What is the Directory for Worship?
The Directory for Worship is the middle part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order. This section of our denominational constitution:
- describes the theology underlying our worship;
- establishes standards and norms for worship;
- outlines appropriate forms for worship;
- negotiates the relationship between freedom and form;
- suggests possibilities and invites development; and
- encourages the continuing reform of worship.
A Directory for Worship is not a set of liturgical texts (like an order of worship or prayer book); rather, it provides the principles by which such resources might be ordered and designed. Consider the analogy of a compass and a map. Like a compass, the Directory for Worship gives us our bearings and points to primary things; like a map, denominational worship resources (such as the Book of Common Worship and Book of Occasional Services) provide faithful, reliable paths for the journey.
A Brief History of the Directory for Worship
In the context of disputes over the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, in 1645 the Westminster Assembly produced the Westminster Directory for Public Worship. Among other things, this document sought to address abuses of the Anglican prayer book and to provide another model for ordering the church’s worship. The Church of Scotland ultimately adopted this Directory for Worship and passed it down to Presbyterians in North America.
Presbyterians in the United States used variations on the Westminster Directory for 170 years, making modest revisions from time to time. In the 1960s, first the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA) then the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) wrote and adopted new Directories for Worship to address new realities in a changing church.
In 1989, following the 1983 reunion that formed the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the former UPCUSA and PCUS Directories for Worship were combined and revised—leading to the Directory for Worship currently in use in the PC(USA).
In 2006, the 217th General Assembly of the PC(USA) asked the Office of Theology and Worship to work with the Office of the General Assembly in developing a revision of the Directory for Worship that would be “authentically Reformed,” “culturally appropriate,” “more accessible and helpful,” “shorter and better organized.” 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 220th General Assembly (2014). The General Assembly voted to send the draft revision to the church for a year-long period of study and comment, ending July 1, 2015.
After further revisions based on this feedback and a second consultation with church leaders, the 221st General Assembly (2016) affirmed the new text of the Directory for Worship with minor changes. In the following year, presbyteries voted to approve the revised Directory for Worship (153 affirmative, 9 negative, 8 no vote). As of the 2017–2019 edition of the Book of Order, the revised Directory for Worship now appears in the PC(USA) Constitution and is authoritative for this denomination.
Principles for Revising the Directory for Worship
The revision is not a new Directory for Worship. It seeks to preserve the spirit and strength of precursor documents—a tradition that has shaped Presbyterian worship from 1645 to the present, more than 350 years. At the same time, this is a thorough revision, seeking to speak clearly, authentically, and faithfully to this church in this time and place.
Certain principles shaped the work of revision:
- to uphold the essentials of Reformed faith, life, and worship;
- to respond to changing contexts, changing congregations;
- to allow for more flexibility and diverse cultural expressions;
- to use “we” language (vs. “they”) for the people of God;
- to streamline contents and provide user-friendly organization;
- to simplify language and rewrite in a more accessible style;
- to reduce verbiage and eliminate redundancy; and
- to enhance the Directory’s usefulness as a teaching document.
Resources for Studying the Directory for Worship
Download a study guide for the revision to the PC(USA) Directory for Worship.
Download the full text of the revision (Word files): English | Korean | Spanish
Download a chart explaining the reorganization of the Directory for Worship (PDF file).
Read a 1989 issue of Reformed Liturgy & Music (23.4) describing the previous revision to the Directory for Worship, and providing helpful background on the history and use of this document in the Presbyterian tradition.
See the former Directories for Worship (TIF files) of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (1961) and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (1963).
See the 1645 Westminster Directory for the Publick Worship of God (online at reformed.org).