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Developing Worship - Explorers

Ken Russell


EXPLORERS is a Parish group, meeting monthly, that continues to struggle with the challenging issues that relate to the relevance of Christian worship, and indeed of Christian faith itself. This report on year's work raises many issues that will strike a chord with people in other churches engaged in the same struggle. We are keen to enter dialogue on any or all of these issues, and a response to the editor/pagekeeper, Ken Russell, will see your response referred to the appropriate person in our group. Hopefully dialogue will ensue.


Explorers is a voluntary discussion group that has been active for three years. Explorers has no official status within the parish, but has recently been asked by a parish committee to offer ideas about refining our parish outreach – "through worship occasions, or perhaps through internet possibilities. Part of the background to this request was the feeling of some people that our worship might do differently and better." In this script we try to be helpful.
When explaining ourselves, we have said:

"Listening to one another we have come to appreciate our diversity. We are not required to think exactly alike or to follow just one theological line. To have faith is not to adopt a given set of propositions. Rather it is to be on a journey. None of us would wish to have remained where we were in childhood or where our religious educators left us."


Some themes have found general agreement amongst us:
1. "God is love."

2. "Faith without works is dead."

3. Jesus of Nazareth as creative prophet of the love of God
and its implications for community.

Good religin, and therefore good worship, responds to something beyond ourselves that moves us to caring and loving. 'God', the word we have learned to use, is not something to argue about. We meet God. God is not a theory.

4. Finding good in one another, finding God in one another.

5. Inclusiveness.
"While we all cannot think alike, and while we all cannot walk alike, we can all love alike. May we not be of one heart, though we are not always of one opinion?"
— John Wesley

6. Integrity and honesty.

7. Dogmatism is at odds with truth.

A substantial paper by David Kitchingman – Worship revisited – reflects our discussions and introduces Explorers thinking. (It also details David's own suggestions about desirable developments.) This text is on Evan Lewis's Resources disc as XP-22 . David has provided a summary list of 'Worship Pointers' derived from his longer text. That summary is attached here as Appendix 2. The diverse God-experiences reported by some Explorers members have been brought together on Resources, as XP-07 . Other files in the XP- section are also relevant.
A Y@M (Youth at Mornington) questionnaire drew responses from 24 members of the Mornington congregation – a wider group than the membership of Explorers. Ginny Kitchingman's summary – We wanted to know .... (XP-23) – is of great interest.
See earlier posting under RECENT ADDITIONS


In an earlier day many in society still accepted the belief in a righteous God ever ready to punish us, maybe eternally, for our sins. Such belief was sufficient to keep people loyal to Christian religious observance. But today many people find such teaching incredible and offensive, and are non-starters for attachment to traditional churches.
Parts of the Methodist Church downplay such ideas, but have not let go of them altogether. The pattern of Sunday worship we have inherited still asks us each week to confess our sins and seek God's forgiveness. Our eucharistic liturgies always include a repetition of (supposed) words of institution which imply atonement theology, though it is obvious to many that Jesus was not into that kind of thinking. Many of us in Explorers are bothered by these aspects, though our experience is that many good things happen in worship and in congregational life.

A healed world?
In this postmodern world, cultural conflicts are becoming more dangerous than at any time in history. A new model of coexistence is needed, based on man's transcending himself.
Vaclav Havel, former Czech president.
We find powerful motivation for building up our religious communities when we appreciate that good religions are vital for a healed world.

For consideration:
Inclusiveness We would wish our worship to be so structured that it becomes easier for people of different religious backgrounds to participate with us – assuming that the theme of love which is central for us is focal for them too. We are thinking of conservative as well as liberal christians, and of people relating to another of the great religious traditions, or to newer spiritual exploration. Amongst other things this would imply avoiding dogmatic or sectarian assertion. It would mean rethinking prayer and liturgy — even if that might not be easy.
"The person who knows only one religion does not know
any religion." — Max Müller.

God in one another
Other people in our own communities channel God to us. This suggests that there should often be more than one person contributing, out of their own integrity, to what is offered in worship.

To present a gospel passage as though it conveys sober historical information, accurate in detail is, at least, problematic. We sometimes do this, thoughtlessly, forgetting how human tradition really works. We would not respond to material from other traditions in this way. Our principle could be that most scriptures or texts brought to worship are stories created for us by someone else. Our intention is not that this should be argued in worship. But there would be less difficulty for many if scriptures were treated in this way.

