July 09, 2012

worship cohort - 2012 update

At the end of June, I began my second residency of three for the DMin Worship Cohort at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis.  The cohort consisted of nine students and four professors, most participating in all three years together.  

This year's cohort explored worship as it developed over the course of the Church's history.  From the Early Church to the 20th Century Liturgical Renewal Movement, we covered a lot of ground.  Here is some of what we covered:
  • Day 1
    • Scotty Smith (former pastor, Christ Community Church, Franklin, TN) led us through Psalm 73 ("We're Made for Wonder but Prone to Wander"), which was followed by personal reflections on the ups and downs of our individual lives and ministry over the past year.  I am thankful for this aspect of soul care that has been an important aspect of our coursework.
  • Day 2-3 - Early Church
    • Reggie Kidd (RTS Orlando) covered theological themes relevant to worship in the ancient church, looking at the work of Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria and Melito of Sardis, the writings of Justin Martyr and the Didache, and the use of images in the early church.  Of note was discussing the Eucharistic Prayer of Hippolytus and the Easter Sermon of Melito of Sardis (read lines 100-105, preferably aloud).
    • Donna Reinhard (Saint Louis University) taught on Cyril of Jerusalem and the Patristic practices of mystagogy (teaching of doctrines of Christian initiation)
  • Day 4 - Medieval Church
    • Mike Farley (Covenant) covered 1,000 years of history in a day, notably tracing the changes of the Western liturgies of the 4th-8th centuries with that of the 11th century.  We also looked at the development of the doctrine of transubstantiation and eucharistic sacrifice.  Our discussion elaborated on the many barriers that were developing between the congregation and the clergy in worship, setting us up for the Protestant Reformation.
  • Day 5-6 - Continental Reformation Worship
    • Mike Farley continued the lectures into the 16th century, looking at how the Reformers were attempting to achieve continuity with the practices of the Early Church, which meant changing a number of aspects of worship carried by the Medieval Church while maintaining many other positive things that were still present in the services.  In considering the development of the doctrine of transubstantiation, we discussed the other views of Christ's presence in the eucharist.
  • Day 7 - Scottish and Puritan Worship
    • Mark Dalbey (Covenant, also administrator for the cohort) shared from his doctoral studies of the Puritan understanding of the Regulative Principle of Worship.
    • Mike Farley explored the work of John Knox in Scotland and later the Westminster Assembly in transporting the worship of John Calvin and Geneva to the English speaking world.  We also addressed their reactions to the worship of the Anglican Church and the Book of Common Prayer.  Much of their work was quite reactionary, so we paused to consider the positive and negative results of their legacy.
  • Day 8 - American Worship through 1850
    • Mike Farley showed the transition of English worship into the American colonies.  An increased emphasis on the personal conversion experience grew in certain colonial congregations, which would have a profound effect upon the nature of preaching and the growth of revivals in the Second Great Awakening. Over this period, Presbyterian worship began to develop its own distinct flavor from its Scottish roots, influenced by the growing American styles of worship as well as in response to the style of worship created by the Westminster Directory a century before.  Much of what is considered "Traditional Presbyterian Worship" today was set in place in the middle of the nineteenth century due to the influence of Charles Finney and the New Measures of Revivalism.
  • Day 9 - Liturgical Renewal from 1850 to present
    • Mike Farley closed things out by looking at the liturgical renewal that took place in the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches in the 19th and 20th centuries.  For the Catholic Church, we explored the writings of Vatican II and how they were variously applied to changes in the practice of Mass.  At the same time, changes were taking place in Protestant Churches that mirrored the scholarship in the Catholic Church. We took special note of John Nevin and the Merersburg liturgies in the mid-nineteenth century, which would lead to liturgical changes in the Presbyterian Church at the turn of the twentieth century.  It was interesting to consider the parallel works of the liturgical renewal movements, as well as the reasons many evangelical churches have not been influenced by this work.  Many of us are just learning today about work that was being done 50 years ago in other (largely mainline) denominations.
  • Day 10
    • Scotty Smith closed our time together with a discussion of the topic of his upcoming book on Identifying and Dealing with the Idols of our Hearts.
Every morning before class and every evening at the end of class, we gathered for prayer and praise.  These times were planned and led by students and professors, and it provided a rich variety of expressions while turning our hearts to God at the start and close of each day.

