If you were to read this issue cover to cover (which most of you probably seldom do!), you would find at least three sets of intersecting themes, along with our regular columns.
Ascension and Pentecost
This issue includes Ascension and Pentecost resources, but also some reflections on the implications of Pentecost for the mission of the church to the world. The first two articles (pp. 3 and 7) offer both perspective and resources on these two Christian festival days.
Hospitality and Invitation
The next three articles, written by Amanda Benckhuysen, Paul Boers, and Holger Kschmann, as well as the story of a lakeside baptism service (p. 22) and the profile on a Korean congregation (p. 26), come from very different places and people, but are united in their invitation for worship leaders to consider the challenging landscape of our diverse culture. How can we plan and lead worship in ways that speak to the deep needs and desires of those who are not yet ready or able to commit their lives to Christ? How can we show by our words and actions in a worship service that our community in Christ is open, welcoming, inviting—even to those who are very different from us? How can we address the exodus of so many young adults from the church?
Have you noticed the growing importance of hospitality in recent writing? Should hospitality be a fundamental priority in your congregation?
Ordination and Installation
We've often been asked for installation and commissioning resources. The two service plans offered here (pp. 17 and 20) for ordination and installation are both filled with baptism imagery that commend them for commissioning a variety of church leaders for ministry—indeed, they involve commitments of all members.
In addition to the installation service, two articles specifically address baptismal practices; one is an account of a lakeside baptism service (p. 22), the other a theological reflection on the shape of a baptism service (p. 24). RW and Marc Nelesen invite your responses to this attempt to be faithful in helping a congregation understand just what baptism means from a Reformed perspective.
Our Help in Ages Past
Last week I got a phone call from a woman who is very involved in worship leadership at her church. She also teaches piano students in her home, and when they are ready, she gives them hymns as part of their repertoire. For one of her students, she chose for the first hymn a familiar and short classic: "O God, Our Help in Ages Past."
The student had never heard of it.
The teacher was first astonished, then upset, and then very sad. She told me that her student worshiped every Sunday with her family at a church with a strong heritage of hymn singing. But they don't sing hymns at this church any more. Well, a few—but very few. The musical diet at this student's church consists largely of praise songs written in the last generation, and most of the songs introduced five years ago have been replaced with even newer songs. As a result, the children growing up in that church do not know any songs that nourished the faith of their parents and grandparents when they were young. In that congregation, there is an almost total disconnect between the generations. They almost never sing a complete psalm. They have an extremely narrow understanding of what it means to profess "one holy catholic church, the communion of saints."
I too am saddened by that story, which I am hearing in different versions more and more often. I may be preaching to the choir here. But all of us need to keep remembering that we worship each Sunday with the body of Christ that transcends our time and our space.
Over the past three years, Reformed Worship has introduced many new worship songs, especially since our staff was so deeply involved in preparing Sing! A New Creation, a collection of contemporary worship songs (see the inside back cover and also RW 64, a theme issue on worship and music). But Sing! A New Creation is a supplement, not a complete hymnal. It includes some of the wonderful riches of songs written in the past fifty years. But our heritage of faith goes back much farther than that. Hymns that have lasted hundreds of years were kept because they had, and still have, power to teach us, nourish us, and connect us with Christians of earlier days and different places. For the sake of our future, our hope to come, let us again commit to the blessings of ages past.