Sunday worship competes, these days, with many other possible uses of weekend freedom, for people and their families. If it seems boring many people won't put up with it for very long. Our own experience is that worship is not boring. But there are elements in our inherited pattern that can be boring — much of the scripture lectionary, some of the prayers, especially when they do not speak to our own condition.
Interest is kindled when what happens is found to be personally relevant; and also when there is creative diversity of content and presentation. (A projector used expertly could help?) Interest also arises when people are not just passive receivers of what happens. We could be more innovative in thinking of new ways of using people's gifts in worship, making them feel valued, appreciated, and involved. The possibility of making worship a good experience for teenagers is something we have not given thought to. But this could be a vital question in congregations where there are young people in that age group, or moving towards it.

Some suggestions:
The considerations presented in this report led us to these suggestions —

1. We would like to see worship so planned that it speaks to people of diverse spiritual understanding (who make love and caring a priority).

2. Some would be helped if prayer and liturgy were rethought with this objective in mind, trying to avoid dogmatic phraseology.

3. We would like it to be common for more than one person to contribute, out of their own experience and integrity, to what is offered in an act of worship.

4. Recognise and appreciate the story-nature of scriptures.

5. Recognise that interest is a vital element in planning and sustaining lively worship.

6. Consider the use, on occasion, of a projector in worship. A number of proposals arose in our September meeting when this report was discussed —

7. If finance can be found, it would be productive to work towards frequent newspaper presentation of material that makes our distinctive contribution known.

8. We would like to see the parish website used as another avenue for public information – perhaps with a button on the home page that leads to appropriate material from our printed bulletins.

9. We should work towards greater public awareness of the relationship between the parish and Methodist Connect (bearing in mind what the Salvation Army gains from the public perception of its social dimension).

10. If it would be helpful to the parish, Explorers would be glad to continue reflection and conversation on parish concerns.

We welcome the interest in examining worship. We do not interpret this as a desire for some kind of navel gazing but as asking for genuine attention to parish outreach. Explorers has found that when we start to discuss a general topic related to our faith it has led us time and again to think about our worship practice. This has confirmed for us that the conduct of worship is a vital issue. We are inclined by our tradition to treat worship as solely a matter for the designated leaders of worship. Yet every attender has a stake in the worship, and the Parish itself needs a sense of ownership and commitment. We can't stop there. We need to think consciously about those who do not attend and why. We are up against a major cultural shift. A recent media article dismissed church attendance as the preserve of “the old and the odd”. Valuable worship refinements have already been taking place in our services as a result of individual initiatives, often well ahead of other sections of our church. We gratefully acknowledge the significance of such developments and the creativity that makes them possible. The question now being raised is whether a more self-conscious and far-reaching review might help bridge the gap that has opened up between the church and the community, and to a lesser extent between our spiritual heritage and the hearts and minds of some among our existing membership. This is the opportunity for some boldness and experimentation on the part of the Parish. Might some variations to our established patterns of worship allow us to meet God in a fresh way at a new level?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Appendix 1: Spelling out the suggestions: One of our members sees these implications in some of the suggestions —
1. We would like to see worship so planned that it speaks to people of diverse spiritual understanding (who make love and caring a priority). 2. Some would be helped if prayer and liturgy were rethought with this objective in mind, trying to avoid dogmatic phraseology.
The expectation "making love and caring a priority" is an imperative. Our worship should assist people, otherwise diverse in their understanding, to hold to that constraint. Perhaps prayer could dwell more on the love and caring required as between people, races, religions, and the environment, and rather less on supernatural elements in our understanding of God as "loving Father". Does the Church have some responsibility to nurture adherents on the journey through the stages of faith?
3. We would like it to be common for more than one person to contribute, out of their own experience and integrity, to what is offered in an act of worship.
From time to time the worship leader could call on people "who make love and caring a priority" to contribute to worship — from both within and outside church circles. Such contributions could confirm for members the diversity of spiritual experience, within the love-and-caring imperative.
4. Recognise and appreciate the story-nature of scriptures.
Insights and truths embodied in ancient scriptures are of great value, but should be seen and understood in their historical context.
5. Recognise that interest is a vital element in planning and sustaining lively worship.
The scope is endless, especially where the act of "worship" is seen as being sufficiently broad to encompass nurturing for the faith journey.
Appendix 2:
Worship pointers – a personal list
David Kitchingman - September 2006

