The Spirituality of Programmed Worship
For this entry you have Liz to thank. In response to a previous post she wrote: “I would love to read more from you about "the spirituality that undergirds programmed worship, how it is similar to unprogrammed worship and how it might differ," as you put it. I see you mention "a direct expectation of the presence and teaching of Christ is the source," which I assume is a similarity among Christ-centered Friends, whether programmed or unprogrammed. But I get the sense that there are other similarities and differences, and I hope you'll consider lifting those up at some point.”
This blog entry is an attempt to answer Liz’ questions – though I am counting on my Friends, un/programmed, to contribute as well.
When I talk about the spirituality that undergirds evangelical programmed worship I have some specific things in mind, but I would be remiss to somehow convey the notion that all programmed worship is the same. Indeed, a person could go between Monthly Meetings in my own Northwest Yearly Meeting and walk away with a very different sense from different Meetings.
That being said, the NWYM Faith and Practice, and the very presence of Christ can create a sense of unity in spirit – if not form.
For me, the reason I am not Baptist (which is the church of my youth) or Presbyterian (where I was trained for pastoral ministry) is many, but one is that I am attracted to Quaker sacramental theology. Before you get too upset about my description of Friends spirituality in terms of “sacramental theology” here me out: Programmed Friends worship, whatever forms are used, is founded on the premise that the present Christ makes himself available to the gathered community in all of reality. This is a real presence of the living Christ, not a memorial or a remembrance. In fact, without the presence of the real Christ teaching us how to worship and commune with God, worship is impossible. It is the grace of Christ that makes it possible.
When I go to Meeting on Sunday mornings I expect to be gathered with other Friends and together meet Christ there. The promise of Matthew 18:20, then, becomes a living promise and an emerging reality during worship: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
This sacramental understanding of programmed worship underlies the entire meeting for worship – from singing to open worship. Understood rightly, there is no point in the event of worship that wanders from a complete reliance on the immediate presence of Christ to extend grace and presence to the gathered community.
If we look at the four typical elements of a programmed meeting for worship we find (1) singing, (2) meditating on Scripture as a community, (3) meditating on scriptural reflections (the “sermon”) as a community, and (4) open worship. There are often many other things that happen, but for the sake of this discussion let’s focus on these four.
If we look beneath the soil of these elements, we find women and men who are exercising giftedness and leadings in various ways. Some are musicians (I am certainly not one of these), some speak truth to power, some teach spiritual truths. The shape of programmed worship rises out of the Meeting itself – giftedness and leading, discernment and obedience characterize faithful meetings for worship. So, the roots of programmed worship stretch deep into the soil of who God has created a people to be. Here, the sacramental becomes a part of everyday life as God leads people in particular ways at particular times throughout the week and then draws them together to be more than a group of individuals but a community of Christ sent to follow Christ in concrete expressions.
Moreover, underlying programmed worship is an interfluential sharing of Centering, Gathering, Ministry, and Exercise. By “centering” I mean that which draws us to God and helps us focus beyond ourselves and onto the Divine reality made personal in Christ. By the term “gathering” I am referring to the interconnection of a community that waits on the one will of Christ. When I talk about “ministry” I am referring to those times of planned and spontaneous expression that many times comes out of programmed worship. In “exercise” I refer to the power of the Spirit of Christ to use seemingly ordinary things such as songs and readings to do a great work in a person’s life. It is often the case that a person leading music will lead a song that surprisingly becomes God’s words to one person, if not the whole community. In planning a programmed meeting for worship, planners will often have an eye out for aspects of centering, gathering, ministry, and exercise as they come together and become distinct in the heart of those involved in planning (in all of the variety that is “planning”).
For me, there is also something spiritual about the connection of programmed Friends worship with generations of people who have faithfully sought out God’s presence. There is something special about singing that celtic song of devotion: “Be Thou My Vision.” There is something special about hearing a gospel proclaimed that has shaped thousands of years of people who also have listened to that same gospel. Likewise, there is something spiritual about communing with Christ (with or without forms) as the early Quakers and other followers of Christ have done well before I was ever around.
Finally, I don’t think I could end a conversation about the spirituality that undergirds programmed worship without saying something of the connection between God, the Scriptures, and God’s community. Evangelical Friends find the Scriptures to be a refreshing place to dwell, because so often, we can find God there. The Scriptures, when illumined by God’s Spirit, become sources of transformation, healing and hope. Programmed worship, then, expects God’s direct presence and expects God to use Scriptures directly. For me, as for many evangelicals, the Scriptures are not a source of dogma, but a great gift. As programmed meeting for worship unfolds, it becomes clear that the Scriptures are a great guide, a place where God’s grace is felt not only during meeting for worship but throughout the week – giving substance and continuity to the yearning of the Spirit that is expressed in worship as a gathered community on Sundays (of course, these expressions are limitless and happen all the time, not just Sundays, but there is something special about gathering with others for worship that opens a new expressiveness).
So, how does this differentiate from unprogrammed worship? Well, first off, Christ-centered unprogrammed Friends might find a lot of similarity with programmed Friends, especially the trust in the Spirit of Christ to teach, and the importance of the Spirit’s illumination of Scripture and it’s appropriateness in worship. However, there are differences too. Expressing differences is in no way an attempt to suggest that one is better than the other. That being said, here are some differences:
Programmed Friends seek to incorporate other element of Christian tradition into the Quaker heritage, trusting the Spirit to guide not only in Meeting but also in planning. Christ-centered unprogrammed Friends celebrate continuity in form (unprogrammed) and content with the earliest Quakers. Non-Christ-centered unprogrammed Friends celebrate continuity in form (unprogrammed) with the earliest Quakers but not in content.
Programmed worship allows space for giftedness and leadings to become a planned, ongoing part of worship. Unprogrammed worship allows for giftedness and leadings to be used as part of events outside of the meeting for worship.
These are a few of the similarities and differences, and perhaps someone who knows the unprogrammed tradition better than I can point out other differences based on the analysis of programmed worship I have provided.
Also, let me reiterate that programmed worship is not a monolithic thing. Many programmed evangelical Friends have a hard time understanding the direct presence of Christ, or active peacemaking, or proper ways to interact with government. There are Friends who are Friends in name only – who found their way to the Friends without ever respecting Friends distinctives. Yet, there are a growing number of Friends in the NWYM that, as our Superintendent said, would like to be both evangelical and Quaker and this, too, shape programmed worship.