On Ecumenical “Worship”Posted: May 18, 2011
The good news about the ecumenical worship here at the Festival of Homiletics (ie. Preaching Conference) is that I don’t hate it as much as I feared. To its credit it has been very well done musically and homiletically if not liturgically. And you’ll be glad to know that I have kept my sotto voce comments to a minimum. More or less.
But be that as it may, I will offer you a few things that I detest about ecumenical worship services (but all in the spirit of ecumenism and Christian unity):
1. The so-called “Call to Worship.” Perhaps those of other denominations can’t abide the phrase “Opening Acclamation” but for me “Call to Worship” evokes a 1950’s neighborhood mom ringing a dinner bell to call her kids home on a summer evening. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that except the usual generic Protestant Call to Worship involves a badly composed and contrived call and response between minister and congregation. Change the dinner bell to a gong and I might be interested.
2. Clapping during worship. Pardon me, but did your little performance intrude on my worship? Leave the clapping to Carnegie Hall and Lambeau Field. Please.
3. Standing ovations for the preacher. My annoyance for this practice is not just because I’ve never gotten one. It’s the message it conveys that worship is more about the bearer of the message than the Message itself. Once the distinction gets blurred we’re all in deep trouble.
4. What’s up with the prominence of the organ? I like organ music. In fact I adore organ music. But why do all of these Protestant churches put the organ so prominently at the center of the worship space? It makes me want to sneak up to the console and play the “Mexican Hat Dance.”
5. Dramatic readings of Scripture. It’s not that I mind when readers pour their hearts and souls into a text through preparation and delivery. But, please, read with some sense of humility. It’s not as if you wrote it, after all, no matter how much you’re enjoying channeling Jeremiah.
6. Lack of Communion. Okay, so this is a theological and spiritual bias on my part. But worship without sacrament feels empty no matter the venue. Next time I’ll just bring my own.
7. Benediction means blessing not nice-words-to-send-you-home-by. If you’re going to offer a benediction, then bless like you mean it! That means offering a blessing in the Trinitarian fullness of God. If I wanted to hang out with Unitarians, I would do so on my own time.
I won’t even get into vestiture and liturgical colors. It’s not worth it. Though perhaps I’ll tack these Seven Theses up on the door of the local Presbyterian church and see what happens.