I’ve decided to make my final project a series of communion backgrounds.  I’m always trying to find good artwork that is usable for various backgrounds in worship.  Due to strict copyright law, I’ve sometimes I’ve found a nice piece but it is unusable.  Other pieces just don’t lend themselves to the kind of background needed for the projection of words.  In light of our conversations and reading in class there are three backgrounds available of the same photograph each rendered in a different photo-shopped technique, a mosaic, an oil painting and one in the flavor of a cubist style.  Each technique comes from a different era.

Mosaic art dates back to the 4th century A.D. and can be found in several ancient cathedrals and tombs. (Found on-line at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosaic, accessed December 8, 2008).  The mosaics I am the most familiar with are found in the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in St. Louis, Missouri.   All of the ceilings and most of the walls are covered in mosaic art which depicts scriptural stories.  Although the space within the cathedral itself is rather cold – given the great size of the open spaces and height of the cathedral ceilings in comparison to the few visitors – the beauty and scale of the artwork is breathtaking.

While paintings and sketches have been done since humans lived in caves, the techniques of “fine art” (fresco and oil painting in particular) were developed by the 15th century. (Found on-line at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_painting, accessed December 8, 2008).  The Sistine Chapel is one of the more famous churches that commissioned Michelangelo and other artists to paint, sculpt and weave extraordinary pieces of artwork.  (See: http://faculty.evansville.edu/rl29/art340/f04/baroquepainting.html, accessed December 8, 2008). 

Early 20th century Cubist paintings makes for what some will think to be a distorted picture, but perhaps they are unaware of what they are looking at.  Cubism was an art form that in some paintings tried to picture a subject from multiple sides all at the same time.  It was a crude three dimensional view of an object in a two dimensional medium.  Cubists realized that seeing through a monocular view was a representation of a subject that lacked the depth that multiple vantage points needed to truly see an image.  In a paper I wrote during my doctoral work I argued that emergent theologians and “worship-artists” are similar to these advent-guard Cubits and Dadaists.  It is unfortunate that artists and critics in the early 20th Century misunderstood the important work that was being done by the avant-garde artists.  It is equally unfortunate that modern critics also misunderstand the work of the emergent theologian and “worship-artisans” of the 21st century.  The exciting part of ancient-future worship is that disciples are being engaged from a multitude of directions through coffee house discussions, printed materials, internet articles, videos, music, journaling (web blog), and through relationships that are being forged between us.  There are multiple ways of speaking theologically and experiencing worshiping that are fresh and yet well connected to our orthodox and historical faith.

As a side note: it is a shame that some media volunteers don’t understand the need for contrast between words and images, and beyond the simple black-and-white words on backgrounds, some just don’t understand the next level of color composition.  The words are contrasted with the background, but the colored words are far from appealing (typically bright yellow or neon orange).  These backgrounds should provide some ease of selecting a contrasting color.  I would recommend white with a dark, or black, shadow.


In January of 2006 I was privileged to attend a Worship Conference in Belfast, Ireland.  The headliners were Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman, who are well-known musicians and writers in the contemporary music industry.  However, both have a true servant’s heart – which was refreshing to see on the platform of the conference.  They didn’t “hock” their wares nor did they make themselves the center of attention.  Rather, both of them and their bands simply brought a worship experience centered in Jesus.

If I had a disappointment, it was in the lack of an indigenous worship experience and conference.  Outside of being in Belfast and hearing a wonderful Irish accent, this conference could have been held in any city across North America and no one would have noticed a difference.  In fact, the worship style, music, theology, and praxis were typical Willow Creek or Vineyard offerings. (Not that either of these “Northern American” movements are bad, just not what I had hoped for in a foreign country so rich in heritage).  I had an opportunity to speak with a couple from the congregation that was hosting the event; to my surprise, they both commented that their church is either investigating or has already joined the Willow Creek Association.  Their small group literature, music and worship aids are available from Willow Creek either on-line or through the mail.

The most beneficial part of being in Belfast was meeting up with Pete Rollins.  He formerly worked for the host church, but has since started an emergent worship community called IKON.  I had been in E-mail conversations with Pete for a few months prior to the conference, and had arranged to interview him while in town.  Pete graciously sent me a digital copy of his yet unpublished book, How Not to Speak of God. (It is now available at Amazon). 

Pete shared some of his thoughts about truth, epistemology, evangelism and emergent worship.  With great enthusiasm, Pete took me to the “oldest” downtown Pub in Belfast where IKON would be moving their worship experiences.  Regrettably, IKON worships only one Sunday evening a month and I was not there on the right weekend.

