There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
This quote from theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920; see sidebar p. 19) sums up nicely everything we’re about at Square Inch Community, a new little church in the East Hills neighborhood of Grand Rapids, Michigan. For us it means that whatever we do, we can work to glorify God in the process. By approaching vocation as a calling from God, every member of the community is engaged in God’s kingdom work: artists, construction workers, and stay-at-home parents as much as me in my role as preacher of the Word.
At Square Inch, we aim to model the theological heft of Kuyper’s quote in our worship. Since we are all “square inchers” under the sovereignty of Christ, we want to employ as many members of the community in the enactment of our worship as possible. So our progression through the liturgy is highly participatory.
Because we believe that the “square inches” to which Kuyper referred exist not just now but across the span of human history, our worship incorporates some ancient forms of worship. We rely on Christian brothers and sisters of centuries past to help us in our efforts to bring glory to God through worship. Since we are a church plant that attracts many newcomers to the Christian faith, we change the wording on some of the elements of our liturgy to avoid losing some people in language they might not understand. So instead of calling it “liturgy,” we call it “worship progression.” But it is liturgy nonetheless.
A Typical Sunday at Square Inch
Allow me to walk you through a typical Square Inch service.
Entering the rented auditorium where we worship, each person picks up a binder that includes our worship progression. Ten to twelve of these binders have various sentences highlighted. The person who picks up one of those binders reads that highlighted sentence aloud when we come to that place in our worship.
After a brief time of announcements and sometimes running through a new song, I begin by saying, “Let’s stand and take a breath as we invite the Holy Spirit into our midst.” An assigned person then walks to the communion table and lights the Christ candle. Seated in a circle surrounding the table, we begin our worship with this powerful visual image of Christ as the center of our worship.
Once the Christ candle is lit, we practice the ancient tradition of “the collect,” a brief prayer of invitation to the Holy Spirit in which we acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is and always was present. In the collect we express that it is God who has called us to this place of worship, and we accept that invitation. Each sentence of the prayer is read by a different person indicated by the highlighted lines on his or her liturgy. Since the liturgies are picked up randomly at the beginning of worship, during this and every part of our worship progression we hear voices from all around the sanctuary lifting up their hearts to the Lord.
After the collect comes an opening blessing from Zephaniah 3. For some members of the community, hearing that the Lord is delighted to welcome us into his presence is quite different from their past experience. So we solidify the word of peace given in the blessing by practicing the apostle Paul’s instruction to greet each other with a “holy kiss”—only we call it the “holy embrace” and we don’t kiss. Instead we hug each other and say, “God’s peace, brother/sister.” For some this is intimidating; after all, we live in a world that puts a high value on personal space. But many people report that the hug is what made them come back. There are people in God’s world who do not regularly feel the warm embrace of a hug from anyone, let alone from Christian brothers and sisters. So we take the risk and hug each other.
To honor God’s pronouncement of peace on us, we sing songs of adoration, pausing in the midst of our singing to hear Scripture. This is often a psalm or another passage that ties in to the sermon, read by an assigned person. Because our community is small, we don’t use a sound system, so readers always read right from their seats. It’s a wonderful little picture of how all God’s works praise God’s name in earth, sky, sea . . .
and rented auditoriums.
Once we have spent time singing and hearing psalms, we move into the time of confession. Having just contemplated how marvelous the God of all creation is, we realize that we fall short of God’s glory. This part of our worship progression is called “Remembering that we are forgiven.”
Our need to confess is articulated by Scripture. Because many people in our community have never cracked open a Bible before, filtering as much Scripture into a worship service as possible is a high priority. Scripture retention is also on our radar, so each month features one Scripture passage for the call to confession and the assurance of pardon. As I write, our community is focusing on Psalm 32 and Romans 5 during the service of confession.
When we have heard the call to confession and silently confessed our sins, an assigned person, often a child, approaches the table and pours water from a pitcher into the baptismal bowl. Here is another ancient practice that engages multiple senses and invites newcomers to the faith to a more fully rounded understanding of what we are doing in this service of confession. This section too includes people reading their highlighted parts.
After the assurance that in Christ we are forgiven, we move into a time of prayer for the community, voicing our prayer concerns to each other. We believe that each prayer request offered is already a prayer uttered before God. Affirming each of those prayer requests, I say, “In your mercy,” and the community responds, “Lord, hear our prayer.” Sound familiar? There’s another one of those ancient practices. If someone shares a prayer of thanksgiving, I simply say, “Lord!” and the community responds, “Thank you for your faithfulness.” A scribe takes down all the requests, and they are included in our weekly newsletter.
From prayer we move into hearing God’s Word. Someone will read that week’s sermon text and then I will launch into the sermon. Much of the time the sermon is just that—a straight-up sermon. Often, however, we will pause for dialogue. This year on 9/11 we were looking at the passage in Matthew 11 where John the Baptist sends his disciples to Jesus with some doubts John had been having about Jesus. In the sermon, I made the point that John ran to Jesus with his doubts, not away from Jesus. We are called to do the same thing. I asked, “What if we viewed our doubts as prayers?” and we paused to voice some of our own doubts. Instead of trying to answer these doubts, we simply responded to them as we do prayer requests: after each I would say, “In your mercy” and the community would respond with, “Lord, hear our prayer.”
After hearing God’s Word we move to the table for the Eucharist. Our progression for the Lord’s Supper is quite traditional: it includes the words of institution, the great prayer of thanksgiving, and the invitation to the table. Like many communities in the Christian family, we form a circle around the table and pass the elements. As people are passing the elements, I go around to all the children and give them the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6.
After the Supper, we hear a benediction from Isaiah 43 and are invited to the “Love Feast” once the final song has concluded. This communal meal is an extension of the worship service—other than moving some tables and chairs around, it’s all pretty seamless, and it’s a wonderful time of fellowship and of greeting newcomers. We often celebrate birthdays, especially those of the kids. Our Sunday worship feels like a big family gathering. Which it is. And it’s awesome.
Maybe all the stuff we do in worship sounds really familiar. If so, thanks be to God that we can walk into each other’s churches and feel like we are at home. If you’re ever in town, come visit us. I think you’ll feel at home too.
What about the Music?
Maybe you’ve noticed that I haven’t talked about what kind of music we sing. If you’re tracking with me on drawing from all things past and present, maybe you can figure out how our music goes. But I left it out intentionally. So often, people think of “worship time” as “singing time” and all the other stuff as, well, other stuff. Our view, like that of worshipers through the ages, is that the whole experience is worship. And because we want to promote this notion, music style doesn’t mean much at Square Inch. We want to sing songs that bring us along through our praise of God. That’s why we do what we do in all the components of our liturgy. It’s all about drawing upon those resources, rituals, and rhythms that aid us in bringing God glory. So we excuse ourselves from the conversation about “worship styles”—and ultimately it has been freeing.
For a short video about Square Inch Community, visit squareinchcommunity.wordpress.com