Christine Longhurst believes that the style of worship and its elements—songs, music, liturgy, readings, sermons, sharing and prayer—is of least importance for congregations, pastors and worship planners.
Longhurst, who teaches at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg and leads workshops and weekend seminars on worship in churches across Canada, told participants at this year’s Mennonite Church Eastern Canada School for Ministers, that of first importance is whether worship is focussed on God. Do the elements help people to know and experience that God is present?
“Worship music,” a euphemism for contemporary choruses, “is a gift to the church as it is focussed on God,” she said during the three-day event at Conrad Grebel University College from Feb. 17 to 19, 2016.
Of second importance is making worship a mostly collective experience, rather than an individual one. Anabaptist worship, she said, is about the group focussing on God together. Worship, according to Longhurst, will have elements focussing on God and others, like sharing and prayers of intercession, which are focussed on the people. As well, there will be times that are communal, like communion, and times that are individual, like silence.
Beginning with a focus on what, for many, is now old hat, she looked at how the sea change of postmodernity and the end of Christendom have created a period of disorientation for all institutions, including the church. The past orientation that worked for worshippers, pastors and planners is gone, replaced by a sense of loss, according to Longhurst.
But instead of seeing this as a loss, she encouraged the pastors present to think about the opportunities of the time between now and the re-orientation that always follows such a shift. The Reformation, including the beginnings of the Anabaptist movement, arose in just such a time in the change from medieval thinking to modern thinking. The Anabaptist focus on knowing the will of God through the revealed Word of God was very much part of the Renaissance and Enlightenment focus on knowledge and rationality.
The morning plenary sessions were accompanied by worship times focussing on coming to drink and being renewed from the work of ministry, while afternoon workshops were offered on topics like worshipping with seniors, an outdoor experience of meeting God in nature, singing as a way of transitioning in worship, multicultural worship and silence in worship.
On Feb. 20, Longhurst led a half-day workshop for lay worship leaders and planners focussing on practical aspects of worship. Under her guidance, Lil Quanz of the Wilmot Mennonite Church Formation and Worship Team found herself evaluating the next morning’s worship in terms of whether a part of worship was from God, to God, toward fellow worshippers or some combination of these. Longhurst encouraged participants to use simple arrows alongside the items in the order of worship so congregants would know where they were coming from and to whom they were directed.