Reflecting on all of this, I am challenged to consider how the rhythm of history has played out over the course of the Church's existence.  Many of the problems that we have today in churches were experienced by earlier generations.  I was also convicted by the myopia of my understanding of worship over history.  It is easy to discount the contributions of a certain period of history because of the problems that later generations had to address.

May 09, 2012

singing our baptism

as a worship planner, I strive to connect as much of the Christian life as possible over an extended period of time.  it's impossible to connect the full scope of Christian living on a week in, week out basis, so I have to find ways to highlight these themes over time so that a comprehensive expression is achieved.  the weekly rhythm of worship at Grace outlines the story of the Gospel—praise, renewal, commitment—and I pick scriptures, prayers, and songs that lend themselves logically to that gospel flow.

one example of this at work is the list of songs I use during the Lord's Supper.  I try to use songs that allow for both a variety of images and of expressions of what Communion means in the Christian Life: from reflecting on the cross to the wedding feast of the Lamb, and not just New Testament images but also Old Testament images.  these songs include explicit references to communion—City Hymns' "The Feast," Keith Getty's "Behold The Lamb"—and indirect references to feasting—Indelible Grace's "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah"—as well as meditating on the beauty of Christ—David Hampton's "Jesus I Am Resting."  since the Lord's Supper is served weekly at Grace, it is easier to cover a variety of songs and imagery than if it was served less often.

so when a Sunday comes that we have a baptism, I am presented with a slight difficulty since we have only 6-8 baptism Sundays in a year.  while many Protestant and Evangelical hymns and songs deal with communion explicitly, there are far fewer that deal with Baptism.  

do I believe that the sacrament of baptism is only effective when we sing a song about what we are doing? no, I believe that baptism itself is an effective image of the work of washing and filling of the Spirit.  but two things push me toward incorporating a regular set of baptism songs:

  1. we live in an image and symbol driven world – the more biblical images that we can implant in a worshiper's vocabulary will allow them to express their faith in different seasons of life.  images of baptism are no less important than images of thanksgiving or repentance.  just as with Communion, I believe that it's important to incorporate the Old Testament connections with baptism (when was the last time you heard a song about circumcision?).  we do sing songs that reflect on the Covenant-Making and -Keeping God, which is why we sing "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go" at most of our baptism services at Grace ("I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain...").
  2. we need to reencounter our own baptism on a regular basis – in the same way as justification, baptism is not an event that has a one-time significance.  rather, it is a truth that points back to the plan of the Father when calling us as his children for all eternity ("Father Long Before Creation"), the work of the Son in his life, death, and resurrection, thus making our call as God's children complete ("Let Us Love And Sing And Wonder"), and the seal of the Spirit which makes the plan of the Father and the work of the Son effective in the life of faith in the heart of the believer ("Come Down O Love Divine").*  while important for all Christians, "remembering your baptism" is all the more important for those who were baptized as infants and have at best a photograph that allows them to remember the act of public baptism that took place so many years before.

every Sunday that we have a baptism, we are called to reflect upon our own baptism, but I believe we should remember our baptism more often than that.  by setting apart songs that we use in baptism liturgies, the images of baptism will hopefully be recalled to the mind/heart when they are incorporated into a liturgy without the sacrament itself being performed.

*This Trinitarian observation on Baptism is thanks to James B. Torrance's Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace
1. I would be remiss to post about baptism and not include the text of the baptismal prayer from the French Reformed Church:
"Little child, for you Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered.  For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the horror of Calvary.  For you he uttered the cry "It is finished!"  For you he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and there he intercedes—for you, little child, even though you do not know it.  But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true.  'We love him, because he first loved us.'"
This was recently turned into a board book called "At Your Baptism" by the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship.
2. The songs mentioned above are just a start of a list that can and should be a lot longer.  Please feel free to post other ideas here, and I will try to include a postscript at a later date with my own updated list.

