The Shape of Presbyterian Worship – The VIBRANT TRADITIONAL SERVICE
EVERY PART OF THE TRADITIONAL MORNING SERVICE HAS A REASON FOR BEING – AND ALL THE PARTS WORK TOGETHER TO WORSHIP OUR GOD
Everything we do in a traditional service reflects our love of God and every part has a Scriptural purpose, fitting into a worship plan that we pray is inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit. In worship we focus our attention on glorifying and enjoying God in Jesus Christ. What follows is a brief explanation of the elements our traditional worship service, and the reasons for our practice of each part of it on Sunday mornings.
Worship may be seen as a drama in five acts which engages us in a shared encounter with the Lord our God. There is a logical movement from the beginning to the conclusion which is seen in the five main headings which describe the acts, but first comes the welcome and announcements.
WELCOME AND ANNOUNCEMENTS –
THE WELCOME invites people to make themselves at home as they engage in this act of worship. It encourages people to believe in their worth before God and to know that the concerns they bring with them are honored here. The Announcements let the people know they are invited to be active in the church in the various programs and events that are planned for each week.
THE ANNOUNCEMENTS may seem like a mundane element of Sunday morning. But if we consider that they represent the practical, ongoing consequence of our devotion to God, we realize that they should occupy a place of equal importance amongst the other elements of the service. Here we look forward to concrete applications of our beliefs, to continuing education in matters of faith, and to opportunities to prepare for upcoming worship times. These notices help inspire our people to go out and serve. The announcements can also be made prior to or near the end of the service.
I. GATHERING IN GOD’S NAME
GATHERING PRAISE SONG -- is meant to do what its name implies–gather us together in praise and adoration of God, requesting God’s presence and guidance as we join in worship, and perhaps suggesting the principle theme of the service for that day. The hymn is chosen to unite us in praise.
OPENING RESPONSES help the congregation to open their hearts and minds to God and to the special themes of the day. They can be taken from a variety of sources–words of scripture or hymns, modern worship resources, or the worship leader’s own reflections. They act as a Call to Worship and unite the congregation in saying aloud the Word of God and Faith statements based on the Word. This unity is important to worship as a congregation and to the mission of the church.
HYMNS -- The first song continues the theme of united worship and praise. Other songs are often chosen to match the theme of the service and the sermon. Singing is, as Augustine put it so well, like praying twice. It is at the center of our worship of the Lord.
"Song is a response which engages the whole self in prayer. Song unites the faithful in common prayer wherever they gather for worship whether in church, home, or other special place....Through the ages and from varied cultures, the church has developed additional musical forms for congregational prayer. Congregations are encouraged to use these diverse musical forms for prayer as well as those which arise out of the musical life of their own cultures. To lead the congregation in the singing of prayer is a primary role of the choir and other musicians. They also may pray on behalf of the congregation with introits, responses, and other musical forms. Instrumental music may be a form of prayer since words are not essential to prayer. In worship music is not to be for entertainment or artistic display. Care should be taken that it not be used merely as a cover for silence." (Book of Order W-2.1003 - W-2.1004)
A RESPONSIVE READING states Scriptural truth in a way in which the entire congregation can be involved in saying the Word of God and learning from its truth. There is a power in unity (see Acts 2) and the responsive reading allows us to hear it.
AN AFFIRMATION OF FAITH is a shared response to the hearing of the Word of God. It is an invitation to say "Yes, we believe the good news we have heard! Yes, we will commit ourselves to being the bearers of this good news!" A variety of affirmations can be used such as the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed or a reading from Living Faith. A creed states what the Church believes in summary form. Occasionally words of scripture are used to express our belief and our commitment.
THE PRAYER OF CONFESSION is intended to encourage people to lay down any burden of guilt or regret or any sense of failure and inadequacy, and to re-affirm their trust in Christ's unfailing love and forgiveness. Silent reflection also allows them to do these things in a personal way. Then the assurance of forgiveness is an explicit declaration that God's love and forgiveness are sure and are available to all who open their hearts to receive them. The whole act of confession is meant to help people leave behind the negative things which might prevent them from devoting their attention to the word of God.
