June 5, 2017

Is Liturgy Only the Work of a Few?


            Yesterday on Pentecost, I attended church with a dear friend, and she inquired about how widespread the practice of following the Christian calendar is among Baptists.  Well, as you know, there are quite a few varieties of Baptist; however, I do think it is fair to say that there is growing interest in planning worship around the rhythms of the great seasons of the church, beginning each year with Advent.
            When I was a rural pastor in Kentucky, I introduced Advent to the congregation.  The congregation enjoyed it so much, especially the children, that they wanted to start it early the next year!  Not so much with Lent; they wanted to shorten it.
            Does paying attention to this cycle actually increase liturgy, i.e., the work of the people?  Actually, I think it does.  Beyond the regular work of the choir, musicians, and pastoral staff, observing the Christian year opens up space for creative artistry that resides in the congregants.  In my home church, liturgical colors and visual representations of the Triune God celebrate the movement from Ascension Sunday through Pentecost to Trinity Sunday.  This is the aesthetic work of laypersons, devoting their theological imagination to enhancing the church’s worship.  It is a significant ministry.

            It is not easy for congregations to live into the truth that worship is the work of the whole people of God, not just the persons who read texts, proclaim, offer prayers of the people, and preside at the table.  Worship is not something we observe, but it is service.  It is participatory, and spectators are missing the point.

            We usually translate koinonia as fellowship or communion; however, I prefer to translate it as participation, which suggests that the Body of Christ cannot function fully without the engagement of each part.  Each brings a gift, and each contributes to the whole.

            This make take the form of quiet intercession for those around you in your favorite pew; it may be the offering you place alongside the resources of others; it may be lifting your voice in congregational song; it may be the greeting or embrace shared before and after the service; or, it may be as simple as the quiet sotto voce “yes, and amen” response to the sermon or pastoral prayer.
            Donald Hustad described worship as “rehearsal for life.”  Indeed, the patterns of giving and receiving we practice in worship forms us for living justly and mercifully, a way of life pleasing to God. Our faithful gathering beckons us to be the presence of Christ, bearing his light in all the dark places.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares leaders for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

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