February 10, 2012

Transfiguration Sunday

2013 Update - New Song Links
In the liturgical calendar of the Christian Church, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday is known as Transfiguration Sunday.  Falling between Christmas and Lent, the season of Epiphany focuses on the events of Jesus’ ministry and culminates in celebrating the Transfiguration, where Jesus’ divine glory was manifested to Peter, James, and John, marking the transition in Jesus’ life toward Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week.  This is an important Sunday as it gives worshipers the opportunity to behold Jesus’ glory before setting foot to the road of Lent and moving toward the cross and empty tomb.

Thematic reflection
Recorded in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matt 17, Mark 9, Luke 9), the Transfiguration is where God revealed his glory in Jesus Christ upon a mountaintop, likely Mount Hermon.  God revealed his glory to Moses on Mount Sinai; Moses’ face continued to radiate God’s glory when he returned to the people at the foot of the mountain (Exod 24).  The Gospel texts intentionally connect Jesus’ actions with Moses’ when ascending the mountain, the main difference being that Moses merely reflects God’s glory while God’s glory pours out from Jesus.  Present with Christ at the Transfiguration were Moses and Elijah, men whose roles pointed toward their fulfillment in Christ.  The disciples also hear the voice of God, confirming that Jesus is God’s Son and that they should listen to him (Mark 9:7).  By appearing in his full divine glory, Jesus is identified as greater than Moses and Elijah and is confirmed to be the eternal Son of God.

Just as with observing Jesus’ Baptism at the start of Epiphany, it is important to ask how the Transfiguration is an important moment in Jesus’ life.  This is the penultimate revelation of Jesus’ divine nature that is celebrated in the liturgical calendar before the celebration of the Resurrection at Easter (the others being Christmas, Epiphany, and Baptism of our Lord).  It is also the fullest revelation of his pre-resurrection glory, the very same glory on display as the presently ascended Christ and that will be displayed when he returns.  To celebrate the Transfiguration is to worship Jesus in his full divine splendor.

What characterizes worship on this day when compared to other Sundays?
God’s glory is the primary focus of worship on this day, both how it was revealed in the Old and New Testament and also in how he displays it today in the church and in the world.  Part of observing Transfiguration Sunday is that worshipers today are remembering what the disciples witnessed with their own eyes as if we were present in the same way.  Responses to seeing God’s glory include awe, fear, and shame, so public worship should give voice to these responses.

Much of regular public worship has ties to the Transfiguration; while beholding God’s glory in the worship gathering, a similar mountaintop experience is evoked as the cares of daily living are seemingly left at the door.  But if this is the only result, then public worship fails.  Instead, beholding God’s glory should welcome the struggles of daily living and allow opportunities to bring all things under the love and care of God.

Another aspect to balance is the pivot from Epiphany to Lent, whether observed mid-week at Ash Wednesday or on the following Sunday.  Worshipers are celebrating the glory of Jesus with an eye toward his death and resurrection.  Lament over the sufferings Jesus endured on our behalf is proper but should result in joy and thanksgiving rather than wallowing in sorrow or self-pity.

In his song simply titled “The Transfiguration,” singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens reflects the attitude of worship at the Transfiguration:
Lost in the cloud, a voice: Have no fear! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Turn your ear! 
Lost in the cloud, a voice: Lamb of God! We draw near! 
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Son of God!

Designing Worship
Below are provided a handful of resources to aid worship planners in designing worship that reflects the concerns of the Transfiguration.  For prayer texts, I recommend consulting the Book of Common Prayer, the Book of Common Worship, the Revised Common Lectionary, and the Worship Sourcebook.

