"One of the most segregated times in America," my Black Church History professor said at Duke years ago, "is 11a.m. on Sunday morning." He was right. What divides Christians, perhaps more than race these days, is the "style" of worship. "That's a rock and roll church," or "that's a liturgical church," "or "that's a contemporary church," I have heard said along the way. Even local churches sometimes will get into "church wars" when it comes to differing, so called, "styles" of worship. But I have always thought - "Should worship have only one style?" And is "style" the right word to use when it comes to worship. "Style" is a word I associate with fashion, and Madison Avenue. It's typically an American idea that everything should have a fashion, a style. Yet I wonder what happens to unity, community, if we place "style" as the chief distnquishing characteristic of worship? What I have seen in churches that offer differing "styles" of worship is that the divide between older and younger grows wider. For me, striving to be one community in love and witness expressed in liturgy takes precedence over "style." And yet I still believe in diversity but diversity within unity.
Worship is one of the central acts of the church to unify the church into one community and witness. Worship is an expression of belief not style. Worship forms us into Christians. I have always believed that a worship service should be ecumenical in its witness, unifying in its structure, and diverse in its "style." In other words, worship should unite us and root us in historic belief handed down through scripture and church tradition, while at the same time encorporating differing "styles" within a unifying liturgy. As your pastor, I believe Word and Table is the central distinguishing mark of a Christian church. We listen to God's word, and we share in the body and blood of Christ's death and resurrection. Yet, Word and Table can be celebrated in diversity. As your worship leader, I strive to keep Word and Table, the celebration of God's self giving love central, yet I am open to diversity in its presentation to the world. I have often wondered if you appreciate our worship here?
As I studied at Catholic University, I saw the strength and value of the Catholic tradition of the "Mass." The Mass unifies Catholics throughout the world; it is a liturgical expression of their belief. Yet, I discovered the rich diversity of their church that, world-wide, every country and diverse people expressed the Mass through their own cultural traditions. The Mass was a celebration of unity within diversity and diversity within unity. Furthermore, I have often gone to Jewish Sabbath services, and there, too, I have found a rich unifying tradition yet celebrated, often, in diversity.
I think the heart of true worship is finding unity without neglecting diversity, and yet diversity without neglecting unity. True liturgy celebrates the wideness of God's love.
The woman at the well speaks to Jesus about the division she has felt as a Samaritan: "We worship on this mountain, and you worship in Jerusalem. Where are we suppose to worship?" But Jesus moves her to see that it is not the style or the geography that is important when it comes to worship, it is the unity one finds in the celebration of God's spirit and truth, his nature, his love for the whole world, that is important. "Does that "mountain" open your eyes to see your brothers and sisters, as I am seeing you, Samaritan woman, as I ask you for a drink?"
The "style," or "the mountain" of worship doesn't matter, the more important thing is to ask: "does it adquately celebrate the truth of God's spirit of love for the whole world and move you to love like that?" This is question I keep in the forfront of my heart as I develop worship each week. God's love unifies us, liturgy, Word and Table, at its best celebrates that unifying truth, but, at the same time, it can be expressed, within one liturgy, in differing ways. And yet the point of all our worship, ultimately is to ask this question - does it shape you, form you into disciples of Jesus Christ whose mission is to love the whole world?
All the best through Christ,