Liturgy is one of those words that is frequently used, but rarely explained. When people say that they don’t need to come to church to pray, they can pray at home, that is perfectly trues, but rather misses the point. Because in church we are not just praying and reading the Bible, but we are worshipping God together in a structured way. And that is what we mean by liturgy.
Within each service we have a rhythm of repentance, teaching, prayer, self-offering, praise and thanksgiving. There is also an annual rhythm – we celebrate Christmas and Easter as the focal points of the year with other seasons around them and we use different colours to remind us of the changes.
As well as words and music, each Sunday morning the climax of our worship is the sharing of the bread and wine of Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ. We use other actions as well. We stand and sit at various points (in normal times), bow to remind ourselves of the presence of God, we use the sign of the cross for blessing, and we show reverence for the elements of the communion service by consuming any wine and wafers that are left and washing the vessels there and then.
The words and actions that we use link us to Christians throughout the centuries and around the world. The details vary, but there is much in common. Everything we say or do in the service is carefully thought out to express what we believe.
One way we do that is to involve different people in our worship. Some things only priests can do, but it is good to have as many people as possible involved in the others. To see a team of people coming out of the vestry, carrying the cross and candles, and then to hear different voices reading or leading the prayers communicates a lot about a church. It’s a church which values different gifts, and encourages everyone to participate, to own the church as their own. It’s not a performance that you attend and quietly watch and listen to. It’s a church where people care enough about worship to make an effort. We have an excellent history of different teams of people working together to deliver worship which is engaging and stimulating.
In February 2020 that all suddenly changed. Initially Deborah and I livestreamed or recorded services without anyone else involved. Gradually we found ways to include other voices for singing and reading, and the services got a whole lot better. They conveyed a sense of the church community carrying on. Since we’ve been back in church, we’ve been able to involve people in some ways but not others – for example, we have had readers from the congregation, but no procession led by the crucifer carrying the cross. It’s now time for the next phase – planning for the future as it becomes safer to return to the things we used to do.
The lockdown has taken a toll on us all, and some of our volunteers have decided it’s time to step down from the service they have been giving for years and to sit quietly in the congregation and enjoy the worship. Even volunteers are allowed to retire one day! But it does leave us with some gaps. It would be lovely if more people were to sign up for one of the teams involved in worship in different ways.
One reason that people are sometimes reluctant to volunteer, is that they are not confident and are afraid that they will make a mistake or mispronounce a word. Be assured that you will be given all the help and support you need if you are new to a role, and no one will mind mistakes. We want our worship to be done well and thoughtfully, but it’s never going to be technically perfect. It’s more human than that.
Sometimes the thing that puts people off is the rota. Perhaps you are happy to read or serve from time to time, but sometimes you don’t decide about coming to church until the last minute, and you don’t want to let people down. Some things are easier than others to sort out in that situation – for instance, there are plenty of people who don’t mind being asked to read on the day. If you would like to be involved, but commitment is an issue, talk to us and we’ll see what we can work out.
Liturgy uses every part of us: our ears to hear, our voices to speak and sing, our bodies to stand and sit and receive communion. Through joining in worship God’s Word becomes part of us and transforms us. Is God inviting you to participate in a new way?