A Theology of Worship
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
12 Dec 2017
I would like to define a theology of worship in terms of intensive and extensive ways we come to God. (Price and Weil, n.d.). I agree with Gilbert et al (2007, 13) that intensive (or corporate) “worship is meant to integrate faith and life” and that worship is the core activity of the Church. Through this activity, we come to understand “Church” as a community that gathers to hear God’s call and to respond in service and word. Further, I agree with a colleague at UUCC who suggested that presence at worship helps to define one as part of the congregation (aka community).
As one who grew up in Catholic traditions, found Buddhist and Taoist meditations, and walked through a few wildernesses, the solitary retreat feels somewhat inviting. Yet, one could understand the solitary meditation experience of St. Anthony of Egypt that Taylor (2009) describes follows a literal reading of Matthew 6:1-18. Yet, that intensive isolated study leaves others out of the experience of finding and learning about God if we are rejecting the grace that others bring to our lives.
As a Deacon and when leading worship, I have learned to value the different ways people come to God in and around worship. Maybe someday, I will be worthy of being called an example of the “Deacon” Philip that Wright (2011) celebrates. What I do know, is that the words of 1 Corinthians 12 reveal themselves in this way when the Church is willing to acknowledge the sacred and beautiful in each person, “no matter where one is on life’s journey.” (Plymouth, n.d.; Urbandale UCC, n.d.). We all bring gifts to share thanks to the Spirit nudging us (4-11). It should not go unnoticed that a reason why our community seeks solace when someone dies from needless shooting is invoked here (or even when one is excluded) because when one suffers, the whole community suffers.
I found great strength in “connecting the hearer to the holy” (Wright, 2011) as I was once a person struggling with faith and community. That is until I walked into Plymouth and heard a good man talk about the inclusiveness of Jesus while acknowledging the ridicule because of systemic religious hypocrisy. Years later, I would later be invoking the blessing of my patron saint, another Saint Anthony (of Padua), who was known for recovery of lost items, and it seemed fitting, if not more than, a coincidence of finding me back serving the Church. I have learned that St. Anthony was also known for great oratory, and maybe, St Anthony’s blessing was working upon the Plymouth preachers and hopefully will continue for me. These no less align with Rev. Wright’s assertion about the role of the preacher and the “power of preaching.” (Dal-Gal, 1907; Wright, 2011).
Part of that being able to “connect the hearer” is, first, to value them as a person and relate to them. When a Church or its leaders practice exclusion, they reveal a dangerous assumption that Christ’s mercy and love is limited. This exclusion is perhaps one of the reasons why many of the younger generation (as well as my own) have been deciding not to worship. This echoes a sentiment shared by many. (Pew Forum, 2015). I ask what is missing from a church that has a big production and big crowd but uses liturgy to reinforce ideas of exclusion and superiority? How does one find comfort and a place in a community that does not have fully welcoming doors of compassion? Through inclusion is where many congregations will find strength, new members, and people returning to faith via the UCC.
As I suggested, we come to worship and participate in many ways that we are able in body and spirit. Some worship by leading the call and some by responding to the call using the gifts we have (e.g. music, oratory, caregiving and more). We call together and we respond together in prayer.
That experience does not have to be exclusively an intense worship. The extensive worship (or daily living) can include simple and genuine acknowledgements of all Children of God (1 John 3) in the many places of God’s creation. I am making better habit of spending time working out and acknowledging God’s presence in the many subtle places of life. I want to incorporate more of what Pastor Dave Sickelka has remarked where we have opportunities in the many pauses of life to pray and reflect whether waiting in line at grocery, stop light or interacting with a clerk. Further, “where two or more meet in my name…” (Matthew 18:20) tells us that worship can happen anytime and anywhere, and is how a pastoral care setting (e.g. Stephen minster) can call upon and respond with God’s love in a caregiving relationship. This is also one way that we can parallel sharing the love between two people as an intimate celebration of God in covenant.
