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December 2004

Where Have All the Psalms Gone? Reclaiming Our First Love

It happened again this past Sunday. A great worship service, including baptism. Wonderful singing—of hymns. No psalms, not one. This is a church that stands in the Reformed tradition known for its singing of the psalms. Whenever I go to ecumenical conferences, I’m identified as one who comes from a psalm-singing heritage. I smile wanly, agreeing. But that heritage is too often missing on Sunday mornings.

It Takes a Team: Examining the Worship Planning Process


These excerpts from my LOFT notes indicate that sometimes the synergy promised by team-based worship planning goes unrealized. On the other hand, there are times when efficiency isn’t necessarily a virtue—when a little team-based diversity of opinion might be welcome.

Travels with Paul: Bringing the First Missionary Journey to Life--with Kids

Keeping Paul’s missionary journeys straight can be tough. The stories are brief and many involve mostly preaching. It is hard to remember what happened. Our challenge was to communicate the information about Paul’s first missionary journey to our congregation in a way that was interesting, memorable, and brief. We wanted to present information about cities as well as people.

On Altar-Tables, Images, and Epicletic Prayer

Q. What should we call the piece of furniture we use for the Lord’s Supper? An altar? A table? I’ve even heard it called an altar-table? Why that?


A. An altar is furniture for a sacrifice. Altars in the Old Testament temple and tabernacle were the place for the sacrifice of animals. In the medieval church, the Lord’s Supper or mass was celebrated at an altar. Correspondingly, the Lord’s Supper was understood to be the enactment or re-enactment of Christ’s sacrifice.

Vigil of the Final Hours: A Service for Maundy Thursday

Our worship planning team wanted to create a Maundy Thursday worship service that would provide historical and cultural context to Christ’s final hours before his crucifixion and offer an opportunity for the congregation to experience the symbols in a fresh way. I was challenged by our team to develop a vigil with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper as the centerpiece. In preparation, I immersed myself in the Passion narratives, commentaries, and historical accounts.

Point-and-Click Wisdom: Good Sites from Three Worship Gurus

The adventurous pilgrim in search of true wisdom will brave harsh clime and harrowing climb to question the mountaintop guru about the meaning of life. Modern pilgrims in search of worship-related wisdom need only brave slow Internet connections. The era of the point-and-click expert is here, via the World Wide Web. Of course, not all experts are equally helpful or equally wise. What follows, then, is a report of three helpful worship guru websites I’ve discovered on my electronic travels.

Robert Webber

A Lively Look at the Seven Deadly Sins: An Eight-Week Series

I’ll admit that I’m not too fond of sin. I’m speaking, of course, as a pastor and a preacher describing a bias in my preaching that I’ve carried for years. Too often in my experience the church has been a “guilt-giving culture,” and I have committed myself to preaching grace.

Book: From Postlude to Prelude: Music Ministry's Other Six Days

C. Randall Bradley. MorningStar Music Publishers, 2004. 330 pp. $32.00.

C. Randall Bradley offers a unique gift to those serving in the church’s music ministry: a book exclusively about thriving in the organizational and administrative aspects of the work.

Bradley systematically raises questions and issues that pastoral musicians inevitably face:

Filthy Rags of Deadly Sins: A Visual Focus on Repentance

Our Lent series this year focused on the theme of sin. We used the seven deadly sins as a guide to examine our sin in some of the services. The first week of the series was a very general introduction to sin. The second week we introduced the seven deadly sins, using dirty rags to represent each of the sins.

Book: Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry

William Willimon. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002. 386 pp. $17.00.

Willimon’s announced task is to describe the theology and practice of ordained Christian ministry. His provocative book begins with an analysis of ordination and a description of images of the pastor that are common in contemporary culture. Chapter by chapter, he then describes and reflects on the biblical images of the pastor as priest, preacher, counselor, teacher, evangelist, prophet, and leader.

