Thursday, April 17, 2008

beyond bands and beyond stations

I’ve been thinking about worship this week. I’m feeling stuck in a loop that goes like this:

Most contemporary church worship I experience simply invites me to sing songs. Up the band comes, away they play and down I sit. I’m tired of this limited vista.

Most alt.worship I experience invites me into stations. Out comes the art, in comes the creativity and down I sit. I’m tired of the individuality of it all. Me in my small experience.

At least when you sing, it’s corporate. At least when you sing, it invites you out of your head and into your intuition and emotion.

So here’s the question that’s bugging me: what are ways that we might connect with God that are corporate and non-rational, that are NOT sung worship?

Updated: Here’s the current list … please add more in comments

Saying The Lord’s Prayer
Passing the peace
Sharing communion together

Posted by steve at 12:09 AM


  1. -corporate prayer
    -public reading of lectionary (OT, Psalm, Epistle, Gospel)

    Comment by Geoff Holsclaw — April 18, 2008 @ 2:09 am

  2. I will usually try and mix up the communal and the individual in a corporate worship experience, stations as purely individual experiences I’ll use in spaces where there is an undefined ending, like at Blackstump or something like greenbelt.

    communal things involve saying creeds together (sometimes pre-written, sometimes written during the event), saying blessings together, sharing the eucharist together, sharing a meal together (we did a christmas whinge service while we shared a meal), moving from one station to the next as a group and performing liturgy together, sharing story together, group dialogue, making things together…

    now that i think of it back in the days of TOLLS we rarely did stations as individuals, much of what we did was still communal.

    Comment by darren — April 18, 2008 @ 2:17 am

  3. -Reading together (bible)
    -All praying together at once (extempore and liturgical)

    Perhaps there’s a way for creating stations that invite people to work through corporately. Five minutes at each one for example, everybody moving at the same time but not neccesarily to the same station.

    Comment by Graham Doel — April 18, 2008 @ 2:21 am

  4. One of the things I miss from my Lutheran roots is a corporate confession of sins, followed by a spoken absolution from a leader — I suppose this absolution could also be done corporately somehow — but I also appreciate the rich symbol of the “many” confessing followed by an the “one” pronouncing forgiveness.

    Comment by Keith Seckel — April 18, 2008 @ 3:37 am

  5. Dance! My church tradition isn’t big on dance skills, it’s rather new to us. But dancing in circles to hymns or other worship music. Or, there’s also the more choreographed liturgical dance, which while being non-rational tends toward an observer/performer dichotomy. But I’d say dance.

    Comment by craig — April 18, 2008 @ 4:44 am

  6. OK, can I be devils advocate:

    Bible reading – 1 person at front reading some words. no more corporate than a sermon.

    benediction – someone else’s spiritual experiences colonising my own.

    corporate stations – how on earth do you know when to move on. how on earth do you have more 15 people meaningfully gathered in 1 spot.

    dance – sounds a great way to scare of visitors. very anti-social. besides, most christians are too embarrassed by their bodies to make dance meaningful.

    as I said, being devils advocate, for the sake of the sort of internal debate that’s raging in my head.

    push backs expected, steve

    Comment by steve — April 18, 2008 @ 3:37 pm

  7. Bible Reading: we’ve all read it at the same time on some occasions, in others we’ve read it at the same time in our first language (ended up in a loud noise of different languages), we’ve also enacted it together or created something on it together.

    Benediction: perhaps, but what if the benediction is something that you corporately go around blessing people with, so everyone sends everyone out.

    Corporate Stations, you move on when the liturgy or feel says to, eg1 Stations of the manger service where we walked around the suburb and heard the stories around Jesus’ birth and did things together at each stop, the walk was corporate as was some of the responses. eg2, we held a war service where we, together lamented war and the loss of peace, most of the liturgy was corporate, including the walking around our constructions and prayers blessing them and remembering htem. eg3. you set a process like, hospitality, story, response, confess, send, hospitality and then as a group you follow that together. eg3 listening is a corporate act, we held a grief service where we got to a point in the service that we had to spend more time on together listening to peoples grief, thus we split the service in half and did the healing stuff the next service. in this service we sat in a group and engaged with images, stories, music, drama together around the theme of grief.

    Dance is only antisocial if you’re trying to do it with a special other, we’re a multicultural society, we’ve had sudanese people or korean or islander communities join us and teach us their traditional songs and dance, one of the more social acts we’ve ever done, and in this space both dance and listening and responding was corporate.

    I’ll email you some stuff as examples if i can find them…

    I’d also add that almost anything corporate in an “individual” society will always be scary

    Comment by darren — April 18, 2008 @ 4:24 pm

  8. can we do corporate individually?

