November 23, 2014 by Worship, Community, Formation
In a previous post, on conferences and training workshops, I noted the fourfold structure of worship.
Gathering : Word : Sacrament : Dismissal
I also noted how, in both worship and in workplace conferences, ‘word’ and ‘sacrament’ take up far more time, and therefore seem to be of far more importance. The difference is so great you could be forgiven for thinking they weren’t the same kind of thing, in fact.
But liturgy is the working of the people, and in terms of shaping people each of those four elements is as significant as the other. Whether you’re a liturgist, a priest, a conference organiser; a worshipper or a delegate, each of the four components matters. As an analogy, you might only spend a minute opening and closing your front door each day, and hours in your kitchen; yet a front door is as essential a component of a house as is a kitchen.
The Gathering is perhaps the least attended to of the four. In Common Worship Holy Communion service the Gathering runs from the opening words of the service, to the end of the collect, taking in the confession and absolution. For each worshipper, however, where it really starts will be a personal matter. For me, the Gathering begins the moment I come round the corner and see the church door. Or, if I’m going to church with my family, it begins as we assemble by our own front door to leave.
What’s important about the gathering is:
- The re-assembling of the body
Christians worship together, and they do so to share in a common mission. When we’re together, we’re the body that aims to bring the kingdom into the world. There’s something similar at a workplace conference too. Here is a group of people with a common task in the world, and more to be gained in co-operation and learning, than competition, being shaped for their mission.
- The preparation to worship
Emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally, there’s a journey to worship. During the Gathering we travel a long way! By the end of it, we have re-encountered our fellow Christians, declared that God is amongst us, owned up to our sins – and been forgiven, and sung God’s glory. That’s a lot of ground to cover. Sam Wells in God’s Companions points out the importance of the silent prayer that comes next, preceding the collect. In my experience this silence is ‘more honoured in the breach than the observance’, and the chances are you may not know it’s there at all. But there it is, indeed, giving the soul the chance to rest after the journey it’s just been on. A breath, a pause, letting things settle. Part of the preparation.
Liturgy is a shape. There has to be a gathering. But it’s also an opportunity. The liturgy’s not life in itself – it needs life breathing into it. Below are some points where the liturgy can be brought to life – or killed off entirely. Each of these is a rich area for consideration – and probably a future post on this site. But here’s a brief overview of some points for reflection.
In the rich symbolism of liturgical worship, why do the laity wait on the arrival of the priest? And the choir?! In your church who comes in when? And where? What sort of an ‘order’ are we inadvertently giving to the priesthood of all believers. More on this in a future post.
In the minutes before a service begins, people are doing something. What is it? How compatible are the range of activites they’re engaged in? How can some arrive, some talk, some pray and some play? Does that work? Is it fair? How far can we direct people’s conduct?
Confession is often part of people’s private prayer, too. But how well is it framed in worship? Do people genuinely confess here? Or do the words come too quickly for the work of confession to be done?
(4) Formal and informal welcomes
Some churches start with an informal welcome. What does that say about the formal welcome in the written liturgy? Are they complementary or does one point up the shortcomings of the other?
Liturgy is a kaleidoscopic reflection of life. The Gathering is a foundational part of that. There’s so much in it that asks us about our faith and how we want to express it.