Building the Body of Christ through Renewed Worship (Part 2)
By Cynthia Wilson
Part two of a five-part series for worship leaders.
Week 1: A Model for Multicultural Worship
"I was glad when they said unto me . . . let us go into the house of our God!"
The following worship model has been designed specifically to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women within the context of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference (2013). The overarching theme for General Conference, “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ to Transform the World,” serves as a foundation for this celebratory event, this service intentionally underscores the traditional pattern for worship (liturgical structure), cultural diversity (liturgical freedom) and sensitivity to inclusive language. The attempt here is to demonstrate how it is that words, gestures, symbols, movement, etc. can enable all worshipers to embody the Word so that it becomes flesh for the church and the world. It is important to note the sensitivity to language, culture, gender and inclusivity.
The time of Gathering is a preparatory time for the main elements of worship: Word and Table. In this initial stage of worship, each section should intentionally move worshipers, as a corporate community, toward the revelation of God’s liberating and empowering presence. It can be subdivided into the following segments: Songs of Gathering, Processional, Call to Worship (spoken or sung), Acts of Praise (litanies), Prayers (invocation, thanksgiving, adoration, supplication, confession and pardon), and Music (vocal, instrumental, dance, and celebratory entrance hymns or songs of praise).
To begin with, projected images of women from a global perspective help signal that this informal time of greeting and inhabiting the space is an important part of worship. NOTE: Whatever people experience visually and aurally (PowerPoint, slides, paintings, music, other artwork, lighting, music, altar and greeters) as they enter the worship space can either enhance or impede the participation of worshipers. The goal is that these images become the source of new worlds, new contexts, new faces that have perhaps been invisible in your communities of faith, particularly women. Hopefully, this can be a time that begins to rupture the spirit of complacency and indifference towards those who have been victims of oppression, injustice, marginalization and exclusion. Remember that from the time of Gathering to the Sending Forth, there must be a balance between liturgical tradition and liturgical freedom that engages all five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste).
The music selected for this service represents several genres and cultures, some of which may be unfamiliar to the worship participants. Therefore, the song leader will begin a time of rehearsal with the congregation 15 minutes before the opening prayer/call.
- A prayer/call (Dururu) signals the official start of worship order. Dururu is a prayer chant that originates with one of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines known as the Aetas. Through this free-flowing, spontaneous prayer the Aetas offer chants of joy, praise, lament, celebration or whatever erupts from within the depths of their being. It will be led by women from the Philippines seated strategically around the room. The prayer will last for one minute while the images continue to be projected.
- A synthesized sound that mimics the heartbeat will gradually be heard through the voices of the women as four dancers enter from what will represent the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, west), moving deliberately toward the altar table. Each dancer brings forward symbols (cross, Bible, Christ candle, pitcher of water/towel, budding branch, spring bouquet, drift wood, bell banners) to be placed at/on/around the altar table (draped with vibrant colors of fabric). The sound of the heart beating symbolizes the life that GCSRW has infused in oppressed communities around the world, the anticipation of a transformative worship celebration, the vitality and sustenance that the Commission continues to offer all women, each breath that God provides for the oppressed, marginalized, abused, battered, dispossessed, molested and down-trodden. Each dancer’s movement from the outer edges of the assembly to the altar table represents the entrance of peoples from the margins who have been invited to center by Christ, into the body of Christ, into the very presence of Christ.
- The song leader joins in singing The Cherokee Morning Song (We n’de ya ho). The congregants are invited to stand (as able or willing) to join the song. This song announces the virtual presence of the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas: the American Indians. Clearly, their voices epitomize the marginalization of indigenous people in the United States of America. Alternatively, a simple chant can serve as a recurring theme in other places throughout the service in the following ways: 1) Voices can begin to chant as sounds of the heartbeat begin. 2) Repeated as a response to the opening prayer; 3) After the reading of the Acts 2 passage; and 4) When the bread and cup are taken.
