Monday, May 13, 2013

What Is Worship?

One of my favorite definitions of worship comes from Don Saliers' book Worship as Theology: Foretaste of Glory Divine. According to Saliers worship is two things: it is prayer and an act of eschatological hope. To worship is to be in conversation with God, to be fully aware of God's presence. Worship is also an act of hope, trusting that God is breaking through now and forever. (Of course, Saliers takes an entire book to say this.)

If this is the case, then what do we need for worship? Through the tradition of the church, we have discovered that there are worship practices that can be acts of divine conversation and hope. They include music, both sung and heard, communal silence and prayer, baptism and communion, Bible reading and preaching. A worshipping community might also dance, shout, embrace, weep, laugh, wash each other's feet or share a meal.

Through the centuries, we've taken these practices that have opened us to prayer and hope and we've tamed them. We've chosen Sunday morning and fit several worship practices into an hour or perhaps an hour and twenty minutes if there are no big sporting events that day. It is our assumption that the brief time that we spend with each worship practice might give rise to prayer and hope. 

The attendance at the church I serve has been declining for the last five years. It declines much more quickly than the number of people who call this their church home. People are not attending worship on Sunday morning as often as they used to.

Interestingly, just because people are not in worship on Sunday morning does not mean that they are not an active part of the worshipping community. We have members who spend hours each week in outreach and service groups and study classes at the church. We send mission teams into the city of Detroit, across the U.S. and out of county. We have a team of trained persons who offer the ministry of listening and companionship for those who need company at a difficult time in their lives. Individuals tell stories of helping neighbors, caring for the sick, and visiting prisons.

This Saturday was "Change the World" Day for our church. Teams went out to perform community service. I was with a team that cleaned out flower beds at a local middle school. As I knelt digging in the dirt, listening to the conversation and laughter of fellow servants, I started thinking about worship. Could this activity on a cool, spring morning be worship? 

Wasn't Christ by the Holy Spirit present as we worked together in his name? And what better act of hope than reaching out into a community, not because we had to, but because we were called to by a God who moves us forward.

Could it be that worship is happening in surprising and profound ways everyday of the week? Individually and as community, people of great faith and commitment are active in prayer and in hope. 

Sherry worshiping on a Saturday morning.



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