A Retreat in Small Bites: Worship

From Dr. Robert Webber, founder of the Institute for Worship Studies:

….worship stands at the center of the church’s life and mission. It’s the summit toward which the church moves and the source from which all of its ministries flow. It’s the most important action the church is about. Worship informs the church’s teaching, gives shape to it’s evangelistic mission to the world, and compels the church toward social action. Worship is the context in which the true fellowship of Christ’s body is realized and where those who participate can find real healing. The single most important thing a church can do is worship. A vibrant worship life will glorify God, edify the faithful, and engage the seeker.

To explore the dimensions of our present worship experience and engage in imagining our future worship experience, Pastor James introduced us to a matrix of spiritual experiences, modified from the concept of Jenis Spiritualis, also called the Circle of Sensibility; Urban Holmes: 1980.

In this model, the horizontal axis represents a continuum from God as Spirit (Mystery) to God as Revealed (Imagining). Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise, is an example of a hymn that is more on the Spirit/Mystery end, and What a Friend We Have in Jesus, a hymn on the Revealed/Imagining end.

The vertical axis represents the continuum from a Thinking/Intellectual experience to a Heartfelt/Feeling experience. Representative hymns on this continum would be Joy to the World, for the Thinking end, and Silent Night, Holy Night on the Heartfelt/Feeling end.

Pastor James asked the question, Where is your experience of worship in this church located? Where do you think we sit on each of these axis?’

Covering them one at a time, we described the current state of worship as shown by the dotted blue lines on the chart. Then we described where we would like our worship to be. described by the green lines. The result is roughly a balanced circle, encompassing all 4 dimensions in an equal and generous amount, without going to an extreme on any measure.

Pastor James then added a third dimension, described in black on the lower left of the diagram. This continuum was from no participation, or agency, to constant participation by our worship attendees. Examples of each: low agency would be treating worship as a performance, an opportunity to be spoon fed. High participation/agency would be illustrated by a worship experience that had many stations and different opportunities to co-create a worship experience. One example from the history of the Chapel was with a former pastor who included congregant dancing and movement as an integral part of the service.

The discussion included rich, thoughtful contributions on visioning worship in the future. It helped us be aware of how we arrive at worship as individuals, and that our emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs determine where we are on the graph when we enter, and how worship transforms us as we are together, so we leave enriched in our life and faith. There was also a recognition of the ‘native’ quadrant we inhabit (informed by social norms and personal preferences), and how participation in worship that draws on the other three is both challenging and satisfying. We recognized the wisdom of having our ‘easy preferences’ and the comfort of our ‘native quadrant’, challenged by experiences in the others.