I will give credit to the host church for attempting to remain relevant and finding some success.  Many of the cathedrals and old stone churches I entered in Ireland felt more like museums of what used to be than living expressions of incarnational faith.  Overall, I had hoped for an indigenous experience at the conference, but found that I had to step outside of the church to find one.  Perhaps that is a metaphor of the church situation as a whole.  We either duplicate what is successful somewhere else and avoid discovering what is truly indigenous worship or we simply refuse to let go of what used to be successful and fail to be incarnational to a brand new generation.


Probably the richest sacramental event in our congregation is Confirmation Sunday.  This is the day we baptize those candidates who have not previously been baptized, confirm their hope and belief in the saving work of Jesus Christ in their life, anoint their heads with oil, and bring them into full membership of the local church.  I have felt for a long time that confirmation, as done in some congregations, lacks the kind of meaningful attention to detail.

Here is a copy of the confirmation-bulletin .

First, I think it is important to integrate both ancient and more modern forms of worship.  Those in more mainline traditions seem afraid to practice altar calls and times of extemporaneous prayer, and those in more American protestant traditions fear staunchly well prepared liturgy.  Sally Morgenthaller (Worship Evangelism) says that transitioning to meaningful worship that breaks out of the old rut is a slow process.   For example, inviting people to come to the altar during the pastoral prayer time has been a nice way of introducing the habit of seeking God in a meaningful way at the altar without the fear of coming at the close when, “Everyone will know I’m there to confess some gross sin.”


During Good Friday I have done a modified Tenebrae service, service.  Quite frankly most people would find the unmodified 2 hour long worship service that include lots of silence and activity by someone other than themselves boring.  I’ve worked hard to include as many people as possible.  We invite 10 people to read the words of scripture from the upper room to the crucifixion and death of Jesus.  We sing one or two verses of an appropriate hymn after each reading.  We also celebrate communion. 


But the most meaningful part of the worship service is stripping the altar.  At this point in the service the lights have been dimed.  We invite a dozen or so people to come forward and receive one of the altar paraments: the cup, the loaf of bread, the altar cloth, the Christ candles, the Bible, etc along with the black cloth from a wooden cross.  It is a powerful moment when you gently hand someone a piece of the altar as if you were handing them the very body of Jesus to be carried out of the sanctuary.  At the close everyone is asked to leave in silence letting the solemn feeling of the moment carry them home.  It makes Easter Sunday a true day to rejoice as the altar is decorated in living-fresh flowers and everything is back in its place – the black cloth on the cross replaced with a white one.


I remember sitting in church on my grandmother’s lap, placing my hands in hers as she clapped in rhythm to the old gospel hymns.  It was an iconic country church built on a blacktopped country lane, complete with bell tower, steeple, sugar maple trees (golden in the fall) and a cemetery.  Every Sunday morning that bell would sound the call to come and worship.  At that church I would have to say I was learning that meaningful worship is connectional and relational.  It connects the ancient with the preset, it connects the believer with God and it connects worshipers with one another. 

I was learning that Christian worship includes relationships between participants.  Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered together I am in the midst of them,” and “They will know you by your love.”  Paul refers to the church as the body of Christ; Peter defines the church as being built with living stones and as a royal priesthood.  Worship at its heart is relational, including relationships within the congregation. 

However, it is important that worship not become only about relationships between worshipers.  I have been part of many congregations that seem to shift from a focus on worship of God in communion with one another, to a worship of themselves and/or their relationships.  Keeping the church family together takes precedence over keeping God’s commandments, and the vision/mission of the church becomes all about knowing everyone who attends worship – even if it is physically/mentally impossible to do so.

I learned that critical to worship is one generation passing on to subsequent generations the stories and actions of our faith.  Like Joshua/Israel setting up stones after the crossing of the Jordan River, “so that when your children ask you may tell them of God’s deliverance,” so my grandmother was passing on her understanding of God, prayer, praise, movement, passion and the gospel of Jesus Christ to me.

However, we do not worship a God who merely was – past tense – anymore than we worship a God who is confined by the present.  Instead we worship a God past, present and future.  This remembering is not just a rehearsal of ancient facts or stories, but an opportunity to call into the present moment an understanding of God’s saving power and grace available to the believer today, and believing that same God and power is effective for all our tomorrows.  Worship is an invitation to be responsive to the presence of God past, present and future, and this is more than mere head knowledge it is an experience of both the transcendence and immanence of God’s Holiness.

Worship Posts

Welcome to my blog for Worship.  I’ll be posting weekly my thoughts on readings, liturgy and conversations with others about the history of worship.