GLORIA PATRI is a powerful praise song that ascribes Glory to the Trinity. It is an appropriate statement of faith and adoration before the passing of the peace.
II. LIFTING UP OUR HEARTS TO GOD
THE PASSING OF THE PEACE is a visible demonstration that we are members of the one body of Christ. Because we have been reconciled to the Father through the death of His Son, we therefore are also reconciled with one another by shaking hands and wishing each other well. The Apostle Paul always included in his letters the sentence prayer “The peace of God be with you.” He would use it in greetings and closings. This is an appropriate way to greet fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and so we say, “The peace of the Lord be with you” and respond, “And also with you.” We then pass this greeting of peace to one another. At the passing we should earnestly desire God’s peace upon each person we greet. The passing of the peace is also a sign of obedience to Jesus’ words that we make peace with one another before offering our gifts at the altar (Matt. 5:23-24).
THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE, concluding with the LORD's prayer, encourages us to respond further to the Gospel by turning our attention to concerns for our neighbors- near or far, known or unknown. This time of prayer is a moment of solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world, an opportunity to express to each other and to God our need to depend on each other and our wish to care-even when we feel helpless. The LORD's prayer draws us together in that rich expression of devotion and commitment that has united Christians from the beginning.
"Prayer is at the heart of worship. In prayer, through the Holy Spirit, people seek after and are found by the one true God who has been revealed in Jesus Christ. They listen and wait upon God, call God by name, remember God's gracious acts, and offer themselves to God. Prayer may be spoken, sung, offered in silence, or enacted. Prayer grows out of the center of a person's life in response to the Spirit. Prayer is shaped by the Word of God in Scripture and by the life of the community of faith. Prayer issues in commitment to join God's work in the world." (Book of Order W-2.1001)
"Worship is an activity of the common life of the people of God in which the care of the members for each other and for the quality of their life and ministry together expresses the reality of God's power to create and sustain community in the midst of a sinful world. As God is concerned for the events in daily life, so members of the community in worship appropriately express concern for one another and for their ministry in the world." (Book of Order W-2.6001)
SPECIAL MUSIC is also a fitting response to God's activity. Special music may include an additional choir anthem or other music such as a solo or quartet, or an instrumentalist.
MOMENTS FOR THE CHILDREN serve to confirm the importance of our young ones in the Christian community. They offer an expression of faith which is understandable to them and in which they can actively participate. We desire for them to grow up strong in the Lord, being nurtured by the church.
THE OFFERING is also a significant part of our response to the Gospel. As we present the money which represents our commitment to the work of the church, we resolve to maintain this community of worship, fellowship and service. The DOXOLOGY is sung, ascribing glory to God. It usually reflects the Trinity - praising Father, Son and Holy Spirit. An offertory prayer dedicates the offering to the Church's use.
"The Christian life is an offering of one's self to God. In worship the people are presented with the costly self-offering of Jesus Christ, are claimed and set free by him, and are led to respond by offering to him their lives, their particular gifts and abilities, and their material goods. Worship should always offer opportunities to respond to Christ's call to become disciples by professing faith, by uniting with the church, and by taking up the mission of the people of God, as well as opportunities for disciples to renew the commitment of their lives to Jesus Christ and his mission in the world." (Book of Order W-2.5001 - W-2.5002)
THE PRAYER OF DEDICATION is intended to encourage people to rededicate themselves to God and to ask for forgiveness of their sins in a corporate way as a part of the congregation. They commit themselves and their talents and resources to God’s mission.
III. PROCLAIMING GOD’S WORD
THE PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION seeks the illumining guidance of the Holy Spirit of God as we turn to read and reflect on words from the Bible. This prayer may be sung or read together so that all may share in the act of opening ourselves to the Word of God.
