Why We Worship This Way…

This year in Chapel, we have decided to take a slightly different tack in worship than we have in years past.  To begin with, we are starting each hour of worship with lunch.  In the past, lunch was offered at the end of the hour, but people were very rushed to eat and get out before their noon classes started.  In starting with lunch, we can let people enjoy their food and fellowship, have announcement time, and start worship in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Another change that we’re adopting is that we have a very simplified format for worship.  At our spring and summer staff retreats, the Religious Life staff identified three “core values” for our worship together:  Quality Music, Communal Prayer, and Relevant Messages.

Quality Music

Music speaks to the current generation of young people in ways that are different from previous generations.  This is not to say that music hasn’t ever spoken to young people, but the current generation seems to put an especially high premium on music that “speaks.”  As technology consultant Derek Baird wrote on his blog in 2008, for Gen Y, “music is oxygen.” (http://tinyurl.com/62lj6w)  Many students that I have spoken to have indicated that they prefer music that lets them reflect on life, their relationship with God, and their many (and sometimes complicated) human relationships.  So, we’ve decided that we want to produce quality music that will “speak,” while maintaining integrity within the service (i.e., the music will go with the theme of the service, and we will not just repeat a song week after week because it happens to be popular).  We have revived the concept of a “chapel band,” which will provide consistent musical leadership, and we have incorporated times for congregational singing and for reflection times that have music as a key component.

Communal Prayer

Students have shared with us that they value the opportunity to pray together for one another’s joys and concerns, but that it can be difficult to share those prayer requests in a traditional “raise your hand and tell it out loud” kind of format.  So, we’ve decided to have as many ways to share prayer requests as possible.  In the chapel building, you’ll now see a bulletin board that is dedicated to prayer requests.  We also have “prayer pots”—flower pots that sit on the tables at lunch—which give people the opportunity to turn in prayer requests at worship.  Also planned this year are opportunities to “tweet in” prayer request via a Twitter feed, and e-mail prayer requests.  All of these opportunities will hopefully give people the chance to have their requests heard and prayed over by the community.

Relevant Messages

By “relevant,” we’re not suggesting that messages in chapel worship should have nothing to do with eternal truths and everything to do with what’s hip, popular, and current.  On the contrary, we envision worship messages that are biblically-based, but which apply the often-difficult to grasp messages of the Bible to the context of a modern American university.  By relevance, we also mean that messages will be consistent throughout a single worship service (meaning that there should be unity among scriptures, preaching, music and prayer), and throughout a defined series (three to four weeks that cover roughly the same theme, but utilizing a different preaching text each week).  Finally, relevance means that the messages we hope to convey in chapel this year will help participants go deep into the Christian faith, and drink from the wells of our tradition and scriptures in a way that will help them to grow in their personal faith.  We wish to counteract the popular notion that worship should be “a mile wide and an inch deep” by focusing our efforts on conveying messages that will have an impact on the ways we think and live.

So there you have it, a manifesto, if you will, on why we’ve chosen to worship the way we do.  By emphasizing quality music, communal prayer, and relevant messages, we hope to be able to better define the “brand” that is chapel worship at ONU.  If you haven’t already, give us a try on Thursdays at 11 a.m.!

God’s Peace to you,


Announcing “Mid-Week Prayer in the Liturgical Tradition”

Mid-Week Prayer in the Liturgical Tradition:
Drawing on Resources from Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian,
Lutheran, Methodist, Taize and other Liturgical Traditions.

Introductory Prayer Service:
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
5:00-5:30 p.m.
English Chapel Sanctuary

Please join us for this time of prayer and contemplation.
Sponsored by: Chaplain’s Office (Chaplain David E. MacDonald)

Starting on September 5th, we will be offering “Mid-Week Prayer in the Liturgical Tradition,” a prayer service designed for those who enjoy a more traditional/liturgical/contemplative time of prayer.  Drawing on resources from the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Taize, and other liturgical traditions, this service will closely resemble Evensong, Compline, or Vespers (for those who are comfortable with such words!)

The goal for this experimental community of prayer will be to provide a space where the ancient words of the Christian faith become the deep wells from which we may all draw inspiration, refreshment, and comfort.  As Christ said to the woman at the Samaritan well, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13b-14, NRSV)

Please consider joining us for this new venture in prayer, which is really a new expression of the ancient practices of the Church!


