Friday, April 14, 2006

Renewing Worship: Evangelical Lutheran Worship

I will make a confession- although I have a concern for the worship life of the ELCA, I have done very little to contribute to the new worship materials that will be published this fall. It seems to me, from what I have seen thus far, that the new book will simply contain some tweaking of what is already our traditional ordo . There will also be new hymns, some new musical settings of the liturgy, etc.

I do not have a problem with these updates. On the other hand, I do not think they constitute a renewal.

What do I think a renewal of worship would look like in the ELCA? I think the main renewal I'm encouraging is for the whole people of God to contribute to the worship life of our congregation, and not just a few people assigned roles like assisting minister, lector, or pastor.

We have already begun, in our church, to invite testimonials from parishioners on a variety of subjects. Also, each week we have "faith conversations," time for people to break out into small groups to discuss an issue of faith with each other.

I think something like this, and even more of it, would be an actual renewal movement in our worship. Tweaking the existing liturgy just won't cut it- it's far too passive.

Also, to invite this kind of participation on the part of the laity would do two things. First of all, it would shift the renewal away from "style"- contemporary, international, traditional, ancient-future musical settings- and towards an actual renewal of the congregation, where parishioners learn in worship how to share their faith, so that there is an actual practice in worship that rehearsal for the sharing of faith in the world.

Second, it would take seriously the admonitions Paul makes in his letters that there are a variety of gifts, and that people are called to speak in worship, to prophecy, and this is not just the work of an individual ordained pastor.

So, my plan, because I am convicted, is to shorten my sermons (which now average around 25 minutes) so that there can consistently be time for the whole congregation to share the gifts they have received in the Spirit. In this matter, we could learn from the Quakers, although I do not agree with the Quakers that silence is to be a primary mark of Christian worship. Maybe I have mis-interpreted their practice. But I do know that they make space for people to speak a word of the Lord.


  1. I've been told that liturgy means "work of the people." If this is true and if we are going to be a liturgical church, then the work of the people needs to reflect the contemporary people and come out of the people.

    So I guess I agree with your view, but from another direction.

    I've wondered:
    A number of Lutheran churches use alternate or theri own worship materials for their services. Has the new hymnal committee looked broadly at these resources? Have they looked at the music that is used in the camps?

    I've always felt that camp songs, Sunday School songs, church hymns, modern Christian music that is THEOLOGICALLY SOUND, singable, and they type that people naturally take to, shouldn't be segregated to the specific places they come from. If we learned a few old chestnuts in SS for example, then when the kids attend worship in the "big church" they can join in. And the kids who get a taste for worship at camp will have some of "their" songs at "real church." And when older adults visit the kids' places, they can have some of the old favorites.

    That doesn't mean that we shouldn't also use music that is a bit more challenging. HOWEVER, I would like to retire some of the old draggy songs that were translated from another language in a manner that has distorted English syntax, and, therefore are harder to understand. Afterall, Luther used contemporary music with his contemporary language. Maybe some new translations and some updated melodies are in order.

    I don't disagree with the purpose of the discussions, etc. you mention. I just wonder how you have them in the "worship" and still keep it worship.

    Our church has had occassional Temple Talks that might be an announcement that is expanded to include something about the person's faith. Or some sort of "education" ie, usually stewardship. Or even something reflecting the person's personal faith in the context of the day's theme. I like these, but not every week, I guess.

    Our church has strong lay leadership, lay worship leaders, lay speakers, many, actually. A church with a history of strong top down decision making and pastor only worship leadership would have a really hard time with any of this. And apparently some pastors can't "let go." Move on to new stuff? Hey, some churches are only in the green book. And as my sister put it, "we're still learning the green book."

    But if the liturgy is the work of the people, then we need to expect diversity. But don't have the pastor hold the people back.

  2. I recently had the chance to talk with someone involved in the creation of Evangelical Lutheran Worship. I asked him if the ELW is based on significantly new theological or liturgical assumptions vis-a-vis the LBW or WOV. The answer? Not at all.

    The ELW is more of an evolution than a revolution. It is more global than previous books. It offers more liturgical settings. It offers more opportunities for rites and rituals to celebrate the work of God in our midst. But in the end, congregations will use the ELW as they please, likely ignoring most of its contents (just like they use the LBW).

    To this end, I think that it is up to the pastor and church leaders to be more intentional about worship and liturgical practice. It is the clergy who have been trained in the tradition and practice of the church, and who have the time and training to make use of the liturgical material in our worship books. But most of our pastors don't do that. We simply stick to LBW Setting Two, our favorite 100 hymns, and do things the way we always do them.

    Worship is the work of the people, but people also actively participate in The Wave and Take Me Out to the Ballgame at a baseball game. The work of the people of God in worship is unique, is intentional and is both guided by our tradition and inspired by our mission to proclaim the Good News in all places at all times. And I think that we'll find some good resources for this work in our new ELW, just as already exists in LBW, WOV and material from Sundays and Seasons. Perfect? No. But much better than the straight-jacket liturgy most of our churches embrace.

    Peace to you this Good Friday.

  3. thanks for both of your thorough comments. I agree that the new materials will be helpful for our churches. They will bring together resources from various sources and help the church, as you say, evolve in its worship.

    There will also, undoubtedly, be things in the new book that certain groups will contest. But this is not the Book of Common Prayer. It is a resource, but not exclusive.

    What I am saying, though, is that we need to make worship more INTERACTIVE. People to people, person to person. Liturgy as work of the people is a phrase that gets thrown around a ton, but people usually mean by it that the people "say the amen," or certain portions of prayers, or sing.

    I'm talking about worship as mutual consolation of the saints (seelsorge). I'm talking about worship where all the people gathered await the gifts of the Spirit, including the gift of exhortation, prophecy, interpretation, etc.

    Our current liturgy makes no room for this sort of thing, aside from the Sharing of the Peace, which itself is only interactive in a kind of pro forma way.

    The same goes for Communion. Who are these people coming up and receiving Christ- who are we being united with? How do we love them? These are questions for worship, and the worship life of the congregation can live out some answers.

  4. I'd love to see you post some more on this topic. This almost sounds like you're moving in a post-modern, emergent or alt-worship kind of direction - a direction in which I often look, and by which I am intrigued. I have visited a so-called emergent ministry (Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis), and have heard Pastor Karen Ward of Church of the Apostles (ELCA and ECUSA) speak.

    Do tell more, my friend . . .

  5. I'm a little late to weigh in on this post -- Holy Week and all... Regardless.... I agree with LZ's comments about what this new resource will be for us. I also commend the preparatory/discussion guide, "With the Whole Church." It gets people talking about what worship means to them in their context. I'm currently leading it for our worship committee and I led it this winter as part of a women's group. There were some great ideas that came out of the discussions, and if nothing else, it increased the number of people who were thinking in an intentional way about worship.
    Looking forward to reading more from you on this topic...