Visions of incense, bells, and vestment clad people come to mind. Ancient words, call and response, and a eucharistic center continue the vision. Liturgy is the work of the people, more specifically, Christian Liturgy is the work of the people of God at all times and in all places in the worship of God.
In recent years there have been much written about so called “worship wars” and the continual change in congregational worship practices. From the very beginning Christian worship has evolved. From the gathering of disciples in the upper room to basilicas, to store front churches the people of God has gathered from the beginning. In this gathering they have recalled their common story and have been empowered to be God’s people in the world.
At the center of this gathering have been symbolic words, actions, and instruments. These I believe to be crucial to the telling and retelling of the story. Water, bread, wine, and oil have from the very beginning been used as incarnations of God’s presence for the Christian community. So have been responses both said and sung that unite us to the people of God from the beggining of time.
In a world that is constantly changing we need this work . . . the work of all the people of God. As we with open hands, open eyes, open mouths, and listening ears take part in the greatest story ever told and in this retelling we too become part of the mighty acts of salvation.
Why are some churches abandoning this “ordo?” Many believe that worship needs to adapt to the culture around it, I do also. But adaptation does not mean that we loose the central components of what makes worship Christian worship. The centrality of the eucharist (more later on this when I comment on the sacramental dimensions of my dream church), the importance of the community to be totally involved in mind, body, and spirit (imagine pentecostal church, meets anglicanism meets a quaker meeting). Others believe that there is no need for an “ordo” at all for if liturgy is the work of the people then the people can decide how that work is going to look. Those need to remember that the worship of God does not belong to us but to the church universal and that we cannot make decisions on a whim nor abandon the important ingredients of worship from the beginning of the christian movement.
As a United Methodist this last point is very important. In recent years there has been increased fascination on going back to our founder John Wesley. We have recovered the study of Wesleyan theology, of the early practices of the methodist movement, and of the historical reasons for a variety of decisions that affected our history as a church. All of this has been important but we cannot forget that Wesley was not infallible and that many of his decisions, such as ordaining elders and superintendents for America, were not and are not acceptable practices for those of us who consider oursleves part of the church catholic. The fact that our founder found it necessary does not mean that we should continue making decisions without continued dialogue and conversation with other members of the church universal.
A liturgical church is a vibrant, spirit filled congregation that immenses itself in the worship of God for “the life of the world.” It does this while continue to adapt its media (ways of communication) to the culture around it. For today this includes the use of certain technologies as well as using inclusive language, and providing sermons that truly bring God’s word to the forefront of today’s issues. The presider, the president of the assembly, gathers the worship of the assembly and offers it to God as a “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” as the people gather around the table and are then sent into the world to be Christ wherever they go. All of this is made possible by our invoking of the spirit (pour out your Holy Spirit on us) and by God’s gift of grace that makes us the “body of Christ” for the world.