Friday, August 15, 2014

What is Good Worship?

The January 2014 issue of Liturgy asked the question “What is Good Worship?” Guest Editor E. Byron Anderson’s explanation for posing this question covers a lot of ground, regarding the issue as important  
. . . not only because of the variety of possible answers, but also because the ways in which individuals and communities answer it are, along with questions about musical style, among the more contested and contentious discussions in church life today.

– E. Byron Anderson is the Styberg Professor of Worship, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois.   

Here is the link to Anderson’s full introduction:

Anderson further makes the point that taste is not the only arbiter for what is "good" worship. And to give some truth to that claim, here is a sample of one insightful pastor’s experience at a small church he ventured into as a stranger and a worshipper. It is offered here to support those small congregations that do not concern themselves with being trendy but rather invest themselves in what is nourishing at the deepest level.

Perhaps I should not admit this for national publication, but I usually do not attend worship when I am on vacation because I have experienced too much bad worship. It has been depressing to experience liturgical language that remains exclusively patriarchal and narrow, preaching that skates across the surface with fifteenth-century cliché, and music that could have used some preparation or, at least, a fresh arrangement. On the opposite end of the perspective, I have been to worship services that so desperately want to be relevant that any hint of a tradition is erased by leaders who are convinced that blue jeans and a visible tattoo can reverse every sociological trend in church decline.
 However, with a serious illness in the family, we needed the Eucharist during this year's vacation. We needed a community to pray around us, to offer a greater thanksgiving than we could muster ourselves, and to sing a few sturdy hymns that might gently nurture our faith. . . [W]e found [a Lutheran congregation] online that promised a wide welcome, liturgical worship, and weekly Eucharist. Our only fear was that, because it looked like a very small community, we would be more conspicuous than seemed comfortable. Truth be told, I was afraid that we would be invited to stand and introduce ourselves to a room of strangers. However, our deep yearning for healing proved to be more important than maintaining our introverted security, so we went to church. 
 We found a small congregation of about forty people, meeting in a sanctuary built in the simple, adobe style of the American Southwest. . . It was late in the Easter season, so the bulletin outlined a full version of the Eucharistic liturgy with nothing left out: Thanksgiving for Baptism, a procession with the choir, Kyrie, Hymn of Praise, three lessons, a psalm, an extended Gospel acclamation, a fully expositional sermon on the appointed long text from John, the Nicene Creed, two choir anthems, Prayers of the People with enough time for members of the congregation to add their own petitions, a Eucharistic prayer with every sung response, Easter hymns. . . a Paschal blessing, a recessional, and an energetic sending. . .
 This little church celebrated its liturgical heritage, relishing every alleluia, letting the symbols of water, word, bread, and wine be clear and open. Yet there was no hint of the kind of rubrical pretentiousness. . . There was no apparent anxiety that a lay assistant might do the wrong thing, no military-style precision, and a wide variety of people participating in leadership, some with much experience and some still learning their way. The liturgy was reverent, honest, inclusive, joyful, and relevant. Most of all, it felt authentic.  
– Bradley E. Schmeling is the pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minnesota.
The question about "good" worship remains for all of us in the assembly and in leadership to ponder weekly. What is nourishing? What is distracting? What helps to "build up" the body of Christ? What calls more attention to the presider, preacher, musician, or special effects than to the triune God? How is a leader of worship to be transparent to the Lord? Certainly, Pastor Schmeling has pointed to solid ground, and there is more to read about this.

Welcome to Liturgy. Give yourself an opportunity to mine its riches. 

E. Byron Anderson, “What is Good Worship? An Introduction,” Liturgy 29, no. 2 (31 Jan 2014): 1-2.

Bradley E. Schmeling, “Held in Grace, Pushed Out of the Nest: Worship as Oscillation,” Liturgy 29, no. 2 (31 Jan 2014): 47-51.

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