by Sam Gutierrez
As cultural memories of Christianity fade and denominational barriers erode, how do we create warm and safe space for everyone to belong? Especially with an eye towards our unchurched friends, neighbors and co-workers? How do we kindly and courageously invite both young and old, from various backgrounds to find their part in God’s rich redemptive story in and through Christ? When it comes to worship, one option is to reduce the worship service to the bare bones – modern, popular worship songs and a practical down to earth message.
Another option is for the church to lean into two thousand years of church life, practices and worship, while putting its hospitality foot forward. Practices that have proven themselves over time and unite Christians from various backgrounds all around the globe. Then finding creative and contemporary ways to frame these practices so that worship is not only formative, but welcoming.
At Alger, we lean into the second option. This recent blog series on faith formation draws on this rich history of formative practices such as the liturgical year, the lectionary, Scripture memory, storytelling and prayer. When it comes to worship, we recognize that worship begins with Trinitarian grace. That works itself out in a number of different ways:
Worship is slow. We recognize that because God welcomes us as we are, and because God generally does not transform lives overnight, we are called to be patient. As leaders, we are more interested in what happens in people’s lives and hearts over a period of 52 worship services than in creating a single exciting spiritual experience. (although these also have their place).
Worship is broad and specific. We seek to be “catholic” in the sense that we align ourselves with the church of all times and places. Where traditions and practices are helpful in faith formation, we are happy to adopt them, recognizing that our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters often have more acute memories and many riches to offer us. Even in this breadth, we also recognize that there is great value in specific movements that have been a mainstay of our Reformed tradition, which is why our services also follow Reformed patterns of worship (invocation, confession, assurance, Scripture, communion, etc.).
Worship is deep and accessible. We believe words matter and so we choose them with care. We want our language to be accessible to people at all stages on their faith journey and to people of all ages, not merely “Christian jargon.” To do this, we think carefully before using words that might only be familiar to the long-time Christian, we provide context for ideas that might be new, and we frame our actions to help our newer friends understand what we are doing. We invite everyone to participate in the deep practices of the church such as reciting creeds, baptismal remembrance, confession of sins, passing the peace of Christ and receiving a blessing. We want to lean into the deep practices, while making them accessible people at various stages of understanding, acceptance and belief.
Worship is for the young and for the old (and all the ages in between). We believe faith formation does not begin when everything is understood, but is often a long journey of faithful step after step. For this reason, we delight in having children participate in worship both from the congregation and on stage, being sure that we use ideas and language they can understand. We also seek to have worship of significance for those at every stage of life, recognizing that God welcomes all of us (young and old) into his presence.
Worship is welcoming. We believe we best show God’s generous character when our worship is welcoming. As leaders of worship, we practice this by providing framing for historical practices, addressing the audience as friends at times, and inviting visitors to fill out connection cards. We also practice this by passing the peace of Christ and welcoming all who say “yes” to the grace of Jesus to participate in receiving communion.
There are many good faith formation practices that I did not mention in this current blog series. My goal was to simply highlight some powerful tools that have stood the test of time. May God grant us his grace as we practice our faith – asking the Spirit to transform and shape us into the image of Jesus. The point is not the practices/tools. The point is to open up your heart and say “yes” to God. Then to allow yourself to be used by him to bless the world.