I didn’t grow up in a liturgical church. Then again, maybe I did.
As a pastor’s kid in a nondenominational evangelical church in the South, it was impossible not to notice that there was, in fact, an order of worship—an opening hymn, maybe a prelude by the choir (sometimes they even wore robes), followed by a welcome from my dad. There was a “turn around and greet your neighbor” moment, then offering, the doxology, then communion, then a sermon and an invitation, and a closing hymn. Like clockwork.
There was something both monotonous and comforting about it, and I remember my dad joking about how certain congregants would make a show of looking at their watches if his sermon went one minute over 20.
Now we attend a straight-up liturgical church in Nashville, and while at first it felt uncomfortable—like going to a dance where everyone knows the moves but you—I began to realize that it was very similar to what I grew up with, but with different names. There’s a call to worship, there’s Scripture reading, there are robes—things just tend to have fancier names: Communion is called Eucharist. The “greet your neighbor” part is called “passing the peace.” The sermon is the homily.
Now that we know the dance moves I enjoy it even more, especially because the liturgy, at its best, actually means something, as opposed to doing it a certain way just because it’s how the previous 15 pastors did it and Brother Jim will be upset if the service goes longer than an hour.
One of the things I like best about liturgy is the more or less constant involvement of the congregation. The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” It’s not so much about us coming to sit while the pastor and the elders do everything, but about all of us together rehearsing the story of redemption, edifying each other by reading Scripture aloud, reaffirming what we believe, embodying worship by kneeling or singing together—all of it culminating, of course, in the Lord’s Supper. I can’t overstate how much I crave the moment at the end of the service when I kneel at the front and a friend of mine places the unleavened bread in my open hands, looks me in the eye and says, “Andrew, this is the body of Christ, broken for you.”
Every week my wayward, hungry soul is confronted by the love of Jesus. Like clockwork.
Song for the People
As a songwriter, I’ve tended to avoid writing songs for corporate worship. Part of that is because I happen to love story songs like those of Rich Mullins and James Taylor, but part of it is because I just haven’t felt called to it. There are other, more qualified people writing congregational songs (Sandra McCracken, Audrey Assad, and Matt Maher come to mind).