now is the time to worship

For the first time in a while, someone approached me after the 8:30 am service at First Presbyterian, and instead of complimenting my sermon, she complimented the entire worship service.

That was the best thing I’ve heard all week!  I know the Reformed tradition(s) put  a lot of emphasis on reading and teaching the Word, but hey, worship should be important to us too.

The Sunday before, the importance of worship came rushing in upon me like a gale-force wind.  I was attending the opening worship of the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Minneapolis.  At the beginning of the service, as I saw Commissioned Lay Pastor Fern Cloud ascend to the pulpit, and as we were surrounded by sights and sounds invoking a Native American spiritual experience, it was almost impossible for me to hold back tears.  The service went on to include other musical traditions, and the great feeling just continued.

Why?  Am I just sentimental, swimming in romantic nostalgia for a people and way of life to which I don’t belong?  It’s possible, but I don’t think so.  What I felt was more like relief.

worship by the Bogue Sound, with borrowed communion set

Many times I have experienced worship as if it were a package, neatly wrapped and delivered to my lap.  I’ve been to churches that delivered me a fire-and-brimstone package, or an intellectual sermon-and-classical music package, or a fun and inspirational package, complete with scruffy-looking young men playing electric guitars.

Problem is, when I have received those packages, I have found that all the work has been done for me.  I’ve been told what to think, what to feel, and how to express myself.  And after a while I feel stifled, jittery, and far removed from God’s presence.

But things were a little different at the General Assembly service, and at our 8:30 am service here in eastern NC.  In both these situations, the worship incorporated what local people had to offer, instead of fitting themselves into a pre-packaged mold, and I think that makes all the difference.

It makes perfect sense when you have a big church conference to honor the resources and traditions of all the local churches.  And it is a breath of fresh air here in Greenville to see what kinds of musicians might show up at the 8:30 service.  We have a great school of music at ECU, and lots of local people have musical talent.  So we might have a piano, guitar, bass, flute, mandolin, trumpet, or who knows what to lead us in worship.

In seminary we learned that the original “offering” in Christian worship consisted of people bringing communion bread, wine, flowers, oil for anointing, or whatever was needed for the service that day.  Read 1 Corinthians 12 and you’ll learn more about the emerging tradition of people offering various spiritual gifts.  The early Christians had no one they could hire, or anyone they could fully copy.  There was no package they could wrap up for their members–they were creating worship as they went along.

So I can understand why the church member was inspired by the early service.  The music was authentic, and it came from within our community.  It didn’t have a brand name or particular style.

Worship that incorporates what the community has to offer takes me out of my little bubble and into a wider world–and then it challenges me to do something with what I’ve been given.  So now I’m challenged to think beyond the music here in our congregation, and to think more about worship experiences our campus ministry will have.  I’ve been given the gift of great people all around me.  Instead of trying to deliver them a package, how can I help them bring their gifts to the table?

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