Relevant Scripture passages that may be used for different liturgical readings (1):
  • Gospel Accounts
    • Matthew 17:1-9 (A)
    • Mark 9:2-9 (B)
    • Luke 9:28-36(37-43) (C)
  • Related texts 
    • Exodus 24:12-18 (A)
    • Exodus 34:29-35 (C)
    • 1 Kings 19:1-18 (WS)
    • 2 Kings 2:1-12 (B)
    • Psalm 2 (A)
    • Psalm 50:1-6 (B)
    • Psalm 99 (A/C)
    • John 1:14
    • 2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2 (C)
    • 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (B)
    • Hebrews 1:3
    • 2 Peter 1:16-21 (A)
    • 1 John 3:2 (WS)
(1) The primary sources for these texts are the Revised Common Lectionary (readings identified by year (A), (B), or (C)) and the Worship Sourcebook (WS).

Song suggestions that emphasize the themes of the Transfiguration:
  • Service Music
  • Hymns
    • *Christ Whose Glory Fills The Skies Cardiphonia post
    • *Hail To The Lord’s Anointed
    • All Hail The Power Of Jesus' Name
    • Be Thou My Vision (C) - Matt 17:8
    • Come Thou Almighty King - John 1:14
    • Fairest Lord Jesus (B)
    • Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken
    • Holy Holy Holy - Ps 99:3
    • How Sweet The Name Of Jesus Sounds - 1 John 3:2
    • Jesus I Am Resting - 2 Cor 3:15-18
      • David Hampton mp3
    • Jesus Is Lord – Getty/Townend
    • Love Divine All Loves Excelling - 2 Cor 3:18
      • TH 529 BEECHER
      • Melody for "Here Is Love" leadsheet
    • O Worship The King
    • Out Of My Bondage (Jesus I Come) - 1 John 3:2
    • The Lord Is King
  • Choruses
    • *Shine, Jesus, Shine – Graham Kendrick
    • Beautiful Savior - Townend (2 Peter 1:19)
    • Better Is One Day - M Redman
    • God Of Wonders - Byrd/Hindalong
    • Great Is The Lord - MW Smith & D Smith
    • Holy Is The Lord - Tomlin
    • How Great Is Our God - Tomlin
    • Jesus Name Above All Names (John 1:14)
    • Majesty - Hayford (2 Peter 1:17, Ps 99:9)
    • Meekness and Majesty - Kendrick (2 Peter 1:16)
    • Open The Eyes Of My Heart - P Baloche (2 Cor 4:6)
    • We Fall Down - Tomlin
    • You Are Holy - Byrd/Hindalong
*Songs with explicit focus upon Transfiguration and Epiphany

Other art

Example Liturgy
  • Prelude (if you’re particularly daring) – “The Transfiguration” (Sufjan Stevens)
  • Song of Entrance/Gathering into presence – “Open The Eyes Of My Heart” (P Baloche)
  • Call To Worship – Psalm 99:1-3
  • Prayer of Invocation
  • Doxology or Gloria
  • Songs of Praise – “Christ Whose Glory Fills The Skies” 
  • Scripture Reading – Mark 9:2-9
  • Confession of Sin
  • Assurance of Pardon – 2 Cor 3:17-18
  • Song of Confidence – “Jesus Is Lord” (Stuart Townend/Keith Getty)
  • Sermon
  • Offering/Anthem – “Hail To The Lord’s Anointed” (Welcome Wagon)
  • Eucharist
  • Song of Communion – “Jesus I Am Resting” (David Hampton
  • Prayer of Intercession
  • Song of Sending – “The Lord Is King” (Nathan Partain)
  • Benediction – Num 6:24-26

February 02, 2012

calvin worship symposium 2012 reflections

Last week, I participated in the Calvin Worship Symposium in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  This year's topic was "When Life Is Prayer: The Psalms," and coincided with the release of a new Psalter entitled Psalms For All Seasons, intended for congregations to read, chant, pray, and sing the Psalms throughout the life of the church.

