does the church put so much emphasis on the formal rites
are many ways to worship God—in personal prayer, in an awe-struck
silence before the grandeur of God, in tears that express
feelings too deep for words or in laughter that wells up unbidden
the very ecstasy of being alive. But in addition to all of
these, the worship of God needs to be continually and intentionally
expressed and held up in honor and in awe, lest it become
assumed or taken for granted. And this, I believe, is the role
purpose of the formal rites of worship in the church.
worship takes us out of the limitations of our selves. It gives
us a way of remembering Gods unconditional love for us.
(Remembering = re-membering: embodying, making palpable and
real to us over and over again.) When we pray only alone, I
think we risk becoming too narrow in our vision of God, seeing
God only from the limits of our own perceptions. Formal worship
can take us so much further, both in our knowledge of God and
in our praise of God. Formal worship teaches us with the wisdom
of the ages. It reminds us of truths that are bigger than we
are, truths that we risk forgetting if left to our own devices.
Formal worship brings us into community where people can support
each other and where we can encourage each other to live in
the ways God calls us to live.
does God care what form our worship takes? Who am I to answer
that question? What I can say, however, is that I think it
is important that we care what form our worship takes. I think
it is important that in our worship we offer to God the finest
expression of honor, gratitude and praise we have the means
to offer, important that our worship lifts us up out of the
ordinary occupations of our lives and into an awareness of
the presence of God, important that worship provides for us
that unique time and place where we can both recognize and
acknowledge that we are standing on holy ground because we
have intentionally come together with others to be in the presence
of God. Through the act of formal worship, we are continually
shaped and formed as a people, even as we offer to God the
honor and praise of our hearts and our lives.
Rev. Margaret B. Gunness
are all creatures of habit; everyone has some sort of routine
they follow. The Church, being a human institution, is no different.
I am comfortable at my church, and the habits I've adopted
from my worship there have helped me on my spiritual journey.
Regularly worshipping in the church community is good for me.
I sometimes feel bombarded by the many negative influences
I experience during the course of a week. The TV, radio, billboards,
and sometimes people make me feel separated from God. The routine
of the Church provides a welcome relief.
the other hand, I have been turned off by the formality and
rigidity of some churches I've visited. I strongly believe
that God does not care where or how we worship Him, so long
as we do actually worship Him. I see our church and its routines
as very powerful spiritual tools. I view prayer, meditation,
scripture, fellowship, and this Web site as important tools
as well. The important thing is that I do worship, not the
form it takes.
posed a question in answer, "What would you do if there
were no formal rites of worship?" Self-discipline would
be critical. In my very human condition, formal worship gives
me structure. Without it my spiritual awareness lags.
think that the church puts so much emphasis on the formal rites
of worship because people look to God as something solid in
their often-confusing lives. The formal rites of worship are
constant and never changing, so they mirror God's role in our
don't believe that God really cares what form our worship takes.
The Bible says, "whenever two of three are gathered in
my name," leading me to think that worship can happen
everywhere at all times. For instance, when I went to South
Dakota and stayed on an Indian reservation. The church there
only met once a month and the services were very laid-back
and informal. But God was more present there than I have ever
known Him to be.
rites of worship embody longstanding myths that arm us with
the means to address our profound spiritual needs. Because
rites of the church are means and not ends, God does not care
very much what form they take. To absolutize any particular
form is to fall into idolatry.
formal rites of worship are for us, the worshipers. They are
crafted by us humans for the benefit of us humans. Our faith
teaches that God is delighted whenever anyone draws near to
Him in sincerity (" . . . cleanse the thoughts of our
hearts... that we may perfectly love You and worthily magnify
Your holy Name."). When our hearts are made tender and
we open ourselves to God, God is pleased, whether this happens
in a movie theater or in the woods or at dinner with friends
or when we are alone with our own pain and frustration. Yet
whenever I share with others these exalted frames of mind,
they seem more blessed if they are communicated in a form others
find equally meaningful: a handshake at the Peace; a reverent
genuflection before the Communion; the voices of a hundred
people singing the same dear old hymn; the kiss given by a
priest to the stole as it is donned. These things are all reminders
that we are not on this journey alone; that, for better or
worse, we share our relationship to God with all God's children.