Summer Newsletter Excerpt

What Your Worship Does For Me

By Interim Worship Coordinator Alyssa Berkenpas

Why do I go to church each Sunday? It’s a question that has been asked by some friends, especially after the pandemic lockdown when church could be watched online, and not just the church you have attended for the past while but any church, anywhere. I remember tuning into an amazing church service based in New York. The video started by panning around a beautiful sanctuary full of stained-glass windows with beautiful, reflective music played in the background. The way they spoke scripture and sang songs wasn’t flashy or loud but allowed for the viewer to truly feel the presence of God surrounding them, while in their own living room. It was so beautifully done.

So if I can experience the presence of God in my own home, why do I go to church?

John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship says:

Christianity is a first-person plural religion, where communal worship, service, fellowship and learning are indispensable for grounding and forming individual faith.

What he’s saying is that it’s not only important to have a personal relationship with God. You need to have a community surrounding you week to week. It is essential for growing in our faith. And not only should this be seen on a Sunday morning, but it should be reflected in the whole life of the congregation. Our worship services are like a spring, a source from which flows all practices of the Christian life, shaping the life of the church.

If you’ve read my past entries to these newsletters, you may have read a few times that worship is an active dialogue: God speaks, and we respond. God invites, and we participate. We are not merely spectators on a Sunday morning. In worship we give and receive from one another. I like how Joyce Ann Zimmerman, director of the Institute for Liturgical Ministry in Ohio, puts it:

If I am bored, this rubs off; if I am angry, this rubs off; if I am enthusiastic, this rubs off; if I am genuinely concerned for others when I make intercession, this rubs off; if I am committed to being there, this rubs off. All this makes a difference not only by affecting others’ participation ability, but it also affects how we are as the church, the body of Christ.

Each and every person attending the worship service is absolutely essential and should be actively involved in corporate worship, not only for the glory of God, but for the building up of the entire body.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier if being a Christian meant staying comfortable, in your loungewear on the couch each Sunday? Or even if it meant coming to church just to listen and leaving the service as soon as it’s done? But that’s not what we’re called to. It’s all-consuming being in a relationship with God. It requires awareness and deliberate effort on our part. Each week we begin our service with a call to worship; here we are invited to gather and present ourselves before God and to say ‘yes’ to the divine activity we’re about to engage ourselves in. It might mean letting go of our likes and dislikes, our own needs and desires and surrender ourselves to the body of Christ. I find it interesting that the word liturgy means ‘the peoples work.’ What happens on a Sunday morning in corporate worship is not just singing songs and listening to a sermon, but our full and conscious participation in the work that God is doing.

This type of participation leads us from doing to being the body of Christ. When we participate in corporate worship like this with others, it takes us beyond ourselves and the gifts God gives us and opens our eyes to our brothers and sisters worshipping all around us. I had this image once, when I was too weary and weak to sing worship songs in a service one Sunday, that the church surrounding me was lifting their arms on my behalf. Their arms became extensions of my own. When one in our body is hurting, we all feel it. When one is rejoicing, we all feel it. In Ephesians 4, Paul writes of the importance of all the members of God’s temple, working together to accomplish the purpose for which God created the church:

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly… He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts… working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ. (Ephesians 4:4-13, MSG)

We are called on the same road and same direction. We walk the path together, even though our experiences may be very different from each other. Walking this means that we will have times where we carry others, and other times where we are carried. It means that we need each other to be formed, as we become more and more in the pattern of Christ together. The fact that you are sitting in church each Sunday matters, and even more so, it matters that you participate in worship along with your brothers and sisters so we can all be transformed into being the body of Christ.