Sunday, July 28, 2013
On Liturgy, and why I love it
The other day, I heard a dear friend say that they didn't like the idea of liturgy, that liturgy couldn't be life-filled or spirit-led, and that their non-denominational church was not at all liturgical. Well...
.I was raised exclusively in non-denominational/charismatic churches until college, when I first attended a methodist church. After I married, my husband and I attended and led worship at non-denominational churches until we joined our current UMC home. Suffice it to say, I have a good deal of experience in both "liturgical" and "non-liturgical" traditions. I think that there is liturgy, ritual, and tradition in every church, at least every one I've ever visited; I do not think that stereotypically liturgical churches are as rigid as some think they are, nor do I believe stereotypically "non-liturgical" churches are as flexible- I think the liturgies are simply different. Whether there is an official liturgy in the usual sense or not, the worship service usually follows a pattern and includes the same basic elements in the same order. The sermon is usually (hopefully :) ) thought out ahead of time, the music selected days before worship, and even the interludes of prayer and inspirational blurbs by the worship leader tend to be pre-selected. This is not to say that no impromptu changes ever occur- they do, especially in any music time/ministry time that may follow either the sermon or the main body of worship music- but that generally, things follow an order and are predetermined, even in the most charismatic of churches. This is not, in my opinion, a bad thing.
Take the music, for example- while "spirit-led worship" is an ideal for many charismatic churches, the fact is that very few church musicians are skilled enough to do it or have the time to dedicate to their team, and very few churches have the resources to hire and maintain a full-time commitment from a team of musicians. In fact, I have never seen a team that truly did "spirit led worship", if that means worship that was not planned and orchestrated ahead of time. Even the most apparently "spirit led" (musically acceptable) team in the world, in my experience, plans out the music, rehearses it, etc days ahead. One main instrument and a singer or two can go "off the cuff" more easily, but a whole team is unprecedented in my experience as both a congregant and a worship leader. Then, too, the scripture and prayer that the worship leader may offer during worship are often selected beforehand. Sometimes the worship leader may hear the pastor go a certain direction in the sermon, and may choose something which complements it at the end of the service. (this happens sometimes in more traditionally liturgical churches as well, as worship leaders generally strive to make the message of the music and the spoken word a cohesive whole) Regardless, it is rare, in my experience, for a worship leader to reject predictable, rehearsed music and pre-selected inspiration. Again- I do not see this as at all negative, but I am observing what is.
Then there is the preaching- the main sermon in any church is prepared beforehand. In our methodist church we also have the affirmation of faith, responsive reading, and written prayers we say together, whereas in the charismatic church we have usual greetings/invitations, "words" that some people share on a regular basis, etc. Both have patterns, but the patterns are different.
One of the reasons I love our church is its liturgy. Much of the liturgy has been refined over time and is beautifully and powerfully worded, and the prayers of the liturgists have been the subject of much thought and effort. I love having my children beside me, learning and saying with conviction the essential elements of faith. There is a sense of calm, community, and commonality with the Church past and present that I feel when I participate in our liturgies that I truly love. If we all have liturgy and ritual, why not embrace it and make it something beautiful and meaningful? If we accept that liturgy and ritual and tradition, while they should certainly be flexible and open to change when the Spirit leads so, are an inescapable part of our churches, then this frees us to think about the liturgy, what we are saying, how we are saying it, and what it calls to our minds. I think that intentional liturgy is better liturgy. This doesn't mean, of course, that every liturgy has to sound serious or formal, or that Methodist liturgy should fit in or be adopted by other churches- but I think that a bit of honest evaluation might reveal an area in the non-liturgical church that could be improved upon.