Monday, June 23, 2008

Some more thoughts on "The Way, The Truth and The Life" - WORSHIP

I made it a point to reread Part 4 of GAFCON's official study document over the weekend, since that section is focused on worship.

I am thankful that GAFCON asserts the availability of the Gospel to all people, rather than an intellectual or clergy elite. With that orientation, my comments will probably seem pedestrian to some of you. I am not a "liturgical scholar" - I am musing about congregational worship issues. If that's where you're at, read on:

4.2.3 of The Way, The Truth and The Life lists "some current challenges" and questions.

1) How can Anglican liturgy best provide worship that leads us, both as a community and as individuals, to the experience of the transcendent and triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? How can Anglicans best come to see worship as that which leads to holiness, and to an encounter with the holy God who calls us to be transformed in Christ?
  • In all of the questions, the leadership and teaching role of the clergy is essential. Clergy have to call the people to the right priorities, teach and reteach patiently, and nag.
  • In many of our aging American congregations, the highest priority of the people is "fellowship." We can scream about it and curse it and anathematize it, but it is there. Our leadership and teaching work must give them a taste of something greater, and stoke their hunger for it.
  • One practical step is to emphasize and reemphasize the entrance rite of the liturgy. It is perhaps the most God-focused part of the service if we are attentive. This is NOT about "starting the service on time" - it is about telling the people what we are doing and explaining to the habitual late-comers what they are missing/ignoring. The opening hymn or introit, a Penitential Order, the Prayer of Humble Access, the Kyrie or other liturgical piece - all of these point the gathered people toward the greatness and primacy of God. This part of the service isn't read to the people - it is offered to God. I like to face the altar during this rite in order to orient the people toward the Holy.

2) How can we best facilitate the effective learning of the Word, and ensure that we "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" it?

  • Once again, the clergy must tell the people that this is important, and then give them tools to participate it the work. Right now, I am taking my congregation through a "Basic Bible Outline" as the summer sermon series. The Bible is a big book full of different styles of sacred literature. If you just say, "Start reading the Bible!", people will become frustrated - they will try to start reading it as a novel, which doesn't work. They will try to read it as "God's instruction manual", which certainly doesn't work when you are reading narratives and poems. They need some reference points by which to enter and navigate it.
  • Parish Bible studies are important. No, you probably won't find that perfect day and time when every last parishioner will come and bring their friends, pets and extended family. But you will get some of the parishioners and some of them will bring others... the main thing is that you will be helping more and more people read the Bible, and breaking down the idea that they can "absorb it through the liturgy" or get enough of it "to last me the week" by hearing your sermon.
  • Giving people encouragement to read on their own is important. You can do a bunch of this during pastoral visits or even at meetings - people often bring up what they are thinking about and you can connect them to relevant scriptures to read. You can give them examples of your own discipline - such as the Daily Office. (The Preface to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer extols the value of lay people hearing the Scriptures daily, and is emphatic about the clergy reading daily in order to teach "wholesome doctrine" and refute error.)
  • Preach from the Bible. Use "Bible to explain Bible" - showing the consistent themes (OK, don't shoot me - the "meta narrative") as well as specific points of doctrine and discipleship. That is, bring in other Bible passages that support and illuminate the readings of the day. If "impact" is a measure of good preaching, I can tell you without reservation that my preaching has improved ever since the time I stopped trying for artistic beauty and went instead for accurate Bible content.
  • Use the Bible in pastoral care. Before visiting, prayerfully consider what might be important issues for the person you are visiting - God's word has power if applied rightly to the situation.

3) Where is the Holy Spirit, and the spirit of celebration, encounter and response, in our worship?

  • I am terribly conflicted about the "passing of the peace." On the one hand, it is the only celebratory moment in some church's services. On the other, the "celebration" is a default back to "fellowship" - an intermission from all the God-stuff so we can visit our pals. We are using a service that omits it this summer. Instead, there is a time for "Thanksgiving Testimony" - folks are not taking to it very easily, but some weeks people get up and really share something meaningful about God's action in their lives. Again, it is up to the worship leader (and in most congregations this means clergy) to orient the celebration toward who God is, not just who we are.
  • The Prayers of the People is another part of liturgy worth opening up. In most churches, it stays pretty formal. My hope (another thing in a pile of things I want to get at) is to get people who have passion for the various biddings (world, church, healing, etc.) and encourage them to lift up prayers during the liturgy. Still on the drawing board, that.
  • The Way, The Truth and The Life mentions the obvious subject - music. I don't have all the answers - I'm not enough of a musician to lead that part of parish life. But then priests who impose their tastes on the people aren't always orienting them toward God anyway. My counsel would be: don't scrap the familiar in the life of a congregation. Use what they've been doing and gradually introduce other things. See what inspires them and what is actually useful to the particular musical gifts your people have. One of my churches, while maintaining the foundation of traditional hymns, actually turned out to have a knack for Gospel (we happened to have a choir leader and some musicians who knew how to play/sing it.) Find the gifts and use them.
  • Use silence. This is especially important after a call to confession... let the people sit with it. Many North American Anglicans are formal and introverted - you won't beat that personality into something it's not. Silence is a profound way for the Holy Spirit to move among introverts.

4) In the future, Anglican worship should flourish if Anglicans continue to use their worship as an instrument of mission.

  • Yep, right up there with "the passing of the peace" as an intermission from God is "announcements." But you know what? If you work at it, you can connect the announcements to what you said in your sermon or what the people heard in the Scriptures. This means your church needs to be about Gospel-relevant things that can be expressed in Gospel terms. You don't need to announce stuff that the in-group already knows: "The ECW will meet in the undercroft to discuss UTO." How much better to announce (as I was able to do this week) that "God inspired our quilting group to make, pray over and donate 8 new quilts for flood victims." You can use announcements to exhort the people to discipleship.
  • The offertory is a big mission moment. The '28 Prayer Book was explicit about gathering "alms" (money for the relief of human need). How badly we reduce it to "money to keep the lights on." Don't hit me for this, but it was ueber-revisionist hero George Regas who taught me about using the offertory to inspire mission. He pointed out that the offertory is one of the most active moments for the people in the pews during liturgy - they actually do something. They reach for their wallets, take out money and put it in a plate. What a time to connect that action with its impact! They need to know that, "Because of your giving, we are able to hire a youth minister." They need to hear about burdens lifted and mission initiatives, not just upkeep.

I am really profiting from The Way, The Truth and The Life. It is a study guide that I will use with lay people - it is that good and that accessible.

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