Thoughts on Worship (Part 2): Worship in Scripture

Wow!  That last blog post was huge!  I guess I had a lot to say about what worship isn’t.  If you have any more ideas about what worship isn’t, please let me know in the comments below, or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/davidemacdonald)  or Twitter (@ONUchaplain).

Today, I’d like to focus on the purpose of worship—a response to last week’s post, in the form of exploring what worship is.  As is the case with these sorts of things, making the argument in the positive has proven to be much more difficult than arguing the negative.  So, I expect that there will be some disagreement with me on some of the points I will make, and that’s o.k. with me.  What I want to do is start an honest discussion about worship that may help in our work here at the ONU chapel, and might spark some discussions in other communities of faith, too.

Let’s Begin with Scripture: This is obviously not an exhaustive list–if you have other suggestions, let me know!

Psalm 122:1  “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the LORD!’” (NRSV)

When was the last time you felt “glad” about going to worship?  (Especially if you lead worship, and never get a chance to sit back and just worship without worrying about what’s coming next!)  Worship is intended to be a joyful expression of gratitude and praise to God.  Now, some people express their joy through moving liturgy, symbolic actions, and sacramental acts.  Others express their joy through music, movement, artistic expression, and spontaneous expressions of worship.  Everyone expresses joy in his/her own way.  I once criticized people who had “long faces” when they worshiped, until I spoke with several such people and realized that the joy they felt in worship was no less deeply felt than mine, simply because their facial expressions were staid and stoic.  What brings you joy?  How do you express that joy in worship?  Are you “glad” about worship?  If so, how do you share that joy?  If not, what’s stopping you from fully experiencing joy in your worship?

Psalm 8:1  “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory above the heavens.”

Worship is an expression of awe and wonder in the face of the Creator.  Look around you.  Where did all this come from?  Who created all this?  How does the bird stay in flight?  Who placed a particular strain of DNA inside that tree to make it look just the way it does?  If you conclude that creation has a Creator, then you can’t not be impressed and awed by the complexity of God’s grace and love for creation.  God’s handiwork is all around us—God’s fingerprints are left behind in the sacredness of the earth and all the gifts of creation.  Worship is a natural response to the feeling that God is something/someone bigger than you or me—and is an opportunity for us to be in relationship with that Creator.

Psalm 29:2  “Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.” 

God is holy.  Only a holy God would be worthy of our worship.  Who would want to worship an unholy God?  Not me!  Worship is our way of standing in the presence of our holy God, giving praise for God’s mighty acts of salvation in our midst.  Worship is an opportunity to recognize that we human beings are not the be-all and end-all of the universe—that there is One who is greater, One who created us all, and One who redeems us from sin and sustains us through life.

James 4:8a  “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

Worship is about proximity on two planes.  One plane is more noticeable to us—the horizontal plane—this is our proximity to one another.  Worship is about rubbing elbows with other believers (and even with some non-believers and skeptics from time to time, depending on your context).  In worship, we sing together, hear the Word of God read and interpreted, and respond through acts of prayer, giving, and sacramental or symbolic actions.  All of this is done in the context of community.

The other plane on which worship takes place is the vertical plane—our “drawing near” to God.  When we worship, we come closer to God, not so we can puff ourselves up as “God’s chosen people,” or wall ourselves off from the world.  We come closer to God so that God will come closer to us.  Or perhaps more accurately, so that we may recognize that God has already drawn near to us, and that we are in God’s presence, not just in worship, but in every moment of our lives.

Revelation 4:11  “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” 

Above all, worship is wrapped up in the mystery of God’s grace for humanity, and is our recognition of God’s love for us.  God created us, and everything around us, and God continues to love us, even when we disrespect the creation we’ve been given.  The above scripture from Revelation also shows that our worship is part of the heavenly worship of God, which makes us part of God’s kin-dom of worshipers who have lifted up their voices in song and praise for millennia.  Worship makes us part of something that is bigger than any one of us, and together, we form the body of Christ, the family of God—the Church.

I have some more thoughts on worship that I’ll share at another time.  For now, I’d like to hear from those who might read this blog–What scriptures inspire you to worship?  What is your definition of worship?  Do you feel a part of the body of Christ when you worship?

Thoughts on Worship (Part 1): What Worship Is Not.

