Worship, especially in its ritual acts and its musical expressions, is one of the most culturally determined aspects of human life. As such, attempting to construct and perform Christian worship in the context of a multicultural worshipping community can constitute a situation of permanent crisis. In the current issue of Liturgy, Linnea Carnes describes what her congregation has learned as they journey together through this permanent crisis.
Giving a voice to people of differing perspectives is the beginning of achieving unity in diversity. When we invite people to share their experiences and needs in various areas of liturgy we demonstrate that their traditions and practices are valued. When God’s people are willing to listen to one another, trust is established. The openness to something that is foreign to us provides a healthy atmosphere for growth—not just growth toward a greater open- mindedness, but a growth toward a greater Christ-mindedness.
Resistance or reluctance to accept some new idea or practice in liturgy challenges us to reassess our own liturgical practices. People may continue to prefer the liturgical practices that are specific to their culture or their tradition. However, a growing understanding of the liturgical practices of others can result in a growing spirit of unity among the people. There is a place in the church of Jesus Christ for individual believers to express their faith and love for God in ways that are most meaningful to them. God accepts the offerings of praise and worship from each person. Opening our minds and hearts to hear and embrace our differences brings a sense of oneness.
Rev. Carnes’ account of her congregation’s experiences in creating multicultural Christian worship is stirring and inspirational. However, the fact that most Christian worship takes place within a monocultural context seems to indicate that the people of God do not feel called to take up the challenge. It may be the case that this is purely a case of human sin causing division in the Body of Christ. Conversely, might it be possible to make the argument that God’s gift of diversity in human culture, reflected in a vast multitude of separate culturally-bounded services of worship being lifted up simultaneously, is equally pleasing to the One who is Three, yet One?
Linnea Carnes (2012): "Liturgy in Crisis: The Dilemma of Diversity," Liturgy, 27:1, 10-18.