Last night I was part of an "Update" series for ministers and lay leaders on the topic of worship. It was one of four sessions over 2 days organised by the College and Mission Resourcing SA (another synod dept), aimed at giving people a brief update on "what's the latest?" in an area, while (hopefully) leaving them hungry for more. I co-presented with Rev Jenni Hughes, who is an excellent liturgist and musician. We had 45 mins each. The room was full of about 30 ministers, for whom this is their bread and butter, and some (mainly older) lay leaders. How many wanted to 'jazz up' a traditional Sunday morning, and how many wanted to move to new pastures?
The topic came about because the recent NCLS data shows that the Uniting Church in SA has some work to do in the area of worship.
Here's what I did:
1. 3 amusing short video clips about worship... (as you do...)
2. Brief intro: worship forms, informs, transforms; worship is about impression and expression
3. Photos of a community in India: Imagine that your whole congregation is transported by the Holy Spirit to be in this largely non-Christian, (for many) foreign culture to be a missionary community. What would your worship look like on the first Sunday? What would be involved in preparing it? Who would be involved and what would you need to take into account? Now imagine 12 months ahead. Ask yourself the same questions. How might the answers have changed?
4. Worship and culture. This is a vital but vexed question. Refer to John Witlivet's chapter on "Theological Models on the Relationship Between Liturgy and Culture" in his book, Worship Seeking Understanding, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.
Witlivet says that the dominant model for thinking about culture has been H. Richard Niebuhr's "Christ and Culture". eg, (my words, not his...) This went on screen but we didn't discuss it in detail
- Christ against culture - worship resists and is a retreat from culture
- Christ of culture - endorses, supports culture & status quo
- Christ above culture - worship affirms, synthesises culture as God-given
- Christ and culture in paradox - worship is in tension with the real world, two realms
- Christ transforming culture - worship converts culture to God’s purposes
Two of the issues are that this puts worship in a church vis a vis world framework (I mentioned but didn't go into detail about what is problematic with Niebuhr's typology). Secondly at a number of points it easily buys into the view of culture as "high" and "low", where Christian worship represents "high culture" that is mean to uplift, educate and enlighten, and runs the risk of being "dumbed down." (bother, I forgot to use that phrase). ie. Christians treat the world/culture just as the early foreign missionaries did, as territory to be colonised and civiised (and therefore treat popular culture, and by association, people's everyday lives, as being base, meaningless and godless).
Witlivet suggests that it is time that we paid attention to what liturgy might learn from cross-cultural mission, and he cites Steven Bevans' Models of Contextual Theology, Orbis, 2002. In this respect, Christians seek to acknowledge God's presence and activity in the world beyond the church, in varying respects withiin culture itself, and recognise that church is a culture - so we put cultures alongside one another rather than in a high/low relationship. We end up asking a different set of questions about how we engage (and learn) across cultures with the gospel, worship, etc.
So I then showed this and made very brief comments about a couple of the models. ie. 'translation' and 'synthetic'.
- Translation model – finding a dynamic or functional cultural equivalent
- Anthropological model – discerns God’s activity within culture
- Praxis model – action-reflection, social change
- Synthetic model – looks for synthesis between message, culture and action
- Transcendental model – focus on the thinking, feeling person within culture
What followed was two video clips from my research - interviews with ministers in which they talked about their congregations' worship within what was a broader conversation about Christian education, faith formation and discipleship. In mentioning my research, I made the point that these churches were intentional about Christian education and discipleship both within and beyond worship, and this inevitably added extra dimensions to their worship. ie. It's not just about what happens in that 60 mins.
Clip 1: smaller, older congregation, 'progressive' theology, has gone from two traditional morning services to one morning service alternating between two sites every three months, new Wed night community meal followed by contemplative worship + weekly communion that uses stations, art, recorded music, etc. Good example of "synthesis" above.
Clip 2: larger, mainstream theologically but with an evangelical edge, all-age worship and learning, high focus on learning in worship and on multi-faceted communication around worship themes and texts. Good example of "translation" above but with some other elements as well.
After each story I asked people to talk in pairs about what resonated with them, what inspired them, and what question was raised for them.
And then my 45 mins was up! Not surprisingly, we needed a LOT more time to unpack that, and I'm sure that some folk were thinking "Now what was the point of all that? We're not in India!"
I closed with a prayer from Tess Ward's "The Celtic Wheel of Year".
So I wondered if I should have just done a "top 10" of things that I think people can do to enhance worship. I think I'll make that list. eg. #1 Dramatise the Scripture...
What I didn't get to do:
- introduce the notion of 'curating' rather than 'conducting' worship
- talk about our Alive@5 experiment at Rosefield as an example of 'curating'
- show a video clip of ministers talking about what they are learning as worship leaders (video from our Lay Preachers' unit on worship) and get participants talking about what they are learning
- use my Lesslie Newbigin quote:
If the gospel is to be understood,
if it is to be received as something
which communicates the truth
about the real human situation,
if it is as we say ‘to make sense’,
it has to be communicated in the language
of those to whom it is addressed and
it has to be clothed in symbols
which are meaningful to them.
And since the gospel does not come
as a disembodied message,
but as the message of a community
which claims to live by it and which
invites others to adhere to it,
the community’s life must be so ordered
that ‘it makes sense’ to those who are so invited.
Those to whom it is addressed must be able to say ‘Yes I see’.
or my Walter Brueggemann quote:
"a place where people come to receive new materials,
or old materials freshly voiced, that will
fund, feed, nurture, nourish, legitimate,
and authorize a counterimagination of the world"
next time, maybe...