GIL Video: A Few Thoughts On Forms of Worship

Here are a few thoughts I decided to video record instead of write about given the lack of time I had in the last couple weeks for writing. There is much to be said about worship, in this video I really just discuss some of my own changes and feelings towards different styles of worship. It’s funny because a lot of Christians seem to think the kind of worship people really want is the full band contemporary “worship experience.” I’ve moved in the completely opposite direction. How about you? Have you experienced a shift in how you worship? Do you experiment with other ways or forms of worship?

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

21 thoughts on “GIL Video: A Few Thoughts On Forms of Worship”

  1. I'm not a Quaker, but I am attracted to the idea of silent worship myself. I recently went to a friend's youth service where I felt bombarded with all the noise and music. I'm not condemning it because for some people that's really how they need to worship God, but for me it felt like there was no time to really listen to what people (or God) were saying. It's hard for me to worship these days as I would like, mostly because it is hard to find like minded people, so I do a lot of solitary worship. But it has caused me to worship in ways I never would have thought of before, and I have come to believe that is necessary to keep up the constant experimentation or else everything will stagnate.

    1. Andrea – Thanks for sharing. Back in college I remember starting a prayer and worship group, we didn't have bible lessons we just got together and prayed, had silence and then sometimes did some really simple singing. I really found the simplicity in that small group to be a very meaningful worship experience for me. I wonder if something like that would work where you are at?

  2. Great stuff Wess. That must have been interesting having such distinctly different experiences in worship back-to-back.

    I have gone through a similar pendulum swing over the years, but find myself shifting back the other way, toward more vocal, sung, programmed “worship.” I think that for me this directly relates to how spiritually connected I feel with God. The more connected I feel, the less programmed I want things to be. The less connected, the more I crave worship through singing. All in all, it's a tension that shifts for me.

    What other forms of worship do you feel challenged to engage the community at CFS in?

    1. Michael – thanks, that's a good perspective and I can see that taking place in my life too. It's interesting that you've connected feeling less connected with God with more programmed worship, do you think that's a normal thing for most people? I can certainly relate somewhat, but I also feel like when I long for more connection to God that "the noise" gets in the way.

      I don't know how all the worship works at CFC (Camas) but I am very interested in doing different types of worship each Sunday. I really like some kind of rotation, one week unprogrammed, one or two weeks of singing, one week with more liturgy, one with more sharing, etc. I don't know what that looks like in our new community, but I lean that direction.

    2. Michael – thanks, that's a good perspective and I can see that taking place in my life too. It's interesting that you've connected feeling less connected with God with more programmed worship, do you think that's a normal thing for most people? I can certainly relate somewhat, but I also feel like when I long for more connection to God that "the noise" gets in the way.

      In terms of CFC (camas) I don't really know all of what they do just yet, and I want to avoid having any kind of agenda I walk in with but I personally like a rotation of worship styles for Sunday morning. For instance we have unprogrammed worship one week, one week is more around sharing prayers and thanksgiving, one week is more around singing, another may be around liturgy, etc. And then allow for creative interpretations within these different expressions. Those are some of the things I'm into anyways.

  3. I found worship with the P'nai Or Synagogue in Philadelphia enlightening re this, when Anne & I were at Pendle Hill. First, the chanting… singing praises to God in Hebrew seemed both extremely right, & more powerful, less inhibiting than English words I'd have to look through first.. and then the Torah study. Both of these are forms of worship we'd do well to include! (Pendle Hill's New Testament classes are pretty similar to the Torah Study; there'd been a good connection working between the two.)

    Couple books: _Stalking Elijah_ (re Jewish Renewal, which in many ways seems similar to what's been happening with us Friends) and _Take this Bread_ (Sarah Miles) re the power of creative liturgy–particularly sharing food– in her own life.

    In a way, the chief need in worship… is WORSHIPPERS! The power of participants who are actually connecting. Mostly it needs to be you!–but the others make it easier, while a preponderance of rice bags in the group can make it harder.

    Quakers these recent centuries: 'Too much time with Apollo, insufficient beers with Dionysus.' But there's much more to it than that!

    How can we make more room for God (the only REALLY creative influence) in the worship?!

    1. Good questions Forrest and thanks for the recommendations. I've been really wanting to read the Sarah Miles book. On that note (about food), I'm interested in doing a "common meal" once a month or so, where we proclaim the economic leveling of the kingdom and invite all people (friends, homeless, otherwise) to eat with us. A way to say, these are the people who will dine in the kingdom of God.