THE READING OF THE SCRIPTURE is a holy action as we receive the Word of God with its message of inspiration, enlightenment and power.
"The church confesses the Scriptures to be the Word of God written, witnessing to God's self-revelation. Where that Word is read and proclaimed, Jesus Christ the Living Word is present by the inward witness of the Holy Spirit. For this reason the reading, hearing, preaching, and confessing of the Word are central to Christian worship. The session shall ensure that in public worship the Scripture is read and proclaimed regularly in the common language(s) of the particular church." (Book of Order W-2.2001)
THE SERMON is intended to be a proclamation of the Gospel based on the Bible readings. It can take many forms, but generally explains some of the background and meaning of the scriptures and applies them to Christian living today. The Bible readings and the sermon are a means of grace, as God’s Word has a supernatural power that transforms people when it is read and preached in a praying congregation.
"The preached Word or sermon is to be based upon the written Word. It is a proclamation of Scripture in the conviction that through the Holy Spirit Jesus Christ is present to the gathered people, offering grace and calling for obedience....The sermon should present the gospel with simplicity and clarity, in language which can be understood by the people....the preaching of the Word shall ordinarily be done by a minister of Word and Sacrament. (Book of Order W-2.2007)
THE CHOIR ANTHEM is chosen as a general expression of praise or as a complement to the themes which are the focus of the day's readings and reflection.
"The Word is also proclaimed through song in anthems and solos based on scriptural texts, in cantatas and oratorios which tell the biblical story, in psalms and canticles, and in hymns, spirituals, and spiritual songs which present the truth of the biblical faith. Song in worship may also express the response of the people to the Word read, sung, enacted, or proclaimed. Drama and dance, poetry and pageant, indeed, most other human art forms are also expressions through which the people of God have proclaimed and responded to the Word." (Book of Order W-2.2008)
THE SACRAMENTS OF BAPTISM AND HOLY COMMUNION are done at certain times during the church year. These sacraments are God's gift to the church. Baptism uses water to wash us and Communion uses bread and wine to represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ. They are a means of grace by which the Lord uplifts each of us.
"The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper are God's acts of sealing the promises of faith within the community of faith as the congregation worships, and include the responses of the faithful to the Word proclaimed and enacted in the Sacraments." (Book of Order W-3.3601)
BAPTISM unites us with Christ and the church, the body of Christ and the community of the faithful. We accept God's grace as it comes to us and our children (Acts 2:39), and the congregation makes a fresh commitment to nurture one another in faith. Baptism reminds us that God in Christ has done all that is necessary for our salvation. Through baptism, we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. In Christ, we are cleansed, forgiven, healed and reborn. Infants, children, youth and adults are baptized.
HOLY COMMUNION is usually celebrated four to ten times a year and is included in this act of the drama of worship. This sacrament is seen as part of our response to the Word of God. It is an act of remembrance of Jesus, a moment of fellowship with God and with all the people for whom God cares. It is both an occasion for personal spiritual nurture and a challenge to commit ourselves to giving and service.
Holy Communion is celebrated in obedience to the command of our Lord who said "Do this in remembrance of me." It is a rite by which we make a memorial of our Lord's death and resurrection. In a sense we re-enact Calvary much as the Jews at Passover re-enacts the Exodus.
The basic order for Holy Communion is the fourfold action established by Christ and his followers in the early church who took bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread and gave it to those present.
RESPONDING TO GOD’S WORD
The closing hymn should reflect a summary, a challenge or a commitment to live a Christian life, responding to the Word preached.
GOING FORTH TO SERVE IN GOD’S NAME
Finally, the BENEDICTION is a word of blessing offered by the minister, affirming God's love and favor towards us as we go forward in service. The blessing may be worded either as a prayer shared by the minister and the people together ("May God bless us..."), or as a benediction from God pronounced upon the people by the minister ("May God bless you..."), with hands raised to signify the bestowal of this grace.