The ’emerging church’: Something old, something new

Friday night’s Festive Eucharist, the main worship service of the assembly, was a mixture of traditional and post-modern. Some familiar words dressed in new clothes, some old stuff with a modern twist. A taste of the “emerging church” for assembly participants.

This corner of the worship space allowed worshippers to say a prayer and reflect during 'Open Space' following the sermon.
This corner of the worship space allowed worshippers to say a prayer and reflect during 'Open Space' following the sermon.

The liturgy was modeled on the style of worship that is done at Church of the Apostles, an Episcopal and Lutheran mission congregation in Seattle. It is a congregation of young adults that is led by the Rev. Karen Ward, the assembly’s keynote speaker on Saturday under the assembly’s theme of “The Year of the Young Adult” and Abbess of Church of the Apostles.

The service began in a way that would have been recognizable to many who were present – to the singing of the traditional hymn “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” and with Bishop Richard Graham entering in a procession wearing a miter and carrying a staff (American Lutheran bishops are not often seen with these two items — unlike other pieces of the service that were chosen from the current age, these two items were instituted in an earlier era).

Despite a nod to the more traditional at the opening of the service, there was a twist that most ELCA congregations would not consider standard: The opening hymn – and all other songs and parts of the liturgy – was accompanied by two musicians on guitar, and only the words (no music) were provided in the order of service. Most of the other hymns and songs were modern, including the melodies for parts of the liturgy. They were soulful on an individual level, yet focused toward God.

Music was abundant in the service in other ways as well, mainly as ambience behind and among spoken prayers – soft, instrumental music playing in the background.

Following a sermon preached by Bishop Graham, the liturgy moved into an eight-minute “open space.” This was described as a time “to contemplate what God is saying to you within the liturgy so far.” Participants were invited to go to the prayer stations set up in the corners of the room to light a candle or to write a prayer of intercession, which were included later in the Prayers of the People. Many took up this invitation, while others stayed in their seats and meditated or took some quiet time.

While not everybody sang or knew the unfamiliar melodies, the service was nevertheless something everybody at the assembly, where there is much consideration of ministry for and with young adults, could try out and experience and consider as an approach for this age group.

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