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Planning and leadership

Who is responsible for planning worship?

The Presbyterian Directory for Worship helps to outline responsibilities for worship planning and policy-making:

In a particular church, the session is to provide for worship and shall encourage the people to participate fully and regularly in it. The session shall make provision for the regular (a) preaching of the Word, (b) celebration of the sacraments, (c) corporate prayer and (d) offering of praise to God in song. The session has authority (e) to oversee and approve all public worship in the life of the particular church with the exception of those responsibilities delegated to the pastor alone; (f) to determine occasions, days, times and places for worship. It is responsible (g) for the space where worship is conducted, including its arrangement and furnishings; (h) for the use of special appointments such as flowers, candles, banners, paraments and other objects of art; (i) for the overall program of music and arts in the church; (j) for those who lead worship through music, drama, dance and other arts (W-1.4004).

The minister as pastor has certain responsibilities which are not subject to the authority of the session. In a particular service of worship the pastor is responsible for (1) the selection of Scripture lessons to be read; (2) the preparation and preaching of the sermon or exposition of the Word; (3) the prayers offered on behalf of the people and those prepared for the use of the people in worship; (4) the music to be sung; (5) the use of drama, dance and other art forms. The pastor may confer with a worship committee in planning particular services of worship (W-1.4005a).

Where there is a choir director or other musical leader, the pastor and that person will confer to ensure that anthems and other musical offerings are appropriate for the particular service. The session should see that these conferences take place appropriately and on a regular basis (W-1.4005b).

The sequence and proportion of the elements of worship are the responsibility of the pastor with the concurrence of the session. The selection of hymnals, song books, service books, Bibles and other materials for use of the congregation in public worship is the responsibility of the session with the concurrence of the pastor and in consultation with musicians and educators available to the session (W-1.4006).

To ensure that these guiding principles are being followed, those responsible on behalf of presbytery for the oversight and review of the ministry of particular worshiping congregations should discuss with those sessions the quality of worship, the standards governing it and the fruit it is bearing in the life of God’s people as they proclaim the gospel and communicate its joy and justice (W-1.4002).

Should Presbyterian worship be traditional, contemporary or blended?

All of the above! Presbyterian worship is traditional in that it is grounded in scripture, established on the practices of the ancient and ecumenical church and guided by the principles of our theological ancestors in the Reformation. Faithful worship must also be contemporary: attentive to the present concerns of the church, community and world, voiced in the common language of the people of God and responsive to the leading of God’s Word and Spirit in this age. Our worship is always blended; in the profound unity and rich diversity of the body of Christ, with myriad languages, customs and styles, we join our voices with the saints of every time and place to praise and glorify God.

From these assumptions, a more meaningful set of questions emerges: Which traditions and to what ends? Is a particular habit or practice rooted in the heart of Christian tradition or steeped in sentimentality? Does it lead us to fresh revelation or deadening repetition? How can we renew an ancient and valuable pattern of worship? Do some of our traditions exclude the outsider, oppress the powerless and obscure the faith? How do we engage our contemporary culture(s) in ways that are faithful and responsive to the gospel? Are the trends of contemporary culture consonant with Christ’s realm? What are we communicating about the church, and what is being lost in translation? When are we following the Spirit, and when are we chasing after worldly success? What blending of ancient and modern is most appropriate for a particular worshiping community? How do we evoke the fullness of Christian tradition and meaning in different cultural contexts? In a particular worshiping community, whose voices are lifted up most often, and whose are often silenced?

Responding to these deeper — and more difficult — questions is an integral part of the “work of the people” in Christian liturgy. It requires dialogue, discipline, discernment and above all prayer. In the frequent refrain of the book of Revelation, we must continue to “listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” today.



Why can’t I get the Book of Common Worship in an electronic format (ebook, PDF, smartphone app, etc.)?

Many of the contents of the Book of Common Worship are restricted under copyright (unlike the Anglican / Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, which is in the public domain). Some of those copyrights are held by Westminster John Knox Press (Presbyterian Publishing Corporation), but most materials are owned by other church publishers. In 1993 when the Book of Common Worship was published, electronic reproduction rights were not part of the copyright negotiations.