Saturday, October 11, 2014

To Run and Plan Liturgy is To Know the Christian Faith

There are two ratios whose truth has been manifest to me:  a town with more liquor licenses than churches is a town you can trust and a church with more lay people leading worship than pastors is a church you can enjoy.  The first ratio has a lot to do with my prejudices about American Christianity and is probably suspect, especially given the many problems Americans have with alcohol.  But the latter is really important.

Most letters of call in the ELCA state that a pastor is responsible for public worship or the liturgy.  This responsibility is right and meet.  But to leave a wide swath of lay people out of the planning and performance of liturgy is to neglect a massively important and regular means of Christian formation and catechesis.  It further can be a means of aggregation of power in the one truly common thing that a congregation does together:  worship and listen to God's Word.

Some people may have no interest.  Pastors may think it inefficient.  But praying, selecting hymns, considering art for worship, arranging space, and reading lessons are all decisions that both require and give entry into the many important questions of the Christian faith.  Planning has to be done, so why not make it an avenue of Christian formation?

The other benefit of this is that worship will be truly public.  Pastors and staff worship leaders have their proclivities and private enthusiasms that ought not be foisted on the congregation.  Lay people have questions and complaints.  All of these things deserve a regular forum.

So, increase the number of people involved in the regularity of worship planning. Split up the assisting minister roles among multiple lay persons.  Require monthly rotating service on the planning group of all members.  This requires Bible-study, requires prayer, requires charitable conversation.  It requires asking questions of how to be hospitable, to be welcoming, to be evangelical in the best sense. 

Of course this would require a new kind of vulnerability for many pastors and worship staff.  They are used to making their decisions on their own.  But if members of a planning committee start to suggest to a pastor what she or he should take as his or her point entry for a sermon, perhaps pastors would benefit as well.  If we are to make catechesis permeate everything we do, then planning liturgy together can benefit everyone.