Occasionally people ask me what is the best part about being Moderator of the Uniting Church WA. Usually, quick as a flash, I say “Sunday mornings.” That’s because I have the enormous privilege of visiting, preaching and worshipping at many different congregations across the state.
Sometimes, I find myself in a small rural community, meeting in a home, hall or sanctuary. On other occasions, I am in a suburban gathering of the faithful with pipe organ or guitars and drums. I also receive the great honour of worshipping in other languages in our migrant ethnic, intercultural communities.
As celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia reminded us, “All of this is us.”
I recently attended the Uniting Church Transforming Worship conference in Adelaide and was powerfully reminded just how important and potentially life-giving corporate worship can be. In worship, we are reminded of the almost indescribable worth of God. We gather to celebrate the eternal, holy creator and Lord of history. We gratefully acknowledge the beauty, majesty and grace of God. We take time out of our business to be refreshed and replenished and sometimes rebuked by the triune God who is transcendent and immanent. We do this in song, prayers, sacraments and Scripture, in many styles and shapes, seeking to give God all our attention and our best.
Without participating in regular God directed corporate worship, our heads would grow a little bigger and our hearts would begin to shrivel.
True worship humbles us and changes us. In the end, worship is not about us; it is about God. Ruth Duck, a liturgical theologian, reminds us of two key principles that are vital to the practice of worship. She states that the first principle or goal of worship is “the glorification of God,” or as Presbyterians used to say, “our chief end is to glorify and enjoy God forever.”
Transforming worship never loses that focus, however contemporary or traditional the songs, preaching and prayers are. Ruth adds a second principle; that vital worship depends on the “full, conscious and active participation” of all present.
As Uniting in Worship 2 says: “the congregation is not an audience.”
The word ‘liturgy’ comes from its two constitutive Greek words meaning people and work. Those who lead worship are called to encourage, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the whole body of Christ to participate (see 1 Cor 14: 26). In worship it is not only what people do, but what God does in our midst. To put it another way, participation in worship is a God-centred action. If there is to be renewal in the church it has to begin in worship. More care and prayer, needs to go into our worship. More hope, creativity and expectation is needed.
God, forgive us whenever we have allowed our worship to be stale, boring, and mechanical and not Christocentric. God, forgive us when our worship failed to communicate in culturally relevant ways that has obscured the God whose truth and love are transformative.
My prayer is that wherever a Uniting Church gathers for worship, all that is done genuinely honours God, invokes our highest and our best, and leads us out to a world as witnesses and bearers of the grace we have received.
Rev Steve Francis, Moderator of the Uniting Church WA