Forms: Living or Dead?

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It seems to me that the CRC has mixed feelings when it comes to liturgical forms. For some they are seen as embodiments of all that is wrong with traditionalism, for others they are seen as a way of maintaining good theology and right practice. For some, forms are dull boring artifacts, for others treasured vessels.

In the past half year or so I have had a chance to visit a church on a couple of occasions and twice witnessed the baptism of infants. The baptism portions of the service were quite moving as the pastor recounted the story of Noah and the Red Sea and how God was making promises to the child to be her/his God. The covenant was clearly explained as was the purpose of baptism as the pastor physically moved from the pulpit, to the Lord's Table to the font, interjecting at times the name of the child to be baptized, the parents names, and even siblings. Not once did this pastor look at a piece of paper yet if you knew the baptismal forms you know this pastor if not reciting the form from memory knew the salient points enough to follow the outline of it. It was theologically pithy without being stuffy, the best of tradition while still maintaining the drama of God's covenant story. The form was very much alive.

This past Sunday at my own church elders and deacons were installed. Though we did not open the hymnal and follow along it was clear that the pastor had a typed script though again he personalized it and knew it well enough so it did not seem like the reading of a dusty document.

All of this made me wonder... what is the state of the form in the CRC? Whether the form for installation, the Lord's Supper, Baptism or any of the others are we still turning to the back of the hymnal to use them? If not reading them directly how are they being used? How often are the official forms consulted or are churches more apt to do their own thing? Are they read or do pastors speak extemporaneously at these occasions? How many pastors recite them from memory? How does your church make the drama come off the page?

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I've been a part of both traditions - reading a form and extemporaneous speaking through the sacraments. I see value in both, but I think in each it was the delivery that created a worshipful moment or a dull going-through-the-motions event. My congregation had been using forms until recently. In the last few years, I enjoyed putting forms together from the Hymnal or The Worship Sourcebook to add some variety to the sacrament liturgy by including ancient words (e.g. the sursum corda), weaving in refrains or other songs, or adding other spoken parts by the congregation. Now, even though forms are rarely used, the theology of the sacrament is still covered, the promises of God are still recalled, and quite frankly, it doesn't take as long.

Community Builder

Amen to both above comments!

Be creative--don't continue with .. "form or superstition" mentioned in one of the [older] forms.

Participant

I think many of us look at the forms as guidelines that point you to the key components that should be included.

Since they are not that personal in nature and somewhat generic, I think it's important to add some creativity to the mix.
I've often told Sunday School teachers that the curriculum are guidelines not scripture that must be molded to their setting and their students. And a teacher knows their students better than the people who developed the curriculum.

Be pragmatic in your approach, but keep the central points.
I too like the Worship Source book to help with the creative process.

My wife and I have been attending a CRC church for about 5 months now.  Our 30+ years of Christian experience is in more non-liturgical and charismatic churches.  We find the CRC meets a need for more solid theological framing of the ministry and a more historical context for our faith.  But frankly, the formality of the liturgy leaves us longing for the freedom, spontaneity, mystery, and unplanned presence and response to the Holy Spirit, and more interaction with other members of the church during worship which we are more used to.  The liturgy seems somewhat artificial to how we really live our lives and experience our relationship with God.

Any thoughts or feedback to share?

Simon,

Thanks for you comments about CRC liturgy.  Would you consider sharing more on your 30+ years of Christian experience on myCRC.

I would love to hear your responses to a number of the questions and I think it would be great for us/others to hear.  You can find the questions at http://network.crcna.org/mycrc