Christ Has Died, Christ Is Risen, Christ Will Come Again: Proclaiming the Gospel through African-American Prayer and Song

This service was prepared for the 2004 Symposium on Worship and the Arts held at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. James Abbington played each of the songs on the organ or the piano; those considering this service will want to find a person (or more than one person) who is gifted at playing both instruments for the traditional hymns and spirituals as well as for the contemporary Black gospel songs. Most, but not all songs are by African Americans; those that are not have become favorites of African-American Christians.

Book: Wonderful Words of Life: Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology

Edited by Richard J. Mouw and Mark A. Noll. Eerdmans, 2004. 288 pp. $18.00.

One Body, Many Gifts: Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Back in the 1970s, a big old church on the corner of Neland and Watkins in urban Grand Rapids faced an important decision—was it going to continue to provide a house of worship and a center of ministry in this neighborhood, or would it close its doors?

Prayer Weavings

Earlier this spring, I attended a graduation open house held at a century-old church that had just been completely renovated. After the obligatory meet-and-greet, my friends and their three young daughters joined me on a self-guided tour of the sparkling new sanctuary that had been carefully fused to the original church building.

It was beautifully done—a nice blend of the fixed and flexible. Plenty of space for movement below and soaring space above for sound and light and large visuals.

God's Reply to Cries of the Heart: Neland's Lenten Theme

The song “Hear the Cry of My Heart” was composed for a Lenten series at Neland; we wanted a song that would directly articulate the “cries” mentioned each week. I composed the verses around a particular meter. Leah Ivory came up with several compositions and we chose which melody we thought best expressed the mood of crying out to God.


Here are two European travel opportunities for those interested in worship and culture worldwide.

Reformed Worship Worldwide,
July 8-26, 2005

This interim course, offered jointly by Calvin College and Calvin Seminary, will be held in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Open to students and other interested adults, the course offers a wonderful opportunity for international learning and fellowship. Here’s the course description:

Traveling on Easter Sunday: What About Worship?

Easter sometimes falls during spring break, when many families travel. This piece is not so much for worship planners as for families in your congregations who may be away from their home church; you may wish to consider using it in your church newsletter.

If You Ask for Sunshine, Remember to Bring Sunscreen: Lessons from an Outdoor Baptism Service

Sometimes things start out all wrong, but somehow end up gloriously more than just all right. Such was the case with an adult baptism service on the shores of Lake Michigan one August Sunday morning.

This Little Child from Far Away: A Prayer and a Song for the Baptisms of Adopted Children

In the fall of 1996 my wife and I traveled to Korea to pick up our daughter Gina Soo. While we were there, friends from our church also got the call that their daughter Mia could be picked up. So on the day before we were scheduled to return to the United States, they arrived to pick up their little girl. A few weeks later both Gina and Mia were baptized together at First Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. To celebrate that event I wrote a prayer that all four of us did as a liturgical reading.

Dear Rebecca Lee: A Baptism Letter from a Father

What we celebrate today . . . is the mystery of God’s grace.

Dear Rebecca Lee,

Pastoral Undertaking: A Case for Prearranging Funerals

Earlier this year, an elderly member of our congregation died. She had been prepared for many years and had spoken frequently about her readiness for death. Her legal and medical documents were in perfect order. Her funeral was prepaid and prearranged with the local funeral director; she had chosen her casket, flowers, and, presumably, everything else related to the “final disposition” of her body. Her preparedness was well known to her family, her pastors, and her friends.

The Treasure in Clay Jars: Preaching Ideas on Disabilities

Preaching “is a process of transformation for both preacher and congregation alike, as the ordinary details of their everyday lives are translated into the extraordinary elements of God’s ongoing creation” (Barbara Brown Taylor, The Company of Preachers, Richard Lischer, ed., 2002). Preaching not only helps us understand God’s Word but to see and interact with God’s world as his representatives. The following article is excerpted from a speech given by Linda Larson at Calvin Theological Seminary.

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? It's Time to Put That Old Myth to Rest

Why should the devil have all the good music? This pithy question is often used to justify the introduction of “secular” musical styles into the church service. Variously attributed to Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Salvation Army founder William Booth, the saying cannot be documented in any of their writings. Indeed, whatever Booth’s views might have been, the question most certainly does not reflect the ideas or practices of Luther and Wesley.