Faithful Mission: The Directory for Worship
a bimonthly online column by linda valentine
At church camp and on retreats, I have felt God’s presence while worshiping under the trees or celebrating Communion on the lakeshore. With the new worshiping communities movement, I have sensed the Holy Spirit in worship in coffee shops, movie theaters, and school gymnasiums. All of which brings me to an important question: What makes Presbyterian worship authentically Presbyterian?
This question is even more critical as Christ’s church continues to evolve. Fortunately, our denomination has an answer to that and other questions about Presbyterian worship: the Directory for Worship, the middle section of the Book of Order, Part II of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). An important and timely revision of that document is under way.
The process of revising the directory started when the 217th General Assembly (2006) directed the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s office of Theology and Worship and the Office of the General Assembly to update the directory to be more responsive to changing contexts and diverse cultural expressions, to meet the needs of new worshiping communities, and to allow congregations greater flexibility in ordering and designing worship while continuing to uphold the essentials of Reformed faith, life, and worship. A staff team worked in consultation with a diverse group of pastors, professors, and mid council leaders to develop a draft to send to the 221st General Assembly (2014). The General Assembly voted to send the draft revision to the church for a year of study and comment.
One member of the consultation was Steve Yamaguchi, dean of students at Fuller Theological Seminary, who was then serving as executive presbyter of Los Ranchos Presbytery. In addition to being a gifted mid council leader, teacher, administrator, and pastor, Steve is also a talented guitar player who plays with the Orange Praise Ensemble at New Hope Presbyterian Church in Orange, California. That particular experience of church helped him to reflect practically on the revision of the Directory for Worship.
“New Hope was one of the new church developments that was launched when I was EP in Los Ranchos,” Steve says. “Although it started as an African American congregation, it has become in many ways a more multicultural church, but the music, the forms of worship, and the preaching are still very much expressions of the African American church. Because the music is extremely energetic and the flow of the service is participatory, it would be easy for some people to say—if they’ve been Presbyterians in more staid congregations—‘That’s not Presbyterian.’ But it is very Presbyterian.”
A new tool Steve has to help explain this is the “lovely logic” and theological clarity of the proposed reorganization of the Directory for Worship. He uses this new version less as an encyclopedia for looking up information and more as a poetic manifesto and useful teaching outline.
“It’s one flowing and coherent document that expresses a clear understanding of Reformed worship,” he says. “It’s a statement of what the essentials are of Presbyterian worship, which gives us the freedom to be very creative in our artistic, musical, and cultural expressions if we’re building on a skeleton that has integrity. All of the good stuff that we already had—the historical, theological, and liturgical bones of Reformed worship—has been reorganized in a way that helps the directory to become more useful to practitioners who are leading in and planning worship. I love that it is grounded first in God’s action in Jesus Christ and then in our response of gratitude.”
Steve says that the revised directory will be just as freeing for others in their unique contexts and worshiping communities. “People get this notion of what is authentically Presbyterian based on what they have experienced, like serving Communion with trays and tiny cups,” he says. “The Directory for Worship makes it very clear that we’re not bound to a singular, particular aesthetic expression. The directory invites us to a breadth of possibilities guided by our Reformed theology.”
“Whether it’s a 1001 project that’s trying to figure out how to do worship in a storefront or a pub or a community center or a housing project—or in other languages and cultures—what the Directory for Worship does,” Steve says, “is give people the resources to take a deeper look at what is the essence of Presbyterian worship and to remember our rich inheritance and freedom in Presbyterian worship, rather than simply default to the limits of our personal experience.”
January - Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations
March - The Confession of Belhar
May - On becoming a multicultural church
July - Go Disciple Live
September - Educate a Child, Transform the World
November - Frontera de Cristo
November - Haiti
I have read and understand the the vision and as Presbyterian,I want to be part of that programme.Am an administrator and and deacon ordained seven years now.my pastor is Rev.Steven ssekatogo, Iganga Presbyterian church -Uganda.as an administrator, i have found out that education has been for long a big challenge in our churches basically rural based churches.so i request to work together and see how we can alleviate poverty reduce illiteracy levels.I will be grateful to hear from you.yours in service Deacon Bogere paul
Joining because of the Multicultural conversation.
James and New Covenant are most definitely about ushering in the reign of God. May their tribe increase!
When I was serving churches, before I retired, we often used the Belhar Confession as part of our worship service on Sunday. Members of the church often requested it.