    I’d say that many of my “installations” grow over time, an example would be a reflection on God the Father in the Lords Prayer service I ran, the stories and images stay put, they form a part of the space, so corporately people add to it and reflect on each others stories as they interact with it…

    In taking that further I then also keep those images and stories and use them when I next run the space, over time the corporate nature of that collection grows, three services, three communities of stories and images…

    Comment by darren — April 18, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

  9. Singing is only corporate because we do it at the same time, what we mean, sound like, are thinking, are praying and are feeling while we do is is all individual…

    other ideas include making things and destroying things, eg in the grief service we broke plates, in the healing service we made a eucharist table out of the broken plates. in the consumerism lament service we made a cash cow and then destroyed it together as an act of liturgy… we did a lot of making and destroying things…

    Comment by darren — April 18, 2008 @ 4:43 pm

  10. Hi Steve, one of the corporate bible reading practices we’ve develped is putting up a scripture verse(s) on powerpoint and encourage people to indwell the passage and speak out (not necessarily in sequence) the words that strike them. The effect can be quite awesome as we linger over phrases or words and the random combinations of phrases or words can give new depth to the scripture.

    Comment by Andrew — April 18, 2008 @ 4:50 pm

  11. some good discussion going on here.

    I’d add ‘corporate poses’ to the list – eg. kneeling together, cupping hands etc. When the symbolism is explained, I’ve found it to be quite powerful. There’s stacks of ideas out there, Doug Pagitt’s book ‘Bodyprayer’ has some additional good ideas. It connects with experiences of the unchurched too – eg. the idea of kneeling before a king or facing different directions at different stages of a war memorial service.

    Another idea (more of an interplay between corporate and individual) worked really well with a bunch or 4-12 year olds. We talked about praise and worship, we told/acted out the story of David dancing before the Lord, then I put Mat Redman’s ‘Undignified’ on for them to dance to. But they wanted to play statues to it, so we made it statues with a twist…whenever the music stopped, I picked someone to yell out something we can praise God for. It was awesome!!

    Comment by Deborah Taggart — April 18, 2008 @ 9:08 pm

  12. Andrew,

    your comment is sort of what i am getting out. i think we need to think far more carefully about the complexity of the interaction between the “I” and the “we”.

    just reading the Bible, or singing a song, and saying that is corporate is simply a cop out.

    But reading it in ways that mix the “I” and the “we”; as you suggest – that allows sharing, and that sharing is mixed back into the “we” – that’s gold.


    Comment by steve — April 18, 2008 @ 9:12 pm

  13. Steve,

    I’m sure you’re aware of the gaining popularity of the use of the “Jesus Prayer”. An import from the Orthodox church that’s become (i think surprisingly) popular in emerging situations.

    Many explanations of what’s going on during its individual and corporate use refer to encountering God in new ways, finding a sense of centre, of a renewed offering of life and service. I confess i have a few theological as well as practical issues, but then I may be wired in a away that makes it harder work for me to get into this.

    No-one’s mentioned yet some kind of service activity. A group of people could get engaged in cleaning grafitti; painting a wall; tidying up gardens and gathering around a bonfire made with the pruned dead branches; picking up litter; making bread and then serving it to others. Lots of activities that open up the possibility of encoutering God, the world and each other in new ways as conversation flows, insights are gained and new light is shed on familiar scriptures. Flowing out of these activities comes shared memory, which in turn become the living illustrations of the messages we bring and share.

    Grace and peace

    Comment by Jonathan — April 18, 2008 @ 11:18 pm

  14. You say:

    > corporate stations – how on earth do you know when to move on. how on earth do you have more 15 people meaningfully gathered in 1 spot.

    Dunno… a bell? Like the bell in some Eucharists that signifies the holy moment (or in speed dating!)….

    I have no real experience of stations, but I have been trying to bring corporate response into our gathered worship for a long time. They all follow a similar theme but they do work in our context. However, like you I think I’m looking for the next step on this road.

    Things I have done have been.

    – Leaving something with people to take home and do something with.

    – Giving people something as they arrive and developing it’s use throughout the time:
    – Plasticine that is modelled and then placed on a central globe;
    – paper that has things written on and then is placed in a shredder;
    – a picture of an ear that has prayers written on and is attached to a cross;
    – making paper men with prayers on and then joining them all together and hanging round the room.

    If I could incorporate these active ideas into four “stations” having about 20 people at each one and then move them on, that would be ace. That was the kind of thing I was thinking of, when I said – corporate stations.

    Comment by Graham Doel — April 19, 2008 @ 6:45 pm

  15. Does a group chant, or group reading outloud the same thing could as “NOT sung worship” ?

    Comment by David Whyte — April 21, 2008 @ 3:09 pm

  16. How about corporate AND rational (if not non-rational)

    some things I remeber from my mis-spent youth at Cafe Church Glebe:

    * drinking coffee at tables (in the middle of the “service”)

    * “biblical conversation” plenary discussion on some topic
    * small group discussion around tables

    (and yes, even with these two you can quickly get
    “out of your head and into your intuition and emotion.”
    part of the trick is to manage things so that when it happens
    damage is minimised 🙂

    * folk club style “blackboard concert” – people get up & improvise poerty / prose
    * artists discussing their art practice

    There is more than just “I” and “corporate”; there is also intermediate smaller groups. There is also the amount to which, even when you are doing corporate things, everyone
    feels they have to participate.

    If you have 20-30 people in an average-sized church-ish space, issues of “when do people move to the stations” or “when do people have coffee” or whatever — only have to arise if you want them to.

    Comment by James Noble — April 23, 2008 @ 10:03 am

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