What should we do when we meet on a Sunday, and why should we do it?
This essay will discuss what worship is, looking at the people involved and their relationships; it will then outline the purpose of Church of England non-sacramental services, specifically on a Sunday but also applicable to any other worship in the week, and what should be included in a service. The essay will touch on historical and cultural influences as well as providing a brief discussion on another tradition of Christian worship and how this could be utilised within non sacramental worship.
What is worship?
The first thing to think about when discussing worship is who it involves. The obvious answer is us, Christians, and God; it is about a relationship between us both. However worship is a three way relationship, with the congregation of Christians and their interaction to each other being equally important. As expressed by the Gospel of Matthew; “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am” (Matthew 18:20).
All worship can be seen on this triangle of interaction; from God to us, between us as a congregation, and the things we Christians do towards God. As shown at the top of the triangle of worship interaction “It is God who provides us with the power and ability to worship” (Earey, 2007, p31). We worship Him, show Him His worth to us by giving our love to Him as a congregation.
This theme of the interaction between us as individuals, us as Christians together, and God is reinforced in Common Worship which says that Church of England worship is a corporate act of the body of Christ; it contains the same elements across the world and through time, symbolic of our Christian lives outside the church whilst also acting to form us as Christians (Earey, 2007).
What do we do in our worship?
So worship is a three way activity showing our love to God, acknowledging our relationship with God and how amazing He is and how much He loves us. The fact that worship in church brings us as individuals together in the love of God is shown in the creeds and in the liturgy used; the term “we” and “our” are used throughout. Together we praise, give thanks, ask for help, commune together, listen to God’s word and hopefully have fun and feel uplifted. These can be seen in the four elements of a service laid out in new patterns of worship (2008) word, prayer, praise and action. Here expressed as four segments of a square which should be balanced in every service.
Taking each of these elements in turn it is possible to get a better idea of what is done in worship and why. The word is the heart of the service; it includes readings from scripture, scheduled in the lectionary, telling the story of Jesus’ life and work; a sermon, in a traditional format or with the use of drama, dance, music, pictures or other medium; and Psalms and hymns or songs bringing the message to life.
Prayer is a key element of every service; the collect, a prayer “which gathers together and summarises the prayers of the congregation and said by the minister” (DeLange, 2002) is an essential element of every service. The other prayer included in every service is the Lords Prayer; Jesus taught the disciples to pray it together, as shown by the use of “our”. It “was probably itself a memorable Aramaic rhyme, tightly framed and designed to be learned by heart” (Earey, 2007, p54) which meant that it could be passed from person to person, through communities and generations and easily known and accepted by all. Prayers in services also include intercessions in a formal set form, in an ad-hoc congregation led manner or led by a group.
The use of hymns and songs for thanksgiving and to bring alive the word of God are the third element of a service, praise. Responses can also be a form of praise, especially as thanksgiving, examples here from John 8:12 and from a family service.
The fourth element of worship is action. Church of England services are full of action; we sit, we stand and we may kneel. These actions focus our minds on the elements of the service and can be used to enhance worship. Greatest action will likely be experienced during The Peace. The use of movement can be used as a powerful tool during the service by writing, drawing or talking to others.
Within this recipe for the preparation of a worship service are the various ingredients of a service, specifically a service of the word. The service starts with a gathering and greeting which brings the congregation together as a group to worship God, and beings them into His presence. It may include a responsive welcome, a hymn and a prayer.
Once the congregation are together and settled they prepare to make their confessions of penitence and receive the knowledge that they are forgiven through the Absolution. This part of the service is about the congregation “calling their sins to mind” (NPW, 2008) and having a period of silent reflection.
The third ingredient is the Liturgy of the word. The Bible is “at the heart of worship” (Earey, 2007, p29), bringing the living word into the service; this is one of the ways in which we interact with God in our worship. Through the readings and sermon “God reveals himself to us, and communicates with us.” (DeLange, 2003). It should be remembered that the Liturgy of the word does not necessarily mean preaching, as written by Davie “the Church of England regards preaching as a very important part of its worship…..however it does not hold that a sermon is a necessary part of every act of worship.” (Davie, 2008).
The fourth ingredient is one of the most ancient; it is the use of psalms and canticles. They can be sung in a traditional or more modern form, they can be recited as paraphrase or in a responsive form, or they can be used through songs which take the meanings of the psalms but make them more accessible to non church goers, although care is needed with the use of the latter.
The creed is not a required element of worship; however an authorised affirmation of faith should be included in some form as the fifth ingredient. This allows us to confirm our faith, to confirm that we believe the same thing. Creeds can be responsive, recited or set to music. The Nicene Creed is usually used at Eucharist services and the Apostle’s creed at Baptism services.
