I spent the past week taking an intensive course, called Designing and Leading Congregational Worship at Seattle Pacific Seminary. The most interesting conversations happened, of course, outside of the class. Questions were brought up on facebook around the ways that ethnic and multiethnic churches fit in to this high/low church tradition and whether or not certain forms of liturgy practiced in mainline denominations=monoculture. What value is there in these ancient forms of liturgical practice?
As an ethnic person who grew up in the United Methodist [and still remains], I’m pretty sensitive about the ways in which we tend to do church on a Sunday morning here in the United States; how liturgy, songs, etc. can feel like secret knowledge for those not on the inside. I’ve spent the past couple days reflecting on a friend’s comments about the monocultural nature of the liturgy presented in class. He pointed to the Bratcher article mentioned above, asking, Where do ethnic and multiethnic congregations fit into this identity search on the continuum of high and low, tradition and real-time?
I wonder how much our concept and practice of high and low church in our liturgy and worship is attributed to ethnicity, to denomination or to something else? Sometimes I think we associate liturgy with formulaic, rote and empty words that no longer have a place in the church of the 21st century. Of course it’s about context, but to what degree do we incorporate prayers and creeds from the early church? Who’s to say that their forms of worship are the ones we should be recalling in our settings today? What value do we find in reclaiming these practices?
As I processed this weekend, I was drawn to another article from the same source, entitled, “Word and Table: Reflections on a Theology of Worship.” The piece helped me to articulate that our liturgy is a reflection of our theology of word and table. The article is quick to point out that a service of word and table [Word, being Scripture proclaimed and Table referring to the celebration of the Eucharist] is not a form of worship. We tend to label worship as traditional/liturgical or contemporary. It is neither. It can be both, in fact. Instead, we are to think of a service of word and table as grounded in a theology of worship to reveal who God is and recall the ways God has worked in the Christian Narrative and continues to work today. It is not merely enough to remember the story. We must also confess that our identity as people of faith–as Christians–is wrapped up in this story of God’s saving acts through Israel and Jesus Christ. Through liturgy, we remember and celebrate who we are and whose we are.
I’ve been thinking about this conversation so much that I decided to write the author of the article. He was kind enough to respond by saying:
…I think liturgy needs to be flexible enough to meet new contexts, and in many ways needs to be adapted to culture (icons in Africa often portray a black Jesus and Madonna). But the stability of liturgy calls us to move beyond personal preference, beyond culture, and in some sense beyond language, and learn to encounter God apart from egocentric concerns in community, which includes fathers and mothers in the Faith. That is why I think we need post-modern liturgists who can update the liturgy without losing it or abandoning it altogether.
Blessings on your journey.
So there it is. A call for leaders of the 21st Century to develop liturgy that helps the church to recall her story without abandoning it completely for its archaic language and seeming irrelevance to the contemporary church. And if you’re wondering about evangelicals going back to liturgy, I found this great blog.
What are your thoughts? Agree, disagree? Have more to add? Let’s have it.