations we have formed since. It is in the amalgam of people we have worshiping with us, that the things that are familiar are utilized and developed to create our current Order of Service here at St. Andrew.
I also want to acknowledge that I do not know it all. If you have insights or knowledge to share with me about the forms we use in our worship, please do so. I will do my best to learn and understand even more deeply from the richness of backgrounds we bring to this time together as we offer ourselves back to God for the many wonderful things God has already given to us.