Like the church, Presbyterian worship is always being reformed

Gambrell gives overview of resources at Big Tent workshop

by Eva Stimson | Presbyterian News Service

David Gambrell presents the workshop titled ‘Presbyterian Worship: Always Being Reformed’ at Big Tent 2017. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

ST. LOUIS – This year Presbyterians join Christians around the world in celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. But the Reformation is not over.

It’s important to remember that the church — and its worship — are continuing to be reformed, said David Gambrell, associate for worship for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and co-author of the revised Book of Common Worship.

“God’s Word and Spirit are continuing to renew our worship,” said Gambrell, who led a workshop titled “Presbyterian Worship: Always Being Reformed” at Big Tent 2017.

Gambrell gave an overview of three important worship resources that are signs of ongoing renewal and reform:

  • Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
  • The PC(USA) Directory for Worship
  • The Book of Common Worship

Glory to God was completed in 2013 after a five-year collaborative process and contains hymns from every century of Christian history. The book also includes hymns from every continent in more than 25 languages. It offers what Gambrell called a “bigger tent” in terms of piety and musical genres and restores some beloved older hymns that were left out of the most recent previous hymnals.

“My conviction is that a broader range of congregational song helps the church proclaim and celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ from generation to generation and across cultural contexts,” Gambrell said.

The organization of Glory to God reflects the Reformed theological vision of God’s action and our response, or grace and gratitude, he said.

Among the most popular features of the hymnal, Gambrell said, are the informational notes at the bottom of the pages, summarizing the history and distinctive features of each hymn.

Gambrell asked the several dozen workshop participants, “How many of your churches are using the new hymnal?” A majority raised their hands.

The PC(USA) Directory for Worship is the result of an 11-year process of revising the 1989 directory. It was approved by the General Assembly in 2016 and by the presbyteries (146 to 9 at last count).

The revised directory uses simpler words, shorter sentences, and “we” language instead of “they” language when describing how congregations worship God. “It’s more of a ground-up approach than top-down,” Gambrell said.

The revision seeks to make the document an educational tool, he added. “We hope this revised directory will be more useful for teaching.” For example, as one workshop participant suggested, pastors could create a “teaching bulletin,” using excerpts from the Directory for Worship to explain various parts of the worship service.

The Book of Common Worship is nearing the end of a five-year revision process and will be available by the 2018 General Assembly, Gambrell said. It will be available in an online edition, which will be searchable.

Brief commentary before each section of the book will help users “understand what we’re doing and why,” he added. The book reflects recent movements in the church such as sacramental renewal and new worshiping communities.

Other major features include a new section on God’s mission in the world, an inclusive marriage service, and a “liturgical lexicon” in English, Korean, and Spanish (with pictures).

Gambrell described the Directory for Worship as being like a compass: “It gives us our bearings, points to primary things, and reorients us when we’re lost.

“A prayer book or service book like the Book of Common Worship is like a map,” he continued. “It reveals the big picture, provides reliable paths, and offers contours and details. We need to use both together.”


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