Worship Movements 5/5: For Everyone Born

Whose voices do we hear? How many? Clergy AND lay? Men and women and children and youth? Do we hear a challenging Gospel word as well as a comforting one? Is there room in worship for righteous indignation?

These questions and others have characterized my teaching since seminary and offer a glimpse into the influences of the liberation and feminist theologies that I was fortunate to encounter in my theological training. I consider myself so blessed to have gone to seminary just after voices like Marjorie Procter-Smith, Heather Murray Elkins and Janet Walton had begun to write provocative books on liturgy that further challenged the already-present reforms of the liturgical movement. They pushed the question, “is liturgy really the work of ALL the people?” I can remember my first North American Academy of Liturgy meeting and how starstruck I was to be in the company of these incredible women in the Feminist Liturgy seminar group. They treated me as their colleague right away, and I really “got” the depth of their commitment to giving all voices a hearing and offering a place at the table to all people.

I’ve written on the influence of the liturgical movement, the pentecostal movement, the contemporary movement, and the religion and arts movement in the blogs previous to this one. Another movement that has changed our worship, its repertoire, and its practice are the liberation movements of the late 20th century.

The liberation theology movement showed up in the form of feminist liturgical theology and focused our attention on the embodiment of less hierarchical and more communal and inclusive liturgical acts of the whole people of God. Theologians of color moved us toward the consideration of worship as an appropriate place to decry injustice and exhort the people of God to work to change unjust power structures and alleviate suffering.

“For everyone born, a place at the table…” Shirley Erena Murray’s hymn text has been set to something like four different tunes. That is the mark of a really great text: when multiple composers just cannot help themselves. This text goes on to say, “God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy.”

We still have work to do in the pursuit of justice and joy. Here are some ways to continue the conversations and make your liturgy more just:

  1. Be sure that you truly embody the “priesthood of all believers” by offering opportunities for broad leadership and participation. Do we hear the voices of all ages in our worship? Is ritual leadership shared by clergy and lay alike? Do we cling to gender stereotypes such as male ushers and female altar guilds?

  2. Remember that there are hundreds of names and descriptions of God in the Bible. Use many names when referring to God… and stay away from the idea that the choices are only based on gender. God is Comforter, Rock, Living Water, Manna in the Desert, Healer, etc. Enrich your prayer life with these descriptors instead of simply gendered ones.

  3. Seek out musical repertoire like the song “For Everyone Born” that offers us inspirational imagery as justice-makers and calls us to right relationship. Preach a series based on these hymns. Incorporate imagery in projected media that offers us the connection between our singing and our living.

  4. Add a “justice candle” on your table/altar and light it each month for a different specific cause such as those caught in conflict, those who are homeless in our communities, for those struggling with famine. This practice raises our intercessory prayer attention beyond “just us.” Then connect an action beyond worship for that month that addresses those needs.

I see the influence of the liberation movements of the late 20th century now as emerging generations are adamant about strengthening the connection between worship, arts, justice and mission. (See this video from my favorite video liturgy artists, theworkofthepeople.com featuring restorationvillagearts.org.) New avenues of worship in a post-modern age hold both local and global matters as important and call people to action. The participation of the people is seen as an essential element in forming those who “go and do likewise.”

In the Worship Design Studio, I always say that one of the most important questions I ask myself in designing worship is this, “How do we embody that which we proclaim?” If we cannot embody the kin-dom of God in our worship, where (for God’s sake) will we?!