We Episcopalians have long prided ourselves on our beautiful worship. Many people have come to the Episcopal Church for that very reason. Few people would argue for any other facet of our common life to be as central to us as our worship.
However, what about mission? In the last couple of decades, the Church as a whole and the Episcopal Church, in particular, has been refocusing on mission. However, the Episcopal Church in its primarily North American context recognizes that the mission field is no longer somewhere “out there” or overseas but rather is right in our very neighborhoods. Many people including theologians, bishops, parish priests, and others have been calling attention to the need for the Episcopal Church to be “missional” in its very nature. However, does this mean we lose our focus on worship? Can we be both “worshipful” and “missional”?
The Rev. Dr. Ruth A. Meyers, Dean of Academic Affairs and Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, answers this question with a resounding, “Yes!” Her newest book Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission: Gathering as God’s People, Going Out in God’s Name provides a model for how the church can integrate worship and mission successfully. Meyers is quick to point out that missional worship is not about developing a list of techniques to use. Rather, it is about the attitude that we hold both toward worship and mission.
In chapter one, Meyers provides us with two models to imagine missional worship. In the first model, she uses a strip of paper as a metaphor for the relationship between worship and mission. She asks the reader to take a strip of paper and write on one side of it “mission” and on the other side of it “public worship.” By connecting the strip of paper in different ways, Meyers illustrates different examples of the relationship between mission and public worship such as “worship and mission as separate spheres,” “worship as evangelism,” and “worship as a call to mission.” Finally, Meyers asks the reader to twist the strip of paper once and then attach the ends to create a Mobius strip. A Mobius strip has no inside or outside but continues infinitely. Thus, Meyers exemplifies “worship as mission as worship.” The two interconnect with each other, flowing one from the other to the other.
The second model that Meyers provides is a spinning top. In this model, she asks the reader to imagine a top. The core of the top is worship, and the outer edges of the top include other ministries such as prayer and contemplation, reconciliation, inculturation, peace and justice work, etc. In this model, worship is the core toward which the top spins and then from which the top spins. Thus, worship draws people into the heart of God’s mission and then sends them out into the world to carry out that mission. Each of these models powerfully illustrates the interconnectedness of worship and mission.
In chapters two through seven, Meyers steps through the basic structure of the liturgy, using the Eucharist as a main template. For the sake of brevity, I will only highlight some of the special gems from chapters two through seven. However, I encourage the reader to check out these chapters for many additional insights into missional worship.
Chapter two begins by discussing the gathering of the assembly. She raises the question, “Who gathers?”, recognizing the diversity of people who assemble for Christian worship. In chapter three, Meyers addresses the importance of Scripture in the life of the church as the narrative from which the church gains life. However, today we ask the question, “Who has the authority to interpret Scripture in our communities?” She concludes this chapter by suggesting, “In missional communities, authority for interpreting the Word is thus shared rather than limited to a credentialed leader [p. 101].” Chapter four discusses the church’s role as an intercessor for the needs of the world. Meyers reminds the reader of the priestly role that all the baptized play in offering up intercession to God. Chapter five speaks about reconciliation. Different Christian communities understand confession and reconciliation differently. Nonetheless, Meyers emphasizes that the missional community is also a reconciling community. In chapter six, Meyers describes the importance of the interrelationship of communion with mission. She describes ways in which Christian communities have employed Eucharistic hospitality to persons on the fringes of society. Also, she does not back down from the controversial subject of communion without baptism (also known as open table) but addresses this subject in a balanced manner. Then, of course, the final action of the liturgy is sending the assembly into the world. In this chapter, she speaks of the practice of sharing communion with those persons unable to attend the service due to infirmity. She also speaks of the importance of welcoming visitors who have joined the assembly for the first time.
In the final chapter of her book, Meyers provides some helpful tools for how a community can prepare missional worship. Again, she does not simply list a sampling of techniques irrespective of the context because missional worship must always respect the context of the local community. Instead, she provides a helpful matrix that can lead a worship team through the exercise of intentionally connecting worship and mission.
Ruth Meyers’ Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission is an excellent resource for those persons seeking to understand better the connection between worship and mission in the Church. These two areas of ministry need not be separate spheres with little interaction but rather intertwined like the Mobius strip. I would highly recommend this book for any community seeking to explore further missional worship.
The Rev. Shawn Strout is Assistant Priest at St. Paul’s Parish, K Street, in Washington, DC. A 2012 graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary, Fr. Strout is currently a Ph.D. student at The Catholic University of America in the area of Liturgical Studies/Sacramental Theology.