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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Birthing Worship in a New Christian Community

Today's question comes from a sister with over 30 years of ministry experience, who is helping to birth a new Christian community...

I am from a non-liturgical church denomination.  After 30 years of ministering, I find myself about to begin an entirely new kind of ministry/church situation.  It is, in a very literal sense, an experiment.  I'm not calling it "church" and we won't be meeting on Sundays, but in many ways it is church.

I want this to be a genuinely non-denominational/ecumenical kind of gathering.  We haven't yet begun, but I already know that at least one Catholic, one Episcopalian, several Lutherans, a Baptist, a few Pentecostals and several folks who don't really know what they are, are planning to join in. 

Does anyone have an experience in combining such divergent traditions into one worship gathering?  (Part of me thinks it is impossible, but I remain excited nonetheless.)  I need help with simple liturgical resources...ideas that will work for folks from both sorts of traditions.  I won't necessarily try to do both each and every time we meet, but I am looking for resources, ideas, pitfalls to avoid, whatever!

One of our matriarchs suggests creating worship services using resources from the Iona  Taize communities.

Muthah+ writes :

I am salivating at your new opportunity.  I would love to be doing something like that.  
I don't have to tell you that this is one of those things that you really have to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the people.  You do this naturally so I am not worried about that. 

Even Baptists and free church services have a liturgical tradition.  They may not be as formal as the Piskies, Catholics or Lutherans among us.  Borrow one of our prayer books or missals to get an idea of what we do.  But I bet the group that gathers will be able to help you develop a liturgical practice that works for them and for you.  Let it evolve and keep testing it against the community that gathers.  They will tell you where God is speaking to them.  And that is all that is necessary.  You will all know what is prayer, what is praise and what is worship when it happens.

This is truly the Church of the future and God has favored you with this opportunity.  Let it become what is needed for the people to know all that is Holy and celebrate that opportunity in all of our names.

Does the thought of a new worshiping community make you salivate?  What ideas, thoughts, and suggestions do you have for this spiritual midwife?  I hope you will post your thoughts below.

May you live in God's amazing grace+


  1. I'm a lay leader in an international congregation serving all kinds of English speakers in the Munich (Germany) area, so I know where you're coming from with diversity! We have people from about 25 countries, who knows how many mother tongues, and surely even more denominations and strands of Christianity. We use resources from all over the world -- whatever we can get our hands on. The Iona press has some wonderful materials. I also write a great deal of our material, as do the other leaders (check my blog if you like - it's all up for grabs). This might even be an exercise for the group (or a sub-group of interested folk). I agree that the best advice is to see what resonates with the people who join. :-) Certainly sounds like a great opportunity!! Good luck!!

    1. I too would like to endorse the Iona Community's resources. By using a source that is not specifically from any one denomination, you can create a new ecumenicity (!) of your own. The Iona Abbey Worship Book is a great place to start, since it has simple worships planned out that you can use on their own or as a starting place. From there, you can use a variety of their other sources - they have a series of 6 thick and rich books written for different parts of the liturgical year.

      Our congregation has been engaging in a similar experience for over 30 years now. We sometimes forget how unique it is. All it takes is being away for awhile to remind me of how lovely it is when people from different traditions can come together in worship.

      Blessings on your new adventure,

  2. Are you familiar with St. Lydia's dinner church in NYC? They are Lutheran/Episcopalian in practice, but pretty ecumenical in fact. Even if there exact model doesn't work for you it may give you some ideas.

  3. All I can think of are little lists of things, like the four forms of prayer (gimme, thank you, oops, and wow)... and the rhythm of our approach to God and God's approach to us. It would be fun to explore assumptions and appetites from different points of view. And maybe some "inter-faith" expressions as well, to see whether they are translatable.
    Or expressions from within popular culture...I heard Solomon Burke sing "I Can't Stop Loving You" one night at a festival -- it was devotional, and no mistake about it--for example.
    All blessings on your does sound exciting!

  4. First off, I'm wondering if you have looked at Church planting advice - I heard that you should hold off having what appears to be gathered worship until you have at least half of your hoped-for number present. Community identity is shaped quickly around the numbers with which you begin. So that gives you lots of freedom to begin with meal sharing and maybe that way the people can help you shape the worship anyway.
    In an unstructured liturgy, I find it helpful to apply the theory of the liturgy - its order and ebbs and flows, its calls and responses - but then to be really loose with how each component part is expressed. For example, proclaiming the Word by having a a meal or working with clay or making bread. The liturgy is a gift in so many different places and spaces.
    Blessings for the birthing of your new venture in ministry,
    Rev R in Oz

  5. I'm sorry I wasn't able to answer this earlier in the week. My neighbors are a pair of Methodist pastors who were called to an existing church but primarily to start a newly devised church community. They started with small groups meeting in their parsonage. They had brief worship moments as an entry point to group education/sharing/fellowship and spiritual formation. I think what they did is what we might think of as devotional time: a song or two, a reading, some reflection, prayers. When they were ready to start doing sort of emergent-style Sunday afternoon worship, they found their folks really preferred what they had already been doing. They ended up blending the two congregations for a Sunday morning worship service that attracts the new church members who were already "churched" before, and kept up the weeknight groups (and some weekday) that appeal more to the previously unchurched people who are involved.
    They were very surprised that not everyone wanted to come to weekly worship; but they had developed other norms for the community that felt more significant.
    I would have to ask them how the sacraments play into the small groups (which is not what they call them, but I am having a blank at the moment about the name).

  6. This sounds very much like the summer congregation in my "community" church. We're the only worshipping community in town.. I've found that encouraging congregants to offer the bits that "feel like worship" to them feels more authentic than trying to anticipate and incorporate them myself. One of the things I do in June every year is to review "what we do and why we do it" and to remind us all that not every element of worship needs to be meaningful to us personally, as long as it's meaningful to someone we love. Our bulletin is more instructional during the summer, too; for example, we print the entire Lord's Prayer.

    I was surprised to discover that people from non-liturgical backgrounds really appreciated prepared prayers and other liturgical elements, especially if they were explicitly laid out in the bulletin. Those elements allow them to find a way into the service. I have learned to be very aware of all the ways in which worship can feel exclusionary.

    We also spend a very long time passing the peace every Sunday, and it may be the most profound thing we do all week.


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