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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

creative participation...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Yesterday I was having a really interesting email conversation with Laura from Sanctus 1 (who often blogs 'here') about gathered worship in the emerging church (EC). As with all of these impromptu discussions, it would have been great if we'd been having it in the blogosphere so that others could have joined in! It's not really possible (or necessarily desirable) to rehearse the discussion here (short of simply posting all the emails) but maybe I could pick up on one strand of it, and that's the tension (perceived or otherwise) between creativity and the need for some level of familiarity.

At Dream in Liverpool City we have an open invitation for any member of the community to 'lead' the worship the next time we meet. This is done sometimes by individuals or by people working together, but the strength of it is seen in the variety of 'styles' of worship reflecting the characters of the different people bringing the worship. It also enables an active participation of the members of the community that goes beyond simply joining in with what's been prepared by someone else. One of the most memorable Dream services for me was one that I would never have come up with myself! We entered a room scattered with 'stations' of different coloured beads and were invited by Nicola (who was leading the service) to make a prayer bracelet out of the beads by following a set of instructions that outlined a meaning for each of the different beads. It was a service in which I prayed more than in any other, and which allowed for a great freedom whilst also giving gentle direction. I've still got the bracelet and the explanations sheets and use them in my own prayers from time to time.

Of course, such an invitation carries a level of risk - the risk that the worship one week may not be very good (by one's own always-perfect standards that is!), or that it may be too heavily 'led', or too controversial or too evangelical or too... However, it's a risk that's well worth taking, not least because it ensures that the same individual or group of individuals are not always tasked with leading, but more because it genuinely opens up a whole world of creativity.

The thing that unites these differing expressions as 'Dream' is the core values that we have identified as a community. In this, permission is given for creativity and fresh approaches to gathered worship whilst we uphold the 'familiar' in the values underpinning it all. So, for example, in any service there will always be a focus on engaging with Christ, always be a high level of participation, always be an invitation to explore at a personal level, etc. I guess this approach has prevented Dream from slipping into a comfortable formulaic approach to worship (yes, this is possible with altworship too) whilst maintaining a fair degree of 'I know what Dream is (and is not)' - i.e. the familiar. On being too formulaic, I still remember a seminar discussion at Greenbelt a few years ago, about AltWorship, when someone unwittingly described a service they'’d been to as "“not traditional alternative worship!"” Laughter broke out at this comment but there was a slightly uncomfortable edge to the laughter.

Lord, spare us from creating and getting stuck in 'traditional alternative worship'’!

Surely, the adventure of gathered worship is to be found in the creative energy of a community and in genuine faith exploration in that community, not in discovering a formula that becomes the diktat.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 11:43 AM


at the launch of Jonny, Jenny Brown and Doug Gray's book I asked Doug whether he thought that there was a danger that Alt.Worship could become just a.n.other stylistic genre in the consumerist market place of modern church... strangely he said he come back to my question... and never did!

commented by Anonymous Mark Berry, 3:06 PM  

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