It was an ordinary Sunday morning for the church in Obala, a village 40 kilometers from Cameroon’s capital city of Yaoundé. But for me it was anything but ordinary as I witnessed the evangelical power of singing that called people to worship the triune God.
Eyes to See
Do you ever remember a time, walking in the woods or just looking out your kitchen window, when you saw the sun’s rays filter through the mist, casting a shadow between the branches of a pine tree? And you sensed hope in and through that light?
Do you remember a worship service when, just for a moment, passing the peace became more than a chore and you looked at your neighbor more clearly? And you sensed awe and delight in and through another’s eyes?
Though written from the perspective of Reformed churches that have Dutch roots, the challenges and suggestions found in this article are helpful across denominations.
Lift up your hearts!” “We lift them up to the Lord!”
It started quietly enough. In 1903, acting on two overtures calling for the preparation of worship forms for congregational use, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA voted to form a committee to prepare a “Book of Simple Forms and Services.” The book was to be firmly rooted in Scripture and Reformed usage, avoid ritualism, embody sound doctrine, and enable a fuller participation of the people in the worship of God.
A colleague was asked point-blank at a workshop recently, “Have changes in worship in the last generation been good or bad?”
The short answer may be yes.
A longer answer was given at a day-long seminar at the Calvin Symposium on Worship 2006. The seminar featured a panel of prominent worship leaders who had probably never been together in the same room before. They reflected in very different ways on one of the central topics in twentieth-century North American religion: changes in worship practices.
This morning I was having coffee with a friend at a bookstore. We meet there monthly to discuss agenda items for a church committee. After our business discussion was complete, we spoke, as friends do, of other things close to our hearts. At one point a sheepish look came over his face and he said, “I want to ask you an off-the-wall question, and I hope you won’t take it the wrong way. Would it be inappropriate for me to ask you to dance at my funeral?”
How shall I honor my colleague Emily Brink upon her retirement from editing Reformed Worship these past twenty years? What is the literary equivalent of a bouquet of flowers and a gold watch? I’m not sure! However, when I contemplate Emily’s contribution to RW, I think of three descriptive nouns:
Several African American pastors and leaders in West Michigan churches began meeting regularly a couple of years ago for study and encouragement with the help of a Lilly-funded Peer Learning Group. A recurring theme in their discussions has been how to function as African Americans in ministry in a way that integrates their Reformed theology; they have been especially eager to find creative ways to reach urban African American youth. One of the books they read together, On Being Black and Reformed, is reviewed on page 34.
How many of us remember the specific lessons we learned in Sunday school? Probably not very many. But how about the songs we sang in those same Sunday school classes? Do you remember the words to “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” “Away in a Manger,” or “O Be Careful, Little Eyes”?