Awkward... New agey... Difficult to engage with... Pointless... Just a last resort when the band members are all on holiday...
These are all things which you may have thought about creative worship. If you are used solely to singing to God during a church gathering, any other expressions of worship can feel a bit odd. But let’s suppose offering our whole bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, means more than just our vocal chords and perhaps a raised hand or two. So, what does that mean for our life of worship together in the family of OCC?
At KBCTC this year, we’ve been learning how to connect with God in ways many of us had never tried before. Singing to God can be so uplifting, but college has taught us that we can worship with our minds and hearts in many other, equally uplifting ways as well. Hayley offers us an insight into some of her experiences at college this past year.
Before beginning college, my experience of worship was mostly sung worship. The idea of creative worship actually made me feel slightly uncomfortable as I wasn’t sure I was creative enough to participate, and I found extended periods of reflection difficult.
However, KBCTC gave me the opportunity to be involved in facilitating chapel each week and I was introduced to creative worship in a big way! Chapel is held each week and is a small service with the common threads of prayer, worship and communion. As a chapel team we were encouraged to think about different ways in which we could engage our college community in worship, often based around a theme. For example, during a week of lectures in which we considered the issue of identity, one of the most powerful things we did was to encourage people to ‘wear’ their true identity in God, written on a strip of material worn as a scarf. We have found different ways of engaging people in prayer, too, such as marking out a European map on the floor with masking tape and getting people to pray over different countries on the map, even in different languages.
I have learnt that these activities are not only fun but they are often fantastic ways of getting people to see something new about God. I have found that when I engage in all these different activities I am led to a place of worship that I may not have found otherwise. Over the year, I have realised that using different textures, lighting, media and music allows people to worship in different ways. It allows some people to engage more fully in worship and encourages people to bring gifts and ideas that we may never have benefitted from otherwise.
Something which Hayley picks up on here is something of the drama we can encounter when worshipping God. I don’t just mean little skits on stage before the preach begins (as hilarious as these can be!), but a way to ‘act out’ the profound and awe-inspiring drama of God’s story on earth. The Bible is full of drama — from the sublime (the parting of the Red Sea, the fourth figure in the fiery furnace, the Spirit’s audible and visible presence amongst the disciples at Pentecost) to the ridiculous (a talking donkey, an entire city floored by the sounding of trumpets, an imagined camel squeezing through the eye of a needle). God invites us into this drama, to enter into and to revel in the artistry of his marvellous works.
Jesus talked about the kingdom of heaven being “at hand” (Matthew 4:17) — by this I believe he meant that he was bringing heaven to earth, not taking earth up to heaven. So, let’s embrace the tangible reality which is the gift of this life on earth. By using symbolic actions and objects, we can breathe fresh life into our connections with God. Symbols are all over the Bible — the prophets used them to communicate to the people of Israel, Jesus used them countless times in his parables, and two thousand years worth of worshipping communities have found great richness in sacramental worship.
Communion is a familiar example for us. This simple image of bread and wine can mean many things to us. It is the final meal Jesus shared with his disciples before his death; it brings to mind the image of the people of God sharing Christ’s body together and so being his body; it is a striking symbol of the broken body and shed blood of our saviour, who gave his life so that we could live fully. What other symbols could we bring into our worshipping lives? What simple props and images could help us draw near to the God who came to earth to reveal himself to us in tangible, bodily form?