From the Rector
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his Name;
worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. –Psalm 29
During a conversation about the shape and content of the worship here at St. Thomas, I was recently asked by someone, “Why do we need to be so wedded to a formal liturgy in our services?” This, of course, is a perfectly valid question. In many Christian churches, creative and new forms of worship, are not only allowed but encouraged. I know many clergy, outside of the Episcopal Church, who spend much of their time shaping the liturgy of their congregation – choosing scripture to be read and writing prayers and responses to be used at worship. This allows for a worship service that uniquely suits the needs and culture of a particular congregation. I admire my clergy colleagues who tirelessly compose liturgies week after week. I couldn’t do it, myself. However, I would argue, preparing services in this way can potentially hold the congregation captive to the clergy person’s particular agenda, aesthetic values, and preferences. Worship ought to be directed toward God and not the clergy or anyone else’s ego. And the danger of any one individual creating a liturgy is that worship might reflect the pastor’s agenda rather than the faith of the Church.
Liturgy, coming from the Greek leitourgia, means the work of the people – not just a few people with collars and Masters of Divinity degrees but the whole people of God. In the Episcopal and Anglican tradition, it is not for one person, or even a small group of people, to determine the shape and content of worship but the whole community. When we pray from the Book of Common Prayer, whether it be at Holy Eucharist, or Morning and Evening Prayer, we pray with the whole church gathered throughout the country and the world. As one people gathered, we hear the same lessons from Scripture and pray the same Psalms and prayers. And despite the multitude of perspectives and shades of nuance, all of us stand together and pray the words of the same Creed as one family.
Episcopalians are a people of common prayer. Individual Episcopalians may differ on a whole range of things. Some may identify as Evangelicals or even as Anglo-Catholics, while others consider themselves “Broad Church” or Liberal. Some may appreciate contemporary Christian music while others prefer traditional hymnody. Some Episcopalians may be quite conservative and others might identify as progressive. The Episcopal Church is a big tent, but we are all called to be one family that prays together.
The Book of Common Prayer, which has slowly taken shape over centuries of experience and prayer, provides the framework for our common life of worship. That’s why all of our services must be expressions of the liturgies contained in that little black book that sits in your pew. While the style and atmosphere of worship differs between our three services, the form and content remains the same. We are one St. Thomas Church that is part of one Episcopal Church. When we gather to worship, we gather not as an island unto itself but as part of a larger continent. When we humbly submit to the patterns of our common prayer, we boldly proclaim our unity as one people gathered in Christ’s name.
Whether the service is a lay led Evening or Morning Prayer or a Holy Eucharist at which I preside, the prayers that we offer to God at public worship, bring honor and glory to God and can, if our hearts and minds are disposed, open us to the transforming power of God’s grace offered to us through Jesus Christ. The liturgy is not about us or what we can receive from it but rather how we can offer ourselves, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, as “reasonable, holy, and living, sacrifices” unto God. I, for one, am grateful for a prayer book and a tradition that always puts God first and calls us to worship Him and only Him.