Liturgy and Worship

It is September and as those who have been around Live Oak for a few years know, it is time for changes in our liturgy. “Liturgy” is the ritual of our worship services. With each new church year (Sept-Aug), I create a new order for our services. This keeps things fresh and allows us to focus on different songs or responsive readings – with the added bonus that if there’s something you don’t like in our standard service, you know it will change next year!

There will be another change on Sunday morning that I’m excited about – in an effort to be more accessible to having children as worship leaders, speakers using chairs, or simply to accommodate the range of heights among us, we have a new pulpit that can rise or lower at the touch of a button. We’re still keeping our larger pulpit, both for the other congregations that use our facility (it’s very handy for laying out the Torah!), and we may use it for certain events.

Now, let’s talk about the ticklish topic of being a participant in the worship service. First, all people who attend the worship service are exactly that — participants. Pews or pulpit, we are all doing worship together.

Different congregations have different cultures around worship behavior. You have the “frozen chosen” of some high churches – very formal, not even whispering. You have the call-and-response that is standard in Black church traditions. There’s the active (and often loud) “whole body worship” seen in Charismatic churches.

At Live Oak, we have different feelings about our worship culture, but from talking to many of you, as well as conversations we had when we went to Whole Church Worship (e.g. intergenerational) in 2016, I think here is where we can find common ground:

  • We participate in the service with singing (and sometimes dancing) during the music parts, and while not exactly being a call-and-response church, the congregation responds to questions, and may even call out an occasional “Amen!” if they get excited.
  • And at the same time, we want those around us to be able to engage with the worship service fully – being able to adequately hear and see the service without unnecessary disruption.

So, being clear and plain about it, this means giving some thought to others. Something we often talked about as we prepared to go to Whole Church Worship was that we want to teach our children how to “do church.” So, we decided we needed a “three-legged stool” approach. We worship leaders work to have parts of the service children can connect with, parents teach “worship behavior” to their children, and everyone else gives some grace. We do want parents to be able to take a couple of minutes with a fussy or talkative child to see if they can settle them down, rather than immediately whisking them away.

And adults can be just as distracting as kids. We all need to think through what we may be unconsciously doing. Are we vocally keeping a running commentary, commenting on everything we see? Are we jumping up to correct the person running the soundboard, rather than giving them a moment? Are we there as a worship participant, or have we slipped into seeing ourselves as a theater critic? (I love this quote from Søren Kierkegaard: “People have an idea that the preacher (or worship leader, or musician) is an actor on a stage and they are the critics, blaming or praising them. What they don’t know is that they are the actors on the stage; they (the preacher) are merely the prompter standing in the wings, reminding them of their lost lines.”)

Not everyone is comfortable sitting still for the length of a sermon, and we have resources for that. For all ages, including adults, we have “fidget items” in the narthex that can be taken into the sanctuary. Maybe you or your child would like to doodle on a whiteboard, trace a labyrinth, or color pictures. (Knitters, feel free to bring in your latest project!) We also have two rooms at the back of the sanctuary with a clear glass window and sound piped in – one for “wiggly” kids who can play on the floor, another “comfort room” for the ones who need it quieter or with less stimulation.

(And adults are allowed to use the comfort room, too!)

This Sunday, we will sing from one of our hymns, “Don’t be afraid of some change.” If you would like a “spoiler,” you can always look at our Order of Service ahead of time. The link is on our homepage, and the new liturgical outline should be up by Friday night.

See you Sunday! Happy Sabbath!