Friday, May 28, 2010

"A Case for Unprogrammed Worship...By a Programmed Pastoral Friend" ~ Scott Wagoner

This Sunday is fifth Sunday. Every fifth Sunday we (Deep River Friends Meeting) have a semi-programmed worship. We are a pastoral programmed meeting in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Friends United Meeting) so our worship each Sunday follows a fairly programmed order. But, on the fifth Sunday, we break out of that routine and extend our Open Worship time to include at least thirty minutes of our worship. As a pastor and programmed Friend I love this unprogrammed worship on the fifth Sunday. Some may say I love it because it gets me off the hook of having to prepare a sermon and I get "the day off." As attractive at that might be, that's not the real reason I love it. Here are a few reasons:

1) Having extened Open Worship or semi-programmed worship - or unprogrammed worship - in our meeting serves as an important reminder to me that I am not the only one that has a message. I don't know how other pastors might respond but I know how easy it is to think at times that I am the only one that has a message to give on Sunday morning. Our unprogrammed time of worship reminds me that this is not the case.

2) Our unprogrammed worship time reminds me that other folks do have a message and are very capable of bringing powerful vocal ministry to our meeting for worship. Sometimes this might be the sharing of an extended thought, a prophetic word, maybe a testimonial of how God has been at work in their life, or even a song or poem. Whatever it is, it often comes from a very deep and authentic place which has a power of its own. .

3) During the unprogrammed worship time the silence itself can be healing. Like many others I live in a very noisy world. I also live in a world where many voices clamor for my attention. In this world I often don't take the time to be silent, to listen, to clear the clutter in my soul. In the silence I am given the opportunity to rest and to hear the One Voice that truly loves me and cares for me in a way that no one else can. The silence is healing in that I am allowed a space to hear God and hear my life.

4) In unprogrammed worship I am given a gift and opportunity I very rarely get - a time to listen to God and God's calling upon my True Self. Certainly, there are other times I could do this if I made the time...but I don't make the time. Unprogrammed worship invites me back to this experience of truly sitting before the Creator and hearing the Voice of Love speak to me in the the most tender and direct manner. In those moments of silence, I have often heard God speak in ways I have never heard before. Not because God wasnt speaking but because I was not listening.

For folks that are often used to a programmed worship, a time of unprogrammed worship doesnt come easy. Some choose not to come. Some look at their watches and wonder why the time is going so slow. But some, if they are willing to explore the gift that is offered them, discover (or rediscover) the power of God's voice in the Holy quietness. And just maybe they will never be the same.


Anonymous said...

I love the idea, but it definitely takes a certain amount of trust to do this on a Sunday morning. There could be someone in the congregation that's just beem itching to get in the pulpit and would take advantage of this time to get their "five minutes". Also, some are so super-spiritual that they could say something counter to the doctrine or held beliefs of the church. So, to venture into these waters, churches would be wise to bathe these kind of experiences in prayer and trust God to lead the time.

Paul Smith said...

Sacramento Friends Community Church also has "waiting worship" on every fifth Sunday. Many in our small congregation bring the word of the Lord in these sessions.

Last Sunday, several were moved to sing praises. One of our Kenyan members started by singing a familiar hymn in Swahili. Other Kenyans joined in and then many joined in in English.

We have an hour of unprogrammed worship every Sunday evening. Only about six of the church attenders regularly attend this hour of contemplative worship. I do because it seems quite important to me to spend time listening for and to the Lord.

My wife is a devout Christian, but finds waiting worship difficult. When she does participate, she prefers to have some needlework handy. Doing something physical seems to free her mind and heart from the tyranny of thinking about the next thing that needs to be done.

As a teenager, my daughter suffered through a few long sessions of waiting worship with me. She told me that it was worse than her trips to the dentist, where they held her mouth open and didn't let her talk. As an adult, she has learned to center down.

I also attend the quarterly meetings of the Christian Friends Conference in Berkeley, California. This is a group of Christian Friends from both programmed and unprogrammed meetings throughout Northern California. We set aside time for formal study and discussion, but also spend at least two hours in waiting worship. I always leave refreshed and ready.

naturalmom said...

Being comfortable in unprogrammed worship is to some extent simply a matter of practice. I attend an unprogrammed meeting. When I first started attending, I would get very antsy for the second half-hour and would have to restrain myself from looking at my watch every 3 minutes. But soon -- with weekly practice -- I was able to stay in a worshipful place for 40 minutes, then 50, then eventually the full hour and have it be a joyful, refreshing, deep experience. Recently, for various reasons, I've been unable to attend the full hour of worship very often. I've noticed that my worship attention-span has atrophied back to about 45 minutes. I'm hopeful that I'll soon be able to be in worship regularly for the full hour again, and I expect I'll build it back up at that time.

Pat, since Quakers have been practicing waiting worship for centuries, we have basic protocols for sharing vocal ministry. If someone repeatedly gives ego-driven or inappropriate ministry -- which is rare, I think -- elders will visit with them privately to be sure they understand our practice and testimonies. This "eldering" is also a practice with a long history, so while the situation may be awkward and difficult, the process for dealing with it is not uncharted. Much more often than not, God *does* lead and the vocal ministry ranges from mildly thought-provoking to profoundly moving. (Sometimes both, depending on the listener!) I agree with you that a church without a history of this kind of worship would have to tread carefully and prayerfully, but it might well be worth the effort.

Tony said...

I will confess that in my time as a pastoral minister I have given messages when I have not received one because it was what was expected of me (i.e. what I was paid to do). The sad part is that after awhile you can do that without anyone even noticing, in fact most of the same folks will say "good message today" on the way out the door.
If I said I don't have a message today people would think, what do you mean you don't have a message, what have you been doing all week? maybe what I should have said is I have a message, but I don't have THE messahe today.
I remember the days before I was a pastoral minister when those messages came during open worship that sent my heart racing and my body trembling and that no matter how I fought against it I was compelled to stand up and share. I still get that feeling sometimes during the preparation of a message and sometimes during the delivery, but I love seeing it happen to someone else during our open worship time because it's a visual reminder that the risen Christ is among us. I love the idea that God uses my feeble attempts to be faithful to Him as a kind of springboard to propel others into His presence.