Worship has been on my mind a lot lately, as I spend these first few quiet (lonely) days in my new office.  No one seems to be on campus, other than the many wonderful behind-the-scenes folks who keep ONU’s campus looking so beautiful, and a few classes that are in session.  So, I’ve been spending some time thinking about the coming school year, and specifically Thursday morning chapel worship.  Since the time I was offered this position, I’ve done a lot of listening to people on campus, asking what they think about the chapel.  And the one topic that has come up, time and time again, is worship.  Something is “missing,” or something is “off,” or something needs to be done.  The numbers tell part of the story—like many ministries and churches, chapel has seen a decrease in attendance over the last few years.  Part of that is because of a wider trend in American religion, and among emerging adults, to be sure.  But there is a sense that a truly dynamic chapel worship would appeal to more students, and would increase those ever-elusive numbers.  In order to understand a thing, sometimes we have to understand what it is not.  So I want to spend some time thinking today about what worship isn’t.  (Later, I’ll write about what it is.)

One question that keeps coming up in my mind is this—What can we do in worship that will increase attendance?  The answer is—Absolutely nothing!  Worship isn’t meant as the solution to the crisis of dwindling numbers.  The way we worship is an integral part of who we are, and it will certain nurture and grow our members spiritually, but it is not meant—it never was meant—to be our sole means of discipleship and spiritual formation.  Discipleship and spiritual formation, along with outreach and evangelism, are what will help grow our worship attendance.  (More about those topics at another time!)  So, I would disagree with those who say that one “style” of worship or another is the key to growing a worshiping community.  I have known churches that worship in a very traditional, almost ancient, style, that have grown by leaps and bounds, and I have known just as many churches that worship in a totally cool, contemporary and down-to-earth style that are doing the same.  Worship “style” doesn’t determine growth.

Another thought that often attaches itself to worship is that worship “feeds” the congregation.  When people leave a church, they often say that it was because the worship wasn’t “feeding” them.  I have seen a lot of people come and go from worshiping communities in the course of my ministry (I’ve even helped some of them go in a manner that was healthier for both them and the community).  A few times, people have said to me that worship in the community which they were leaving was not “feeding” them.  Then, as we dug deeper into their story, they revealed that the real issue was that they had a conflict with another congregant, or with the pastor, and that worship wasn’t “feeding” because they couldn’t go to worship without focusing on the conflict they were having.  Worship isn’t meant to “feed” us, and when we do think that worship is our main (or only) source of being “fed,” then we have a very poor spiritual diet!  Imagine only eating once a week, and then only on fatty and sugary foods that satisfied you for an hour and then quickly left your system.  If you’re going to worship only to be “fed,” you’ll never be filled with the Spirit of God—at least not completely.

A third thing that worship isn’t is entertainment.  If you’ve been a part of the Christian community  through any part of the last few decades, you’ll be at least somewhat familiar with what have been called “the worship wars.”  Each side on this battle (there are more sides than the false contemporary/traditional, by the way) sees the other sides as promoting worship that is merely “entertainment.”  And I can see where those arguments could be valid.  I’ve been to high masses and Eucharistic worship during which people talked through the whole service, until the bells were rung at the consecration.  And, I’ve been to more than my fair share of “worship experiences” that were more about the worship band’s latest album than about worshiping the living God.  So, let’s all admit that all sides have transgressed in this manner, and let’s move on.  Worship isn’t entertainment.  It isn’t meant to be entertaining.  Although there may be enjoyable moments within worship, those moments are not the reason we worship.  John Wesley addressed this way of thinking in his sermon “The Duty of Constant Communion.”  Writing of the sacrament, he said:

Reverence for the sacrament may be of two sorts:  either such as is owing purely to the newness of the thing, such as men naturally have for anything they are not used to; or such as is owing to the love or fear of God.  Now the former of these is not properly a religious reverence, but purely natural.  And this sort of reverence for the Lord’s Supper the constantly receiving of it must lessen.  But it will not lessen the true religious reverence, but rather confirm and increase it.

Applied to worship, the above passage points out that our feelings about worship—whether or not we are “entertained”—don’t matter as much as the fact that we are worshiping the God of creation, the Holy and Divine Trinity, Three in One.  That alone should be the focus of our worship, not whether or not the choir was in top form or the worship band’s lighting was effective.  Those elements of worship are important—more on that  later, too—but they are not the main purpose of worship.

Check back again soon to see some thoughts on what worship is. But for now, in the comments section below, or on Facebook or Twitter, let me know what you think—is there something you’ve come across in your experience that worship is not?