For the past church season (September 2020 to June 2021), coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Worship Ministry Team at Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, Ont., has had the pleasure of participating in a Peer Learning Group. The group was formed through Worship Ministries and we've been studying the book, The Gospel in a Handshake, written by Kevin Adams.
As we met via Zoom, we took time most meetings to discuss several chapters and give individual feedback, often noting how our experience during the pandemic influenced how we perceived what we read. Please find below snapshots of what we discussed and learned.
Note: The Worship Ministries Office still has some books available, so if you’re interested in getting your hands on one, contact [email protected] for a copy.
Snapshots from September, October, and November:
"I was struck by the warning that we need to be careful to not turn worship into ‘the war department’ of the church, relating this warning to the time of pandemic in which we are now living. We need to make sure that our worship practices aren’t dividing us, but that our hearts are filled with grace so that we love each other despite our differences."
“I resonated with a question asked by the author Kevin Adams’ seminary student: 'Why didn't someone explain these elements so I understood them? As a child growing up, I had no idea of their treasure.' As a lifelong church attendee, I feel the same way and don't always understand the why behind many of our worship elements. That leads into the concept of framing these elements during worship, and how by framing them we can 'clearly show how our worship treasure is part of the broader holy catholic church.' I wonder if by occasionally and concisely sharing the tradition behind these elements we might bring awareness to our congregants and perhaps even, in some small way, contribute to the unity of the worldwide church.”
“What’s helpful is to introduce various historic worship elements in a way that clarifies their beauty and purpose for all attendees. As an act of hospitality, we introduce the components of our worship service with a few words of explanation.” (pg. 13)
“Many congregations shaped and formed spiritually by such an unending and relentless weekly quest for novelty end up losing sight of gospel grace.” (pg. 8) “This sentence hit home to me, especially through these last several months; the constant pressure I was putting on myself in an effort to keep people engaged in online worship was a relentless quest focused on the wrong thing. Worship is slow and shapes us over long periods of time; we need only be faithful to the long, slow process and keep our eyes on gospel grace.”
“I was enlightened to learn that the way we structure services, the fourfold ordo, has been done for many years in the Christian church, spanning history, cultures, and many countries. That was so comforting. I thought it was just the way 'we' did it, growing up in the CRC. It gave me such a connected feeling to the church of all ages! When attending a church that had the structure of warm-up, sermon, call to conversion, something always felt like it was missing. Traditions are not always old-fashioned; they are tried and true!”
Snapshots from December and January:
“I really enjoyed reading these two chapters. In light of all the grief and upset in the last months [during the pandemic], I love the Advent season as it takes me to a place of grounding...and the love and trust in the coming of our Saviour. The world may seem upside down, but that is what we can truly hang on to.”
“When Kevin Adams mentions at the end of the last January letter about wandering aimlessly around the museum trying to admire what they saw, but not understanding until a tour guide explained more in an hour than they could have learned by months of wandering on their own, it made me question how many wanderers we have in our church who come often and admire, but are they understanding what’s happening? Are we explaining and framing capably?”
Snapshots from February and March:
“I was struck by the effectiveness of the repetition of a few words to signal the start of a frame, for example, ‘A thousand voices tell us...’ and ‘We hear a thousand voices.’ Those phrases immediately caught my attention and cued me to listen intently to the instruction that followed: God’s voice is the one we need to hear.”
“I appreciated being told that we need to be sensitive to those who have experienced loss and do not find Easter totally festive and celebratory. The joy of Easter with it's 'ever-rising key change anthems' might be difficult for some to express.”
Snapshots from April and May:
“I like how our church already acknowledges the issues around Mother's Day not always being a wonderful day for women.”
Note: We all agreed that the prayer on pages 73-74 would make a compassionate, sensitive addition to our service on Mother’s Day, and our Pastor of Worship included it in the order of worship. This was a meaningful moment in worship for our congregation on Mother’s Day.
In regard to the issue of worship being led by learners or experts, “The struggle is real. My experience as a worship director has shown me that building relationships is just as important, if not more, than achieving perfection. The person’s level or expertise doesn’t matter, as long as there has been preparation and a desire to do their best. Every gift is a gift from God to honour him.”
“After rereading our chapters, I was struck by the section about the creeds. Not so much by the framing, although they do explain why the creeds were first written, but by the idea of standing together with others to say what we believe. Imagine the joy of that! When we are able once again to stand side by side and say as one what we believe about God, how our hearts will soar in praise to him!”
Frames We’d Like to Share:
We wrote the following frames which are suitable to prepare for the giving of the offering as an act of worship.
- God has asked us to sing, make a joyful noise, and come to him with gladness. Zephaniah shared that God too will rejoice over us with singing. We are made in the image of God, and when we sing, we’re imitating our Creator.
- Giving is a privilege, not a duty. God has blessed us with what you need. Cheerfully give and share with others and you will be enriched for your generosity.
- God reassures us that He will provide us with what we need. Our giving is an act of faith and God always responds when we step out in faith.
- God has given you many gifts, talents, and resources. When you joyfully share your gifts with others, you are giving God thanks and allowing his good works to be spread further.
- We now have the privilege of bringing our gifts to God---gifts that he has abundantly poured on us from his rich storehouses! In 2 Cor. 9:7, the apostle Paul reminds us that God loves a cheerful giver. So, let us offer our gifts in the spirit that God desires, not reluctantly or under compulsion, but willingly and cheerfully.
- God, our Father, daily pours out on us the bounty of his creation. Jesus, our Saviour, teaches us how to live and give sacrificially. Holy Spirit, our sanctifier, prods us to give generously and joyfully. So, now let us bring our offerings, received from God’s bounty, modelled after Jesus’ sacrificial example, and prompted by the Holy Spirit’s stirring in us.
- Just as we like to light a scented candle for a pleasant aroma in our home, so the Lord loves the pleasing aroma of an offering made to him. Philippians 4:18b says: the gifts you sent, they are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.
- In Exodus 35, Moses invites all the people to bring their gifts for the Tabernacle, everything needed for the furnishing and daily running of the building. Not only gold and silver, but oil for lamps and anointing, spices and cloth and skins, poles, pegs, and cups, and all whose hearts were stirred brought their gifts. Both men and women came, all who were willing, bringing their sacrifices of materials and skills, until there was more than enough! Let us ask the Holy Spirit to stir our hearts and make us willing to give our gifts generously to the Lord.