Some thoughts on liturgy and worshipping God…

yes this is me leading the service. Am thinking that
dress might be too short, what do we think?

Last term part of my course was about patterns of prayer and worship and in large part the liturgy. (For the uninitiated, liturgy is the pattern of worship, the structure, words and prayers that we say during a service). We looked at the history, why we do what we do and how different themes and patterns have emerged. It’s been fascinating and not at all what I was expecting, and it has really challenged me.

So I’ve been thinking about worship a lot recently and the different ways in which we choose to worship. Different churches do things in different ways, for various reasons of course, but the bottom line is about allowing people to meet God in whatever way they can. That is the beauty of the Church of England – that its breadth allows for many different ways of worship.

As many of you will know both my husband and I spent years attending our local parish church but we were not in a place of having a good relationship with God (or any relationship in fact). For me then, moving to a church where services were not structured around large amounts of liturgy was hugely freeing and it was in that freer sense of worship that I really met with God.

Now of course, I work for the church and that has an impact too. I’ve been leading services and preaching in our church for about two years now. I love doing this, it is an amazing privilege although I do find myself regularly wondering how on earth I got to do what I do, especially knowing that there are many people with far greater biblical knowledge than me and with far more experience of life and faith.

But what I am finding is (which probably happens to all clergy) that I miss just being able to worship freely, without having to think about what’s happening next in the service. Even when I’m not directly involved in the service I find I get distracted far more easily than I did before, because I might be thinking about someone I need to speak to, or wondering if an announcement has gone on the website, or whether I need to remember to take anything back to the office with me, or any other random distraction…

So, where I like to be able to completely give myself over to God in worship, to totally let go, and focus on him is almost impossible when I am involved in the service. In the way we run our services, although there is structure to some extent, there is much that relies on listening to God, being open to the Holy Spirit, which is hard when you are looking at the clock thinking ‘is it time to get the preacher on yet?’. Never yet has God let me down, even on the days when I have thought I haven’t got a clue what to say, the moment I set foot on the stage God gives me something.

So in all this studying of liturgy I have been thinking about whether, if one is leading the service, if it is easier to meet God in a very liturgical environment or in a freer, more charismatic one. Now of course that is subjective, for the very reasons I said above, we are all different and God meets us in different ways, but it’s had me thinking. Where I find it hard to engage completely with worship when I am leading, it is because generally I don’t know what’s coming next. I don’t know what God is going to do, or where he is going to take us and the service. However in a more liturgical service, where everything is laid out for you, I wonder if I would find it easier to give myself entirely because I needn’t worry what’s coming next because it’s all written down for me in advance. I wonder if that requires less personal input or less reliance on the Holy Spirit? I don’t know of course having not led a service like that, I’m really just wondering. And I guess one could say, that if you are leading the service your role is to lead others into God’s presence not get there yourself. I’d be really interested to know other peoples thoughts…

In an aside, I read recently (I can’t remember where so sorry for not referencing…) that in the very early church Bishops (or leaders in the church) were chosen according to how well they could hear and be guided by the Holy Spirit. As the church grew quickly it was less easy to find people able to do this, so then Bishops/leaders would pray in advance and prepare some of what they were going to say, before the service or gathering started. Then gradually even they became few and far between and so others were tasked to prepare service material in advance for others and so the development of liturgy began… The idea that early leaders were chosen on their ability to hear and be guided by the Holy Spirit really resonates with me, I suppose because there are large elements of that within my church. But then that puts me back into that sense of confusion! Love to hear peoples thoughts, please do comment below!

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  • Reply
    April 30, 2014 at 10:46 am

    I find myself most comfortable in formal worship, but also love the freedom that Family services bring to those leading them, particularly as audience participation is more more hands on, doing rather than being done to, so to speak.

    If I'm doing something in a service, like you I'm distracted a little and thinking about what is to be done, rather than concentrating on worship – which is where the 0800 BCP comes in very handy. I can go and worship quietly, without any hassle in a pattern of worship that is the same each time, and has been for 450 years. It allows me a peaceful, prayerful worship space, before moving onto the main service where the performance is required, whatever form that service might take.

    There have been many times when I've worshiped and performed where I've still had a wonderful experience of worship, but they are the exception, not the rule.

    For me, there is room for all types of worship and the freedom that you love is another working of the spirit – taking us back to the roots of the early church, where free prayer, preaching, teaching, learning and discussion would have been part of the package. Perhaps that's why I actually value a sermon which has activity, rather than just sitting and being preached at.

  • Reply
    May 7, 2014 at 10:52 am

    Interesting your use of the word 'performance' which at first jarred with me, but actually I think you are right, there is an element of performing and wanting to get everything right. Of course I am sure we should say that so long as we are focussed on God then getting things 'wrong' shouldn't matter, but then we are all human after all and I find if I make mistakes I feel like I have let myself and the congregation down. Gods words says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus – think I need to remember that more often!

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