- Additional drumbeats and percussive sounds and rhythms join the sound of the heartbeat as five witnesses (keynote speakers) representing five different ethnic traditions (indigenous attire) begin to enter from the margins of the worship space. For many non-dominant civilizations, the drum is central to rituals and ceremonies as well as messaging and civil life. In fact, for most, the drum stands as the “heartbeat” of the community. Historically, it has functioned as the clarion call for gathering and scattering ethnic communities. In West Africa, the hour-glass shaped talking drum can be tuned to approximate human speech. One of the oldest known percussion instruments, the tongue drum, is shared by the indigenous people of Asia, Africa and South America. It has been known to move from telling stories to sounding the war cry in each culture. So whether it is a type of Japanese Taiko drum, the steel drum of the Caribbean, the Native American shaman drum, African Djembe or the American trap set, know that the drum richly enhances religious ritual celebrations.
- The greeting here is call and response. This interactive style encourages the participation of everyone present, acknowledges the entrance of those who have been “othered,” welcomes the presence of the “cloud of witnesses” participating from the balconies of heaven, and most importantly, declares that God is with us. Other names may be added to this role call as deemed appropriate. In this instance, this movement will be led by a single voice with the congregation responding in unison. However, it can be written as an act of praise or a scriptural sentence selected from the theme or primary scriptures.
- Hymn of gathering - Music functions as an integral part of worship. In fact, intrinsically, song behaves as a catalytic agent of faith, trust, praise, love, thanksgiving and repentance while forging an atmosphere of unity. Music serves to evoke participation in the liturgical celebration; negotiate relationships among/between community and the God of community; facilitate self-discovery; provide an avenue for rehearsing right attitudes that lead to transformation and sanctification; attend to the text of the liturgy/ritual; and mediate the revelation of the God of Jesus Christ and the community’s response to that revelation. In this worship celebration, the congregation also serves as the choir.
The opening hymn text, “We Are Called” (based on Micah 6:8), helps to punctuate the General Conference themes of missions and evangelism along with the focus themes of justice, grace, liberation and equality for women. The first two verses utilize action words that invite the congregation’s participation. Words like “come, live, shine, open your hearts, show mercy, sing a new song and unite” all give permission for participation. Each command functions as fine gold thread, tying together the opening entrance of the global women’s images, the voices of the wailing women praying the Dururu, the virtual voices of Native American women (Cherokee chant), the grand entrance of the keynote speakers; griots whose prophetic voices will rehearse their own stories along with that of GCSRW. The rhythms, harmonies and syncopation of the tune literally evoke movement: swaying, foot tapping and perhaps even dance.
Music is the place where human hearts and divine spirits intersect. As you plan a similar worship event for your own unique setting, remember that the song of the people mimics the movement of the Holy Spirit, freeing worshipers to draw in closer to the center as the body of Christ. Again, I encourage you to incorporate that which has been a constant in your faith community as well as that which represents your diverse culture. Take a step beyond your own comfort zone, take risks! Sing a NEW song! But be careful to learn it well and teach it well. Make sure that the musical key is appropriate for the congregation. Recruit other singers or a local church choir to serve as mirrors for the congregation. You will be amazed at how easily the congregation will grasp a tune and text once they have been given permission to make it their own.
The invocation should clearly acknowledge and welcome the presence and work of our Triune God. As seen in this example, it can be a petition, confession, intercession, invitation, request for illumination or even celebration. In this case, still in line with the primary themes of the Commission, this prayer declares that in matters of injustice, oppression and exclusion, we are often complacent and most certainly in need of the Spirit’s power to be transformed so that we can do our share in kin-dom work. It keeps a global presence before the worshipers by naming the four directions from which the Spirit blows simultaneously with the winds of life. Even though, in this instance, the prayer will be offered by corporate community, it can also be offered by a single voice, men and women alternately, or leader and congregation.
If this is a Service of Word rather than a Service of Word and Table, worship planners might include a prayer response either spoken or sung which can include the entire congregation, the choir or a special group.
Greeting/introductions (optional) functions as a time to introduce and/or welcome guest speakers, persons from outside of the community, or even persons within the annual conference, districts, or local churches who are being recognized for their work in the areas of justice and liberation for women. If particular women’s ministries are being highlighted, then video clips, slide presentations, or other handouts might be used to enhance the presentation and perhaps even inspire others to become a part of the effort. This is also an appropriate time to announce any special offerings that will be received to support the special ministry focus.