In a paper for the Explorers Group entitled ‘Worship revisited’ (August 2006), I attempted to address a request that had been made of the Group for suggestions on ‘parish outreach through worship’, against a background thought that ‘our worship might do differently and better’. The paper tried to summarise discussions and ideas on worship that had cropped up within the Group over the last three years, but I went on to express a number of personal inclinations covering almost every facet of worship. This made for a lengthy paper so it may be helpful to list separately the main points. Bear in mind that particular suggestions may not represent more than just one member’s views.
Some of the original wording has been altered to enable each suggestion to stand alone, but I have added a reference in brackets to the relevant section number within the main paper.
Acknowledge that in society at large the traditional setting and manner of public worship are being questioned as never before. [s.2] Recognise the positives in our local worship practice as recorded in feedback from many who attend – the surroundings, friendly community, music, blend of formal and informal, mental stimulation, etc. – ‘one generally encounters God at some point in the service’. [s.3] Recognise too that there are problems with worship, again from feedback from some who regularly attend – there is a wide spectrum of faith even within our congregations, and varying understandings of God-talk, the status of Jesus, and the place of various elements in our liturgy. [s.4] Keep in mind three underlying constituents of worship – the expression of devotion, the pursuit of wisdom, and readiness for action – embracing the beautiful, the true, and the good. [s.5] Aim to span a wider range of worshipping approach than is generally in vogue even in Methodism, whilst still retaining a full sense of community. [s.6] Acknowledge that this is a tall order – creativity in preparation and presentation is already demanding on those with leadership responsibilities. Cultivate a stronger sense that we all have a part to play in adapting worship to today’s world. [s.6.1] Be prepared in the interests of enriching worship to expand on variations in artistic and technical aids (e.g. occasional use of data projection). [s.6.1] In publicising our services, be bolder in inviting a broader spectrum of participants. Find a way of indicating that people are welcome on their own terms, including those for whom even ‘God’ is one of the stories woven into worship. [s.6.2] Within services, be also mindful of the value in signalling that we want people to be able to feel equally at home, whether they lean more towards or away from traditional theology. [s.6.2] Apply this approach to prayer. Respect time-honoured liturgy but also allow more scope for ‘equivalents’ of prayer, such as meditative reflection and silence. [s.6.3] Celebrate our gifts of music, especially new hymns – continue to push the boundaries, while trying to engender confidence and familiarity, all the while aware that music and singing are almost synonymous with the spiritual. [s.6.3] In preaching, feel free to break with traditional patterns of verbal communication and sermon construction. [s.6.4] Avoid feeling bound by the prescriptions of the lectionary, both for preaching and readings. Be prepared to draw on wisdom from beyond the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. [s.6.4] Treat notices and broad pastoral concerns as an integral part of worship. Allow for the possibility that some issues might occasionally demand attention at the expense of parts of the regular pattern. [s.6.5] Do not allow any such interruption (or other developments) to displace a living sense of our connection with our traditional heritage within the Church. Celebrate the validity of tradition. [s.6.6] At the same time, welcome and employ non-traditional means of evoking anew the sense of wonder and transcendence. [s.6.6] Similarly, look for ways of exploring new paths towards truth and insight, even those that may be intellectually challenging. [s.6.6] Think about the place of Holy Communion in our worship, and work towards reviewing the liturgy in the light of current understandings of its origins and development. [s.6.7] Think about whether we are in danger of claiming for Jesus more than he claimed for himself. Distinguish the Trinitarian formulae of the Creeds and the Church from ‘Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’. [s.6.8] Continue to find ways of affirming the presence and participation of children and young people. [s.6.9] Encourage a greater general sense of participation by allowing more individuals to make an offering by way of their personal stories or other means. Reinforce such an approach by promoting hospitality through and beyond the worship service (morning tea, etc.). [s.6.9] Reflect on a possible analogy from the development of funeral services in recent years – their expanded resources, wider participation, and greater emotional freedom may have something to say about the desirable direction of normal worship. [s.6.9] Focus on what worship may need to be like if it is to meet the needs of our grandchildren’s generation – it will take creative passion to reach them and to pass on the enduring essence of the faith. [s.6.9, 7]




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