Monday, 8 April 2013

Toward more meaningful worship

This post originally appeared (in a slightly different form) as a letter to the editor in the April 2013 edition of the Uniting Church's Victoria-Tasmania newspaper Crosslight.  I believe this is relevant not only to worship in the Uniting Church, but to worship in middle-of-the-road "Protestant" churches around the world.


I believe the malaise in worship that affects the Uniting Church in Australia also affects related churches overseas,  

Of the people today who choose to attend public worship, most do so out of a desire to experience the Sacred, not to receive information about religion. As a result, a style of worship in which the "teaching" aspect of worship dominates all other aspects of worship (as is the case with most worship services in our congregations) will not really satisfy many worshippers today, let alone many current non-worshippers. This applies equally to the 1950s-style "preaching service", to the 1970s-style "all-age worship", or to the various forms of "blended worship" which combine aspects of the "preaching service" with aspects of  "all-age worship".

If we want to enable our congregations (and our wider communities) to worship well, some different (yet familiar) models may emerge.

Some congregations may develop a worship style that resembles the eucharistic celebrations of the classically "liturgical" Christian traditions, albeit with the UCA's typical "open table" and with the UCA's far more inclusive understanding of whom may be called and ordained to preside at the table.

Other congregations may develop a worship style similar to the "praise services" of some of the newer fellowships, albeit with a more balanced theology and without the faustian alignment with extreme right-wing political movements characteristic of some of these groups.

Other patterns of worship will also emerge. Some congregations may even tackle the daunting challenge of re-energising the 1950s "preaching service" and the 1970s "all-age worship" and making each style more worshipful and less of a strictly "teaching" exercise (and less of an exercise in nostalgia, the liturgical equivalent of an Elvis impersonator or an ABBA tribute band).

I believe the malaise in our worship is real.  I believe the starting-point for dealing with this malaise is to ensure that the focus of our worship is more than mere teaching.


  1. I've come to believe that it is becoming more difficult to truly engage people in the worship of God. One of the reasons, I propose, has to do with our entertainment culture and how that culture has moved to everything having to be big and elaborate. Most popular concerts these days aren't just about the music; they include an elaborate light show, costume changes and all manner of theatrics. And computer/technological advances have caused our movie watching experiences to be elaborate as well. No church worship style can compete with this entertainment culture. And though I believe that worship is not entertainment, and worshipers should be actively engaged, I think it's difficult to lead them "down that road."

  2. Thanks, Anita, I agree strongly. And I believe that this "entertainment culture" has a particularly deadening effect on worship when it's combined with the notion that the teaching-learning dimension of worship should dominate everything else we do in worship. When this happens, the possibilities of encountering the Sacred in worship are very slim.


Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.