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Monday, August 22, 2011

Non-Readers in Worship

Since the supreme ambition of a congregation (and all it’s educational, evangelistic, missional activities) is to draw all into the worship of Almighty God, then what do we do with those who can’t read?

This may appear a strange question at first. Yet almost every church service I’ve been in, whether Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc requires some hefty amounts of reading. Whether it’s reading the hymns, or the Scriptures, or responsive prayers, or confessions of faith. If a congregation is doing what it’s supposed to do, then the assembly will have to include non-reading children, illiterate adults, and aging older people whose eyes have gotten to a place where reading is a serious challenge. Are these, Christ’s vulnerable ones, to be marginalized, removed from the great assembly, left to be silent while the readers verbally worship? It’s really not so strange a question after all.

There are several ways congregations have attempted to remedy this, some be excluding the non-readers all together (children’s church), and other ways which require a heavy dependence on electronic technology (power-point, for example). But there is an ancient, simple, low-tech approach which seems to be far better, and works equally well on the mission field, in the prisons, and in the Church Building. It’s one that doesn’t really require any electricity or technology: Memorized portions of the worship that come from recurring, customary use. Therefore, here now is my plug for a regularized, mildly repetitive liturgical form.

Here is my contention: If a congregation has an orderly, formalized, recurring liturgy, it benefit’s the reader and non-reader alike, allowing both to vocally participate in God’s worship in many places. Why? Because of it’s repetitive use, it becomes memorized and so both reader and non-reader can chip in. The following are just a few examples from our congregation’s liturgy:

At two specific places in the worship the congregation, week after week, prayerfully rejoices with the doxology (beginning of the service) and the Gloria Patri (end of the service). There’s nothing like hearing the two and three year olds singing this out at the top of their little lungs while they‘re standing next to their singing parents. And right behind them are the 30 and 40-somethings joining in, who are standing next to the 70-somethings who also are singing. Whether they can read or not, none are excluded. All dive into the worship of God!

During the long congregational/pastoral prayer two repetitive items are used. After each supplication, the minister says, “Lord,” and the congregation responds with “hear our prayer.” The whole priestly congregation is joined together in the intercessory work. Once the long prayer is finished, then the congregation sings together the Scriptural anthem from Trinity Hymnal no. 728: “Hear our prayer, O Lord, hear our prayer, O Lord; Incline Thine ear to us, & grant us Thy peace. Amen.” To hear all the congregants, young, old, literate and illiterate, joining me in the priestly work of interceding for the world and the Church, brings a thrill to my heart. Together we are priestly co-laborers!

After the communion table has been fenced, then the congregation is asked, week after week: “Now, dear children of God, as often as you eat this bread & drink this cup - what are you declaring?” And all respond: “Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again! Hallelujah!” Just this last Sunday, I was ecstatic in hearing the kids shout this out, and watching those with tender eyesight making the same evangelical, catholic declaration!

Is there a Scriptural precedent for memorized, unison praying (and remember, hymns and anthems, doxologies and gloria patris are formalized prayers simply put to music)? Yes! Here is just one example. In Acts 4, after the apostles had been soundly and physically reprimanded by the religious leaders of Jerusalem, for preaching Christ crucified and resurrected, they returned to “their own” and reported to them what had happened (23), they were “assembled“ together (31). Once the abuses and reprimands the apostles received had been rehearsed, Luke writes “they raised their voice to God with one accord and said;…” “They” are the whole gathered people. “Voice” is singular (not plural “voices” but one voice) emphasizing the “one accord”, the vocal unity with which they prayed! In fact the Greek word for one accord is homothumadon, which means with one mind, together, unanimously. So they prayed together/unanimously raising their (singular) voice and said…what? Psalm 2.1-2! Something they obviously had memorized from repetitive use in Synagogue and Temple worship! Corporate, unified, voiced prayer!

My point is simple. Having normalized, regularly used, memorizable prayers (sung and spoken) in the assembly is biblical. It is also healthy because it draws the literate and illiterate, the readers and non-readers, into the active, participatory leitourgeo and latreuo (Greek: worship, service) of Almighty God. If we really believe in the priesthood of God’s people, then we will work at ways they can all be involved in this priestly work, whether they’re three years old, or 70; whether they are able or not able to read. And we will not leave the worship to the few “skilled” professionals/performers.

And if you just happen to be wondering: yes, I think there is biblical precedent (and biblical need) for a scriptural, doctrinally solid “Book of Common Prayer” or “Book of Common Worship”.


1 comment:

faith said...

YAY for this post