Sunday Mornings at Westover
GUIDE TO THE LITURGY
Westover Hills Presbyterian Church
The liturgy is the way we go about doing worship. It is ordered, purposeful, and rooted in ancient practice. The word “liturgy” comes from a Greek word leitourgia meaning “work of the people,” emphasizing again the role we all have in the service.
This guide will outline the reasons we do what we do and when we do them, with the hope that understanding of this practice will enrich your worship.
Our liturgy is arranged like an unfolding drama of who we are, played out in the several segments outlined below, each with its own emphasis. Each part of the service is meant to engage our senses and participation, with the intention of bringing us into the presence of God.
While some portions of the service may vary somewhat depending upon the Church season*, worship generally unfolds in the manner described below, each portion titled as it is in the weekly worship bulletin.
We Gather At God’s Invitation.
The first portion of the service prepares us for worship. Just as getting prepared for the day or for a meal involves a routine sequence of actions, the focus here is on helping us to settle down and enter a state of quiet receptiveness.
When we gather for worship, even if we arrive individually, we become part of the larger group, for worship is a uniquely communal experience. And as such, like any group that gathers, we begin with sharing news and announcements.
The liturgy begins with:
The Prelude: A musical guide to centering ourselves, a time for silent prayer and reflection.
Call to Worship: A brief responsive reading that reminds us of our shared hope for our time of worship. (The liturgist begins the reading and the congregation responds with words in bold print.)
Invocation: This opening prayer is a plea for God to inspire us and an acknowledgement of our shared recognition that God is present in our worship.
Hymn for Gathering: Singing is a key element of our liturgy, involving the congregation in an active way. We stand to sing as we are comfortably able. The Hymn for Gathering sets the tone for worship, bringing us together into the awareness of the presence of God.
Call to Confession and Prayer to a Forgiving God: An opportunity silently and jointly to confess what gets in the way of worship. Our lives are filled with obstacles that get in the way of our awareness of God’s presence. Sin is the name we give to whatever we allow to get between us and God. Here is where we name some of these sins.
We Remember God’s Steadfast Love: A powerful reassurance, offered in every service, that we are released from what weighs us down, that we can rest in God. The minister pours water into the Baptismal Font* as a reminder of God’s grace, as the words of reassurance are offered by the liturgist. The congregation responds with an exuberant singing of the Gloria and, having been renewed through confession and assurance of forgiveness, takes the opportunity to turn to someone nearby to extend the “right hand of fellowship” (Galatians 2:9) as we wish one another the Peace of Christ.
We Proclaim and Respond to God’s Word
Having addressed our receptiveness to God’s presence, we enter the part of the liturgy devoted to the presentation of God’s Word. This is done through sharing a lesson from scripture typically taken from the lectionary*, a meditation or reflection upon the passage, and by means of an anthem.
The hymn in this part of the service is selected to emphasize the Word to be shared. Note how the words and feel of the anthem and hymn in this portion of worship complement the scripture and meditation.
Pastoral Prayer: This prayer of intercession is offered on behalf of the congregation, the community, and world. It is a response to God’s Word. Unlike many Presbyterian churches, our pews have kneelers and those who wish to use them often do so for this prayer. At its conclusion, the congregation joins together in voicing The Lord’s Prayer.
Affirmation of Faith: The congregation stands to recite what we believe. This affirmation is a creed; an ancient or more recently constructed statement agreed upon by the larger church community as a shared declaration of belief.
We Offer Our Gifts
The climactic moment of the liturgy is in this section of the service, when the congregation responds in communal fashion to God’s presence in worship.
Offering: To signify our response to God’s love for us, we offer ourselves and the things that are important to us back to God, for use in extending God’s love through the world. Money is an example of something of value we offer to further Christ’s mission through the work of the church. Once the offering is collected, it is brought forward while the congregation sings the Doxology, a brief and ancient song of praise, the words to which are in your order of worship.
On Sundays when Communion* is celebrated, the bread and juice are also brought to the front. Communion is an occasion to remember Jesus’ final Passover feast before his crucifixion. The liturgy here follows an ancient pattern of dialogue between the pastor and congregation, in which, in prayer, hymn, and responsive reading, we remember what God has done and continues to do for us. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is an “open communion” tradition; everyone who has gathered for worship with us is invited to participate. The way we go about it is described in more detail below.
We Go in God’s Name
What happens in worship is just the beginning. Worship prepares us, strengthens us to go out and be the presence of Christ in the world. The encouragement to do this is reflected in the closing Hymn, as well as in the following:
Invitation to Discipleship and Charge: A final call or an instruction from the minister to enlist us to be about this good work.
Benediction: The minister’s hands are raised in prayer over the congregation, simulating a Biblical practice called the laying on of hands. It is a symbol of God’s blessing and healing. The laying on of hands is a practice used in ordination and baptism and in services of healing.
Postlude: As we entered, so we exit with music. The music that draws us into God’s presence inspires us as we go out into the world.
Description of Terms*
- Church season: The liturgy is tied to a larger story that unfolds over a year. It begins in November with Advent (the anticipation of Christ’s arrival in the world). A clue to what season the Church is in can be found in the Paraments, which are liturgical decorations of the sanctuary – cloths on the pulpit or banners which carry the color of the season: purple for Advent and Lent, white for Christmas and Easter, red for Pentecost, and green for the Ordinary time of the church).
- Lectionary: Following in the Jewish tradition, the Christian church has a list of scripture readings for daily prayer and services. We use the New Revised Common Lectionary, a three-year cycle of passages from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Gospels, and the Epistles.
- Baptismal font: This is the pedestal and basin at the front of the sanctuary. Baptism is a sacrament in the Presbyterian church, a communal act of worship in which we affirm God’s claim on us as children of God. Water is a powerful image in the church, signifying the life-giving grace of God, the cleansing of sin.
- Communion: Our congregation participates in communion by intinction, meaning that church leaders, or elders, stand at the front with bread and juice and the congregation comes forward, takes a pinch of bread, dips it into the cup and eats it. They then return to their seats. Sometimes participants dip their fingers into the baptismal font and then bring drops of water to their foreheads, as a reminder of their baptism.