Liturgy, translated from the Greek meaning, “work of the people,” and “public service.” One of the questions that I find most compelling as a pastor is, What does our liturgy—the structured time of communal worship, reveal to us about a/our community’s values, theology, mission and vision? This time of transition, coupled with the festive seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, are as good a time as any to intentionally delve into such a question to see what inspiration, affirmations and areas of growth emerge. The worship team, (Leslie, Jason and myself), have brought forth new orders of worship in this time in the hopes of engaging the congregation as a whole in diverse ways, providing different entry points to our relationship with the Divine and how we as a Christian community move in the world. The following is a report of some of these approaches, changes and my thinking behind them. None of these are set in stone. Rather they are opportunities for us all to consider what is important to MBCC liturgy. What is the work of this community, who is our worship in service of and to?
- Moments of extended silence have been added, often between the Prayer of Confession and Assurance, as well as following the scripture and/or sermon, to invite further opportunities of contemplation and stillness, and an embodied alternative to the fast paced lives many of us lead. When our lives, worship and communal processes are rushed or speed is favored in a community, what might be lost and alternatively, what deeper insight might be felt and heard through practices of intentionally slowing down, unplugging and settling into a rhythm of listening? What could be learned from the discomfort or awkwardness of silence and how might that change over time? Similarly, further opportunities for communal singing have been added throughout the service, including a sung refrain/chant prior to Confession and leading into the Prayers of the People. Additional prayer stations and ritual actions have also been introduced to many of our recent services as entry points to engage with our faith and relationships with God.
- Language is one of the most instrumental tools for providing hospitality throughout a worship service. For example, our simple announcements at the beginning of worship regarding the use of the space are a good way of helping people feel at ease in a community. I also witness an extension of MBCC hospitality in the invitation to the communion table, where it is expressed clearly that this table is for everyone while also providing numerous ways for people to participate. The language used for God in worship is another key area that indicates to people who is welcome in a community and who is not. Over the past few months, Jason and I have both introduced diversified language for God, alternating from consistently masculine pronouns for God to include now feminine pronouns and images as well as gender-neutral. These changes are often unsettling and disorienting, as many if not all of us were raised understanding “God” and “man” [“he”] to be one-in-the-same. When we limit the ways we name God, we also limit who in our community understands themselves to be images of God. If we only refer to God as “he,” women and girls, trans* and gender-queer folks can get the message that they are, in fact, not beloved images of the Divine. They/we have a harder time seeing them/ourselves as ways that the Holy is manifest in our world. As we seek to be a church focused on issues of justice, how might these changes in language disrupt systems of patriarchy and sexism within our community? How might alternative gender expressions empower the women in our community and provide further witness and inclusion of transgender and gender-queer people?
- Community announcements are a fabulous way to hear what the literal work of a community is. Announcements say something more about how we understand ourselves as an active community outside of Sunday worship. For this reason, we have moved announcements to the end of the service, to be part of the liturgical “sending and going forth.” This leaves people with some concrete ways they can continue to be active in their faith and the church throughout the week. In framing/leading the announcements this way, I have noticed that almost all of our church activities happen within our immediate church community. It is a beautiful thing that we want to be together in conversations and build within the church this sense of familiarity with one another. I wonder too, what it means for us to Go Forth from the church, without actually engaging with activities and communities outside of MBCC? Similarly, the inclusion of issues of justice work often arise in the sermons and prayers of the people, yet are rarely demonstrated in the larger work of the church. Food Pantry, for example, is rarely attended by anyone not on the Steering Committee. In looking to the future of MBCC, what are the ways this community envisions its call to justice? Are there ways that MBCC wants to be empowered and active in taking ownership of the justice issues preached about and prayed for?
It has been such a joy to offer pastoral care and lead worship during this time of transition and to explore with the community the complex interweaving and meanings of our liturgical calendar and lives. One of my most precious memories is of Cathy holding Tyler over the Advent wreath, as he giggled and stumbled to light the candle of Joy. I so appreciate the way MBCC expresses delight in these “imperfect,” human moments. I experience a deep joy and resiliency in this community that gives me hope for the world. What ways are we being called to share that joy and resiliency, in the face of fear and overwhelm, outside of our immediate church community, out in our neighborhood, city, region, world?
Thank you for this opportunity to reflect and be in conversation.
In communion & prayer,