Still, I want to give acknowledgement of God in the creation around us. Where I have struggled in extensive worship, I seek advice from colleagues and have learned from cohorts’ ideas of how my daily activities can be enhanced to envision God among us to be willing to consider the mirror of the soul, “turn on the lights” and see God’s beautiful work right here. With experience in ministry and the wide areas of life, I can theologically reflect upon situations with people, especially in a minister setting. (Kinast, 1996).
My role as a minister is to facilitate the relationship, the call and the response to God. To invoke teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, I am only a messenger. To invoke the teachings of the Buddha, I am not the objective. I may be able to provide a way to let go and to reflect upon life’s little absurdities that we all have using the breath and meditation. Further when teaching martial arts, students will teach me from their interpretations of the lessons, and with that, as a minister, I want to make room for God to work in and through us.
When I begin writing a sermon, my routine is to pray that I will do the Lord’s work and give proper reverence to the Word. When I approach the sanctuary, I bow in reverence to all that has come before me in mind, body and spirit. I use the words of Psalm 19:14 to prepare all sermons as acceptable to God’s sight rather than my own, and hopefully, I may “connect those hearers to the Holy” Word of God. If I am in worship to sing (solo or choir), I pray to “make joyful noise unto the Lord” (Psalm 98:4) even when singing a solemn number. My objective is to share reverence and joy of worship that invites people to be who they are and how they got here.
Pastor Paul Johnson, retired clergy at UUCC, suggested to me that a sermon should make a point and then be done. This is a point that I want to work better so that I can make a good reflection of God’s word without inundating people with my opinion or overzealous repetition.
Of this, one way to avoid this is through the stories of our lives because we are part of life, and we connect to God in them. Our stories have tremendous value and help bring the reflection and the altar of life into every day settings. (Taylor, 2009; Kinast, 1996, Wright, 2011). Thus, I work to consider how stories (whether a personal confession or a whimsical nod to comedy in life) may help aid connecting people to the context of the Word as that relates to today. Then the question becomes, “what would Jesus do and do you see God working in your work?” How do you change your work to be what Jesus would do? Still, I am aware and avoid making the story turn the reflection about me instead of how this relates others.
I also enjoy the suggest of Gilbert et al (2007) to consider dramatic interpretation and two-person dialogues in addition to the traditional monologue delivery as multiple perspectives and the conversation may also be sources of revelation. Of this, I actively consider and want to involve the youth to help with sermons, music and reading of scripture. As an information technology professional, I want to creatively use technology in ways that show how these tools can be used for traditional and contemporary ways rather than overall systemic distraction. I also want to avoid over-produced performances that render people sitting in pews with nothing more to do than watch. These bits will hopefully slow the pace of youth exiting from our Church and be more inviting to those struggling with questions of faith.
My commitments going forward are to continuing learning from those that I serve and to lean on mentors and God for guidance. I realize that I do not have the answers and I know faith is waning in America, but there is so much community here in Church. I may not have lived the best life or made the best decisions, but I came back to the Church because someone gave me a chance. I listened to a word that invited me to connect and understand “transformation takes precedence over tradition” because while “culture excludes, Jesus includes.” (Wright, 2011). I have observed the sincerity people come to worship both in and out of Church. I observed there are many ways to show love of God and love of neighbor. I, and our Church, has to be willing to make room for God to reveal the ways that people see and know God.
Brown Taylor, B. (2009). An Alter in the World. A Geography of Faith. New York: HarperCollins.
Dal-Gal, N. (1907). St. Anthony of Padua. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01556a.htm
Gilbert et al. (2007). The Work of the People. What We Do in Worship and Why. Herndon, VA. Alban Institute,
Kinast, R. L. (1996). Let Ministry Teach. A Guide to Theological Reflection. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.
Pew Forum. (Nov 3, 2015). U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious. Pew Research. Retrieved from http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/
Price, C.P and Weil, L. (n.d.). Liturgy for Living. Retrieved from http://pathways-level1-7-c2-2015-jan-mar.tasc21.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/314/2013/04/sites/314/2013/01/Intensive-Worship.pdf
Wright, J. A. (Mar 7, 2011). “Preaching with Power.” UIT. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqP0P2YffVQ