  4. You DO have something of a challenge before you in pastoring and in bringing new ideas into worship experience in your new congregation. It is probably less of a challenge than it might be where the people have been taught that a particular style (or lack of style as it may be) is the ONLY appropriate way to connect with or express our relationship with God. It would probably be more difficult in a body where there has been only a particular form of liturgy with no variations. I think the main point is that people get essentially what they bring; the expectations and attitudes of the worshipper are the most important element in the value of the worship experience. When one is dragged kicking and screaming into a worship experience, so to speak, that person is not going to be in a "worshipful" mood. We had that experience fairly recently just in merging contemporary music with traditional, and it took awhile to settle down. For that reason, preparation in conversing about what worship IS and fostering an open mind is going to be second priority for you (first will probably be finding out where your local body IS in terms of openness to new thought). We also recently had a lesson on the difference between the "songs, hymns and spiritual songs" mentioned by Paul. I guess my point is that the Spirit is able to connect with you as YOU are open to it.

    I am curious also that you didn't mention a third worship experience you had in a short time frame in your worship with Freedom Friends, which I think you might summarize as a meld of the other two styles, with maybe a little extra in lightly directed introspection?

    By the way, welcome to NWYM.

    In His Love,

    Nate

    1. Hi Nate – thanks for the welcome and the feedback. Yes, you're right I can't believe I forgot to mention our time at Freedom Friends Church. Freedom Friends in terms of their worship does line up more closely with what I personally enjoy doing for worship, there is a meld of styles (as you say) and freedom for everyone to participate in the service. On the continuum FFC would sit in between the two experiences I named here. In their service there is a variety of ways to worship present within their service, a strong emphasis on silence, creativity around art, and openness to a variety of ways to speak about your own relationship to God. It was really good stuff. I probably still tend to more variety (liturgy, some teaching, etc.), it's probably because I'm just ADD about this, but I like their way a lot.

  5. Thanks for posting this, Wess. It is interesting to hear your perspective, because in some ways I feel like I am coming from the other direction. After spending several months in a completely unprogrammed meeting, I realized that I need to be making music in some way. Before, I at least had that at church, but University Friends Meeting has singing sporadically and not as part of the worship service.

    This has led me to attend a much more programed UCC service on Wednesdays than I otherwise would have, as well as joining a local choir. Both of these have been good experiences for me, and made me think about worship in a broader sense (for example, I feel that I can worship while singing with a secular choir). I think the format at Freedom Friends is the best for me (singing, sharing, and unprogrammed worship), but since I am not there, I am putting together the pieces from here.

    I also enjoyed hearing your perspective on NWYM. It's the branch of Friends here in the northwest that I know least about and I am looking forward to learning more about it this summer. Good luck with the move!

    –Ashley

  6. As a Christian who attends a Friends Meeting (unprogrammed tradition) for me worship is about your Christology. Is Jesus my elder brother who sits with me in the silence and holds my hand,intercede for me and tells me each Sunday it's going be ok or Is he a second part of a trinity we are called to worship?
    Paul

    1. Hi Paul,
      Yes good questions and I would agree that worship is certainly linked to how we understand God and our Christology. My discussion above is simply related to forms, but to go even just a little deeper into the topic it would be necessary to start discussing how our theology informs the way we worship.

  7. You're right,I did go little deep with that question.Being raised Lutheran the form or liturgy had to be rooted in a theological expression. The form was a living creed for what the Church believed. A marriage between belief and practice. Along with unprogrammed
    worship sometimes I have a deep nostalgia for good liturgy.

  8. Wow, that IS a good question, though as Wes pointed out it is a discussion in its own right. Just to get some thoughts perking, though, I asked myself what I see as the meaning of "worship," and I find myself sort of in the quantum dilema of light as wave or particle: Worship is the expression of love/awe. I think we may lean in one direction or the other as we think of Jesus as "God" or as loving guide/companion. Is one or the other "right?"

    In His Love,
    Nate

  9. Like marriage, not one person can meet all of are needs. I believe the same is with Christian worship. I am sooooo lucky my small Friends Meeting meets in a UCC Church. Minus the physical sacraments the UCC Church is basically a liberal programmed Friends Meeting.
    (God is still speaking – Never place a period where God has placed a comma.)
    It has truly been a blessing to attend the liturgies at the UCC plus unprogrammed worship all under one roof. Regardless of the form or liturgy worship is intended to point us away from ourselves to the Holy. Paul

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