I decided to resume the Word Series this week by studying a very common – and very loaded – Christian word: worship.
When does worship begin, and when does it end? Which aspects of a Christian church service fall inside the category of worship, and which don’t? For that matter, does all worship, by definition, happen only in the context of Christian church service?
Most of us probably have answers to those questions ‘at the ready’, and if you’re a regular Disciplehood reader, you can probably guess where I land on them. But let’s take a stroll through this familiar (maybe too familiar) concept over the next couple of days, and see if our definitions are affirmed, challenged or (worst of all) expanded.
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At the start of Sunday service at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, the music leader issues a call to worship, that usually ends with an invitation to ‘stand and join us as we continue in worship’.
But I think for some, the use of the word ‘continue’ seems a big generous.
The call comes after the first song, so it’s fair to suggest that the music team has been worshiping for three to five minutes by the time the leader starts blah-blah-blahing, but what about the congregation?
During the first song, kids congregate with their friends to compare coloring books, action figures or iPods. Adults chit-chat with their neighbors about whatever’s going on in their families’ lives these days. Young moms gratefully pass their babies to equally grateful middle-aged ladies who’ve asked for a little snuggle time. Hugs. Giggles. High-fives. Handshakes. Smiles. Judging by the rumbling din coming from the seating area, not a lot of people are singing along with the music, or settling in to quiet pre-service prayer, during the opening song.
Sometimes, I have to admit, it feels like we music team types are singing the opening song for our own sake – not the congregation’s.
But I’m bragging, not complaining.
In these noisy, unstructured moments, our church family isn’t avoiding or ignoring the fact that the service has started. On the contrary, I think we’re skipping ahead to the part of the service that officially comes after the opening songs: the Gathering of the Community. Rather than waiting for the priest to declare, ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all,’ we live out the phrase, ‘And also with you’ before anyone at the front of the worship area says anything into a microphone.
We do this because we see no need to wait for an invitation to share the grace of Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We see people we love who could use a little of God’s peace right now, so rather than making them wait an hour (and seven pages in the Book of Alternative Services) for the liturgically sanctioned invitation to pass the peace, we do it while the music team is strumming away at the front.
So when we music leaders invite the congregation to continue in worship, we’re not being generous – we’re simply recognizing the reality that our church has been engaged in worship for a good 10 minutes now.
Because there’s more to worship than just music.
I like that about our church. I like that our services have a liturgical structure, but that this structure exists to serve the congregation, and not vice-versa. The function-over-form flexibility that allows a church to evolve along these lines is one of the elements that so attracts me to Anglicanism.
But if we stick – religiously – to this broad, it’s-all-good definition of worship, are we missing out on something great, that God is ready willing and able to give us, if we can just open our hearts to receive it?
Not sure, but let’s explore the idea a bit.
Peace be with you.
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