The Heart of Worship
November 6, 2019
This week, Rev. Ann Willet shares some additional thoughts on worship. Today, she asks: do we treat worship as an exercise led by the head or the heart?
Since the birth of the Church, Christians have embraced styles of worship that fit their cultural and social context. Some Christians experience God’s presence most fully in the reverence and majesty of a gothic cathedral. Others express their gratitude to God with dancing and lively songs of praise around a campfire. Some are drawn to the anonymity of a large worship center, others to the intimacy of a small chapel. What a blessing that Christendom offers expressions of worship that correspond with such a wide variety of theological, cultural, and social expressions. There’s something for everyone!
I was drawn to the United Methodist Church as a young adult largely because our form of worship invited me to engage my thinking. I loved the logic and pattern of our worship order. I resonated with the intellectual challenge of a cerebral sermon. So for several years as a new United Methodist, I imagined that worship was largely an intellectual exercise. I analyzed and absorbed the words of The Apostles’ Creed. I embraced our theology, articulated in the hymnody of the Wesley brothers. I thought my way through every sermon, striving for some scholarly take-away as I left the sanctuary each Sunday. Surely this approach was related to my personality, my tendencies toward analysis and critical thinking, which had served me well in life. Not yet aware of my call to ministry, I was soaking up every bit of my new denomination, and in some ways I was analyzing it to death!
Fast forward to my days as a seminarian, learning in the classroom and at the feet of seasoned clergy. It was in a worship planning meeting during my Perkins internship that my mentor said, “Ann, worship is essentially a work of the heart, not an intellectual exercise. We certainly want to speak words that challenge our congregation’s minds, but we are even more attentive to how we engage the tender feelings toward God that are within each of us.”
- The joyful chatter of friends, talking over the organ prelude as we enter the sanctuary.
- The soaring notes of the opening hymn and the movement of the Chancel Choir toward the dais.
- The recurring chorus of a unison Lord’s Prayer, spoken in the voices of young and old, friends and strangers.
- The familiar words that Andy speaks each week to invite us into the experience of worship: “You are loved, you are enough, your presence matters.”
- Kneeling at the altar rail to receive the bread of life and the cup of salvation.
These are not things we simply think about. In fact, if we analyze them too much , we take away their power to transform us. And worship is an encounter with God intended for our transformation.
Analysis serves us well in life, whether we are making a grocery list or considering a new job. But worship is not just for thinking… it is also for feeling. As you enter the sanctuary this week, please bring your open mind for understanding, for remembering, for planning. And bring your open heart as well – for the overwhelming and transforming feeling of being a child of God, offering yourself in adoration and praise, opening yourself to the healing presence of our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.