Worship Planning

I was just told I’m a traditionalist.

I nearly spit my coffee out in bemused wonder of whether or not New England has embedded itself within me. It’s not how I think of myself. I value tradition. I believe it has its place but I generally don’t define myself by it. I think it’s important tonight where we come from and why we do these particular rituals in the way that we do. But, I believe we must know these things in order to know how to break those traditions. Or rather reiterpret them for who we understand ourselves to be and we believe God is now.

In another recent conversation about worship, I answered a question incorrectly. Or incorrectly for me. I was asked what worship dies. I hadn’t really thought about it in awhile. It’s a question I just haven’t asked myself this. What I didn’t say and should have said is that I believe worship is the practice of living into the realm of God. It might not be perfect but it allows us to imagine — with God — what might be possible for us and our world. This isn’t my idea. Someone said this to me along the way. Maybe it was a concept taught in seminary. Maybe I read it in a book. No matter where I found this idea, I really like it. It describes what I believe worship can and should do.

This week, I have been wondering about worship on Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday — both of which have particular traditions and rituals. On Palm Sunday, there is the parade which can happen in do many different ways. On Maundy Thursday, we gather at table to remember the commandment of love that Jesus offered on that night that he was at table with his friends. There’s another part of that scene though. Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. I love this. I believe that the realm of God does indeed caring for each other’s feet. The liturgy I’ve crafted so far is quite tradition. We hear the story while water is poured and disciples kneel with towels in their laps. This particular ritual seems new enough as I can’t think of a single Protestant service I’ve ever attended that included a foot washing. That is a rusk enough. I think.

I’m second guessing myself though because I believe the realm of God requires us to take big, bold risks. I want to live into that faith. I want to take a risk that allows us to experience the realm of God in a new way. It gives me energy — though I know that risks are often scary. There is comfort in the familiar. I’m not ignoring that. I find comfort in the familiar too. Still, I want to invite us to experience something beyond what we already know.

A few weeks ago, I invited some church members to engage in the process of worship planning. It’s something we don’t do together in the church I serve. It’s something the clergy do. Liturgy is the work of the people. That’s what it means. It’s not supposed to be one leader deciding all there is to say about God now. We’re supposed to do it together. I believe that’s what Gos’s realm looks like. We’re all working together. So, I tried to live into this faith. I asked these 3 members of our church to imagine what we could hear in this particular text. They’ve become great Biblical scholars. They dug in. They had brilliant insights. They always do. It want so smooth when I asked them how to imagine worship differently. They did. They adapted the Prayers of the People. Just slightly. However, it was something I had taught. It was something I had shared. I suppose I’m feeling the weight of that. I’m wondering how to lead and how to innovate when those innovations are all mine. That sounds horribly arrogant. I don’t mean it that way. I trust the people I serve. I had thought they could take this step so that now I’m wondering how to reintroduce that conversation in such a way that our liturgy truly does become the work of the people.

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