I have been aware of the annual conference for quite a while now through friends and mentors who regularly participate, but this was my first opportunity to make the trip.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect, flying to Michigan in the dead of winter.  Turns out, winter has been kind to the region so far, and allowed for easy traveling for the nearly 1800 participants from 30 countries.  The conference stretched over three days—Jan 26-28—with plenary talks, seminars, workshops, and many opportunities to worship in song, prayer, and sermon.

For Thursday's all-day seminar, I participated in "Tune My Heart To Sing Your Praise: The Re-tuned Hymn (and Psalm!) Movement in the Context of the Broader Culture," which brought together a panel of speakers that included Kevin Twit, Sandra McCracken, Isaac Wardell, and Bruce Benedict—hymn retuners in the States—as well as Eelco Vos, a retuner of the Genevan Psalter from the Netherlands.  The session was opened with an introduction by James K. Smith on the "Young, Restless, and Reformed," and why they hymns renewal movement taps into this spirit.  After that, Greg Scheer—Calvin music prof—led the seminar, having each member of the panel share their background in the movement, what inspires them to work with the hymn texts that they choose, and ask about the direction the movement seems to be headed.  As each speaker shared their experiences, we all sang together a song that they had written.  It was quite moving for me to hear many songs that I have been familiar with for the past decade be sung by a new yet enthusiastic set of voices; at one moment I found myself fighting back tears while attempting to sing "Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul" with the group.  Overall, I think it was a good introduction to the movement for people not familiar with it, as well as helpful critique from people on the outside looking in concerning the forward trajectory of the movement.

On Friday, I heard NT Wright on "Praying the Psalms: Personal, Pastoral, Theological, and Liturgical Reflections."  Thought provoking, though so rich that it was hard to digest in one hearing, not to mention that his English accent practically set my ears in a trance.

That afternoon, I attended two workshops.  The first was called "Singing Old Genevan Psalms in Very New Ways," led by Eelco Vos and the Psalms Project from the Netherlands (see above), a project which was born out of a desire to reach the youth in churches where Psalm singing was dying out.  They discussed the process of their project to rework many of the best melodies from the original Genevan Psalter from the 16th century.  It was a fascinating exercise in analyzing the original melodies for their positive and negative elements in regards to congregational singing today, and then retranslating them for 21st century singing.

The second workshop that I attended was "Does Worship Keep Your Understanding Of God Too Small? Insights From Ancient Constantinople About the Transcendent in Worship," led by Lester Ruth and Carrie Steenwyk.  It was a fascinating analysis of the worship space of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in the 6th century, seeking to learn from the positive and negative results of their worship practices and how it can shape and critique our worship today.  This was a presentation of material that is going into the second volume of six that the Calvin Institute on Worship is publishing on historic worship.  The first is on worship in 4th century Jerusalem, which I am looking forward to reading this spring.  (the next day I got to have lunch with Lester Ruth, who is president of the Charles Wesley Socity. very interesting conversation at the table about Wesley's hymns and the current hymns renewal)

That night I participated in the "Psalms For All Seasons: A Festival Of Singing," in celebration of the publishing of the new Psalter.  Musicians from around the world led us through old and new settings of the Psalms.  Bruce Benedict (see above) played his version of Psalm 120, and had me and a couple other friends back him on the only truly folk rendition of the evening.  Check out a video of the entire concert here, or fast-forward to the 38:00 mark to hear our song.  And no, I haven't taken up glockenspiel as my primary instrument, yet.

Saturday morning, I heard another great plenary talk, this time from Walter Bruggemann on "Performing a Counter World: the Alternative Reality Offered by the Psalms for the Worlds We Inhabit," having a similar experience to the Friday plenary, minus the English accent.

I had a to catch a flight that afternoon, so I had to miss the other workshops and the closing worship service.

To sum up, this was a rich and renewing experience for me.  I got to hear a lot of great and challenging ideas, to sing with upwards of 900 people at some sessions, and to fellowship with old friends and get to know some new ones.  Oh, and I got a chance to sample the local antiquarian books and breweries.