Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I worshipped recently in a church in Albany which showed near the top of its order of service the rubric, “Invocation.” Now worship leaders may think they know what that means, but I’m more concerned about how the pew-sitters perceive it.

The most common definition is “a form of prayer invoking God’s presence, esp. one said at the beginning of a religious service or public ceremony.” What’s implied by such an invocatory prayer at the start is that God has to be invited or won’t show up. What’s more, it assumes that we’ve come together on our own, that the party is ours, and we’re the ones to extend the invitation heavenward.

All in one fell swoop, this brand of invocation turns the notion of grace around so that we become the gracious hosts with God the guest in our church home, making the gathering more of a club than the fellowship of God’s people. Furthermore, it ignores the fact that God takes the initiative in calling us to worship (hence the use of biblical texts for the “Call to Worship”). It is God’s grace that summons and welcomes us, not the other way around.

There are other uses of invocations where God is summoned to appear which are easier to understand, even approve. The invocation at the beginning of the service club meeting may not be so bad because one would not likely assume that God would appear uninvited. Congress and other government bodies often have an opening invocation, and the considerable need for God’s presence in such venues certainly justifies it.

But not starting off the worship service. God has long since invited God’s own children and has been waiting for us all along, longing for our appearance. So our prayers at the beginning of the service acknowledge our relationship to God, and express the praise of “the creature before the Creator, the redeemed before the Redeemer” (BCW, p.35). Better, then, to call it “Prayer of Adoration,” or even “Opening Prayer.”

I don’t think this is mere semantics or liturgical finickiness. Let’s keep our sequence straight. God’s grace is prevenient. We worship in response.

What does the “Gathering” part of your worship service look like? What impression does it leave with the worshippers? It’s worth checking.


  1. Hmmm.... how do the folks in the pews understand "Invocation?" Are perhaps the question is, "what do they think is happening during the invocation?"

    My short answer: it depends on what the prayer contains. I believe that most congregations look to their pastor to show them what this opening prayer is intended to do.

    My church uses the term "Invocation" rather than "Opening Prayer." Here is the text of what I prayed at that point:

    Great Creator (language taken from the first hymn), you stop us in our tracks so many times with beauty that invites us to praise you. You lift our hearts with love that compels us to thank you for the people in our lives. You call us out of sleep each morning with the hope of another day spent in your presence.

    Bless our worship service this morning with a sense of your presence among us. Hear the worship we offer in both silent prayer and song. Help us to quiet the chatter of our minds, filled with errands and appointments, and speak the word our hearts need to hear. We come to this place carrying cares and concerns that we need to share with you. Hear now, in the silence, all that we need to say...

    A short silence follows and then the congregation is invited to pray the Lord's Prayer, which teaches us to praise and seek God every day.

    I, too, am aware that "bidden or unbidden, God is present" - that language also finds its way into my invocations - so I use this prayer to help the congregation turn from the clamor of their weekly schedule to a mindfulness of God's presence.

    You might say that I am invoking a spirit of worshipfulness among the people present (and myself). It is a gathering prayer not of our bodies, which are already present, but of our attention to the One who is always present.

  2. Eleanor, that prayer sounds more like a Call to Worship to me than an Invocation. I agree that the term Invocation is used loosely, but I prefer to start with a thoughtful Call to Worship such as you presented.

    I think it might be important to not use these terms loosely so as not to muddle their meaning and thus the usage of the invocational prayer.


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