The sixth ingredient is the formal prayers. As previously noted this includes the Collect and Lords Prayer; it would also include intercessions, prayers by the church for other people including the Church of Christ, human society, the local community, those who are sick, bereaved and suffering, and for the communion of saints. An important element of the prayers is the time to listen to God as well as bring prayers before Him. “Throughout the Bible God is reproaching people for not listening to Him, He does not complain that they do not speak to Him.” (Hebblethwaite, 1987)
The seventh ingredient, praise and thanksgiving can be used at any appropriate point in the service. It is also useful to remember that it flows through the other ingredients of the service, through the hymns, psalms, prayers, liturgy and coffee. “There are a wide variety of musical styles employed in worship in the Church of England” (Davie, 2008). Canon B20:3 provides some guidance on the music used “It is the duty of the minister to ensure that only such chants, hymns, anthems and other settings are chosen as are appropriate, both the words and music, to the solemn act of workshop and prayer in the House of God as well as to the congregation assembled for that purpose”
The Peace is the eight element of worship; it is not essential every Sunday, although common in many. The minister gives the peace of the Lord to the congregation who then share it with each other. This is the point when the congregation as “we” come together in a powerful way, connecting with each other and God.
Church of England services, as already mentioned are full of movement and action. Congregations stand, sit, kneel, and turn to face the Gospel; the ministers may process in and out and move with the Gospel to read it. We use movement since we know “that we can speak to God with our bodies” (Keiller, 1989). Paul teaches us to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”, what better way than through movement. Through movement we communicate non-verbally with God, this is shown borne out by the words around worship, “The Hebrew word for worship is linked with prostration. To bless literally means to kneel; and thanksgiving refers to the extension of the hands.” (Keiller, 1989). It should also be remembered that “there are times when some people find it difficult to remain still …… This may be due to extreme tension and distress; it may be the result of an outpouring of love, devotion, joy and thanksgiving…..it can bring great release.” (Keiller, 1989).
The final ingredient of services, before the extremely important praise, thanksgiving, healing and loving ministry which is sharing coffee together, is the conclusion. The service should be clearly ended to let everyone know that the service is coming to an end and that it is time to go into the week. It may include a blessing or a dismissal before a hymn, or a simple prayer; what matters is that it is an obvious ending.
The service is structured to ensure focus of worship and time for God. For example new services can be exciting but might also be confusing, detracting from the ability to commune with God; worship can be very prescribed without enough time to reflect and quiet; or a service can be extremely entertaining but miss out a key element. The structure of the service is as important as its elements.
This essay so far has outlined the nature of worship on a Sunday and provided some reasons for these provisions. As has been said, the word is the heart, the Bible is central. Scripture is within the canticles, psalms, readings, songs, hymns, Eucharistic prayers, litanies and responses. This dates back to Old Testament times when the reading of scripture was a key part of Jewish life and worship. Canon A5 shows how the Holy Scriptures are the grounding for Church of England doctrine. By basing our liturgy and services on the scriptures we reinforce our beliefs since they play “a key role in forming the most basic beliefs and assumptions about God in the minds and hearts of worshippers” (Earey, 2007, p45)
Early Christian’s worshipped through Christ, in a similar way we worship with the Trinitarian God. So we start services with words such as “Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you; and also with you.” Similarly before sermons we may hear “May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. Both these examples show how “it is God who provides us with the power and ability to worship” (Earey, 2007, p31). We are met by the Father, nourished by the Son and enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
We worship as communities of Christians, we live in communities and we are tasked to reach out into the wider community. Worship expresses our moral behaviour to those within the community, it forms our belief and it produces an “environment of faith which fosters the growth of faith” (Earey, 2007, p34). We use the first person plural “we” demonstrating how we are “deeply rooted in the traditions of community living” (Earey, 2007, p32).
There has been an increased interest in different patterns of worship and prayer and communities which use them, especially those that are more simplistic with a connection to nature and the rhythms of seasons and life itself. For example, the Vineyard churches focus on the intimacy with God rather than a set liturgy. The majority of Church of England services use hymns or songs to connect with God, but for the Vineyard churches it is the basis rather than one of the parts of a service. For the vineyard communities, worship requires that we participate and that God comes to be with us in the service.
Why do we come together on a Sunday?
To build a community of Christians who worship God, commune with God and grow as a group who live life in, through and for God. Sunday worship uses the liturgy and ministry of the word, the prayers and songs of praise and action bringing it to life. Across the ages, across generations, across cultures and experiences, worship connects us all as Christians.
The elements of worship lie in the triangular interaction between us as individuals, the Christian congregation and God. It is the balance of elements in the service that builds our relationship with God and with each other as a church. Together we follow the known, explore the unknown and come into the presence of God; our worship forms us, develops us and shows the world who we are; the body of Christ.
Davie, M (2008) A Guide to the Church of England. London: Mowbray.
De Lange, A. & Simpson, L. (2002), How to Lead the Prayers (GW 169), Cambridge: Grove Books Limited
De Lange, A. & Simpson, L. (2003), How to Read the Bible in Church (GW 177), Cambridge: Grove Books Limited
Earey, M. & Myers, G., eds., (2007) Common Worship Today: A Guide to Common Worship – Study Edition, Nottingham: St John’s Extension Studies
Earey, M. (1999), Leading Worship (GW 152), Cambridge: Grove Books Limited
Hebblethwaite, M. (1987) Finding God in all things. London: Fount Paperbacks
Keiller, J. (1989) Patterns of Prayer. London: Daybreak
The Archbishop’s Council (2008), New Patterns for Worship, London: Church House Publishing