Thursday, October 28, 2010

Worshipping with Kin

Within the past week or so I’ve participated in two services of congregational worship which any reasonable person would place at opposite ends of the liturgical pole.

The first was a Saturday service at an Orthodox Church of America monastery not far from where I live, and the second was at a Southern Baptist church in Florida where my nephew serves as one of the church’s ministers.

Eastern Orthodox and Southern Baptist churches would appear to be the “high” and “low” of church liturgies, as worship styles are often categorized. Differences are all too easy to spot, and we do enough of that anyway in our society, in particular when we discuss religion .

Those on the “high” end tend to discount those on the “low” end, or in the “middle” as being “non-liturgical.” * And those on the “low” end tend to agree with them, but wear the label proudly. Those of us in the “middle” smugly figure we’ve got it right.

Rather than set the two poles off against each other as a study in contrasts, I think it’s much more interesting, and perhaps more informative as well, to see what, if any, might be the similarities. So let’s look at these two liturgical snapshots and see if we can spy what kinship there might be between the two.

The most obvious thing should be easy: both congregations assembled to praise God and pray in the name of Jesus Christ. In short, they are both Christian churches, and it showed clearly in their worship.

In both services music was of prime importance, especially congregational singing. Music in each service was designed for easy repetition and response from the people in the pews.

Both churches provided choirs and professional musicians to prompt and promote the congregational singing. Solos and duets were sung in each service.

The “presider” in each service was the leader of the religious community.

A number of other people had leadership responsibilities in both services.

Scripture was read, in both cases from one of the Gospels, and was interpreted by means of a sermon.

Each service included the celebration of a Christian sacrament: the Baptists baptized, and the Orthodox celebrated the Eucharist.

Visuals were used in each service to give focus to the liturgy—admittedly very different: iconography and PowerPoint on a screen.

A time for greetings between and among worshippers was incorporated into both services.

Neither church used a printed order of worship. You found out what was coming next when it arrived.

Both services included announcements about other activities of the day and following.

There are probably other similarities that I didn’t take proper note of, but this is enough to remind us that when people gather on the Lord’s Day, there are similarities in their liturgies.

Of course the most important thing that all Christian worship services share is that God has promised to be there. Therein is revealed the unity of our faith and the essential kinship of all worshippers.

Share a worship experience with a friend from a different church background, and see what similarities you can spot.

* The distinction between “non-liturgical” and “liturgical” worship is a false one. What is different from one church to another may be degree of elaborate style, use of ancient prayers, formality, etc., but all worship is “liturgical” in the sense of it being the work of God’s people in praise of the Almighty. Most every church has a standard liturgical order of some sort.


  1. probably the best thing you ever did for me (though I'm sure I complained loudly at the time) was to drag us around to other churches on your Sundays off. I was fairly young, maybe 7-12 years old, but it made an impression. I remember sitting through Latin masses, Spanish mass, something with a lot of guitars, Greek Orthodox services, and who knows what else. At the time it was confusing and boring, but the experiences have stayed with me and helped me to understand where some of my friends and acquaintances come from. When we were invited to a Polish Orthodox wedding, I had an idea what to expect, and was quite comfortable, unlike some of our friends who were bewildered by the whole thing. So I agree, go out and about, and DRAG YOUR KIDS. They'll thank you for it later.

  2. I'm certainly thankful my parents dragged me to worship. I'm especially thankful as we come to All Saint' Day.


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