On Ecumenical “Worship”

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.


12 Comments on “On Ecumenical “Worship””

  1. Oh I am so with you on this stuff, Tim, especially points 6 & 7. No Communion? Then what’s the point? Certainly not to hear someone bray from the ambo/pulpit. As for final blessing, I want to hear the priestly benediction from Numbers (in English OR Hebrew) and then a Trinitarian blessing and then a reminder not to be a jerk the moment I hit the parking lot.

  2. Cynthia Hallas says:

    Hi, Tim – speaking as an Ecumenical Officer, I can say that I’ve been to a number of “ecumenical” liturgies that don’t seem to know where they’re going or how to get there. Cobbling something together to try to appeal to all never works (and we Anglicans always seem to be the “odd ones out”, hence the call to worship thing rather than an opening acclamation). I don’t know what denominations are part of this gathering but if RC and Orthodox are involved in anything ecumenical of course you’re never going to get communion. The best experiences I’ve had are when a host church uses its own tradition, and invites those present to participate as they are able/inclined.

  3. Father Tim says:

    Cynthia, you’re an officer and a gentleman. Who knew? Yes, my biggest problem with ecumenical/interfaith services is the temptation to subscribe to the least common denominator. I totally agree about letting people enter into an authentic tradition — whatever it is — rather than trying to please everyone which, as we all know, pleases no one.

    Oh, and the hymns have been a nightmare for me this week.

  4. Entering into a “Tradition” means you have to have one in which to enter. One of the reasons I left the Presbyterian Church was because they had no “Tradition” other than not having a tradition. I went to a UCC worship “experience” in Lent where we formed a circle, lit candles, sang It Only Takes A Spark and did the Peace without saying the word Peace-don’t ask. My point is the experience was a collection of actions without a foundation and were connected only by theme (light). I give thanks for the Prayer Book.

  5. Cynthia Hallas says:

    Rich – I give thanks for it, too!

  6. Ev says:

    Being Orthodox, we don’t do a whole lot of Ecumenical Worship. Nobody could stand that long in a worship service! ha! As far as unsavory hymns, when I worked for the Episcopal Church in IL, the priest picked the Sunday hymns and if the music director didn’t like them, he’d come in my office saying…”dog-hymns! dog-hymns!” ha!

  7. Wendela says:

    These Seven Theses are magnificent! God bless you for including #2, my all time favorite pet peeve. I’ve moved several times in recent years, and no One has ever addressed this issue; there has been clapping at all the Episcopal churches I have attended. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who prefers to worship during a worship service, and clap at the end of a performance.

  8. Michel S. says:

    Liturgically, I think the only ecumenical liturgy that would satisfy us High Church Anglicans would be one with the Lutherans!

    Wonderful points — regarding #3 and #4, in the TEC and UCC churches I’ve attended, the ovation is only for the organ postlude — not for the homily and certainly not at anytime during the service!

    Agreed on scripture reading too. Whenever I get to read, I personally do put some feeling into it, but not to the point of making it dramatic; worshiping with OJN monastics was a wonderful experience since they really read everything in as flat a voice as possible! Not for non-contemplatives, perhaps, but it certainly makes me reflect that the readings are meant to be meditative, not performance art.

    As for communion — as Cynthia said. It’s interesting, in this regard, that despite varied understanding of the nature of the Eucharist among “Protestant” churches (from Anglicans to UCC), the mainline denominations do practice open communion — open to all the baptised.

  9. Vicki says:

    And my pet peeve: the sermon topic announced on a board outside the church like a movie theater’s!

  10. Elizabeth Sherrill says:

    This is the first time in almost a week that John and I have been in range of a tower, so just pulled up your 7 points, Tim. It was water in the (spiritual) desert — actually it’s flood country here. Blessings from the rural deep-south. (You mean there are denominations other than Baptist??) Tib

  11. Elizabeth Sherrill says:

    This is the first time in almost a week that John and I have been in range of a tower, so just pulled up your 7 points, Tim. It was water in the (spiritual) desert — actually it’s flood conditions here. Blessings from the rural deep-south. (You mean there are denominations other than Baptist??)

  12. Elizabeth Sherrill says:

    Sorry — so excited to be in electronic touch I pushed “Send” twice…


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