For several months now our congregation has been engaged in an experiment with Sunday morning worship. It's been exciting, frustrating, rewarding and interesting. Our hope is that at some point we will have developed worship that still lies within the context of a deeply spiritual liturgical experience (liturgy is the work of the people gathered for worship; it is also seen as the order in which worship happens), a worship experience that makes worship more accessible, and one that has integrity. Since many of our liturgical rituals have been learned over many lifetimes, it is challenging to sort through them to determine what is essential for the purpose of experimentation.
Early on, we decided that our basic framework would fall within the classic definition of Christian worship. Worship that included both Word and Sacrament was a must. Everything else in this experiment is still being determined. Weekly public confession, the Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy), the Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the highest), and a number of other parts of the worship ordo (ordo is the order in which the components of worship happen) continue to get careful scrutiny in the context of what is happening in any given week.
What has been most interesting and challenging from my perspective is the way this experiment has changed both the way I preach and preside at the Eucharist. Gone is a pulpit or reading desk. Gone (most of the time) are preaching notes. Since we're not using the worship hymnal, the Eucharistic prayer (Anaphora) is modeled on Justin Martyr's Apology (When Christians were accused of being disloyal to the Roman Emperor it was Justin who wrote a long treatise or apology to the Emperor laying out what Christians believed and how those beliefs were practiced. This took place in the middle of the second century.), "There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine ..., and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands." (Apology, Ch. LXV) This has been a remarkable experience in that while I model the Eucharistic prayers upon the ancient prayers of the Church Fathers (Hippolytus, John Chrysostom, "Apostle Peter"), having to really think about the prayer each week, and relating it to the theme, the gospel, and the needs of the people, requires a fresh look at salvation history and its meaning for our own lives. And I have learned that Gordon Lathrop (one of my liturgical mentors) was correct when he said that freelancing the Eucharistic prayer must be approached with some fear and trepidation. After all, the Aanphora and anamnesis, as they have come down to us, are definitely inspired prayers. (Anaphora is a name for the Eucharistic prayer or the prayer over the bread and the wine, and the anamnesis is a form of bringing into the present the blessing of the bread and wine given by Jesus at the last supper.)
One of the goals we set for ourselves is that we will do our best to get away from asking people to handle a lot of paper, and we're not sure that having big screens is the answer either. Going down the big screen path makes us even more reliant on technology in order to worship. Somehow that seems counter intuitive. Our small worship team of Dave Kane, Diane Destrempe, Gretchen Lord, Alex Krantz, Karen Anderson and Russell Boynton, have worked hard to both bring new music to us (that is musically and theologically sound) and given new life to the some of the beautiful hymnody in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book. I've come to appreciate what wonderful musicians Diane and Dave are. What I've discovered is that when Diane is given a little musical freedom, she really brings the music to life, and I've given Dave the moniker "Guitar Savant." Both are excellent musicians and they help all of us to be better than we are. Although we are just beginning, it's been fun to see how Thursday evening rehearsals are expanding to include more people as enthusiasm and participation grow.
Another goal is to develop a worship experience that is user friendly, and welcoming to those with little experience of Christian worship. We try not to use what might be considered insider language, and even things as fundamental as the sharing of the peace are given a context. This is an elusive goal, because it is sometimes difficult to put oneself in the place of someone who has just begun attending worship in order to discern how worship is perceived, and while we do ask people, they tend to be overly kind. Within the goal is providing refreshment and fellowship prior to, and after worship. It is an attempt to make it easier for people to be with us. Marty Sink, our council president, and Marcia Journay, our council secretary do extra duty on Sunday mornings, arriving early to prepare. Yet, Jesus himself taught just how important hospitality is from inviting Zacchaeus to dine with him, to the feeding of the five thousand.
All in all, we're making progress and we're open to new ideas. If you would like to participate in any way, you are more than welcome. There is a place for everyone.