The Bible offers a picture of
ever-emerging new forms of worship: Cain & Abel, Noahs sacrifice, Abraham &
Isaac, Jacob setting up the stone altar at Bethel, the Aaronic priesthood, the
temple, the rise of synagogue worship during the exile, the early church, and so
on. In each era and cultural context the faithful have sought to worship God in
spirit and truthin ways which are authentic and which enable us to put God at
Modern vs Postmodern Worship
Modern worship was, and is, authentic to
its cultural context. Martin Luthers dictum that, the ear is the only organ
for the Christian is followed. Liturgy is seen as a succession of words; even
in the most catholic worship word tends to subdue image. Hierarchy is
represented in the worship layouts, whether or not pews are present.
Congregations are seen as collections of individual passive consumers, whose
role is to respond and not to initiate. The great commandment is to worship God
with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, modern worship to focus on
either mind or heart (or occasionally on soul or strength).
As we move from a modern to a postmodern
culture these things will need to change. Worship on the edge tries to engage
the whole person in ways which are culturally relevant and authentically
Christian. Ideally, therefore worship on the edge has God and community as its
foci. The approaches and techniques should spring from a truly missionary
impulse; to worship in ways which enable people to honour God in a language
which is their own.
The comfortable structures of Anglican
liturgy, whether elaborated in anglo-catholic fashion or emasculated in
evangelical emotionalism, are omnipresent in the C of E. Worship on the Edge
treats these structures with respect but is not afraid to engage with them in
creative transformations. Postmodern worship both respects the heritage of the
Christian past and is also keen to re-mix liturgical forms in new ways.
Postmodern worship is also more
participative than modern worship; sometimes radically more. Participation is
not li9mited to the service itself. In alt.worship and other emerging churches
the whole community takes responsibility for creating and leading worship. The
gifts of the group are the gifts that will be offered in worship. Other forms of
worship in the edge are not so radically committed as this but there is still an
increasing tendency for groups of people, lay and ordained, to work together on
all the modern liturgies the sermon if firmly ensconced as a core item in the
service. It is seen as the climax of the service of the Word, betraying how
firmly we are still embedded in a reformation mindset. Scripture-based liturgies
place the Bible at the centre, using the whole liturgy to enable the
congregation to experience scripture and to respond in worship to God. (Note the
pattern of Isaiah 6: firstly the prophet experiences the glory of God, then he
responds in confession and, after absolution and challenge, with a commitment to
Some scripture-based liturgies have a
sermon, some have a series of mini-talks which act as commentary on the
action, just as in a documentary film, and others have no preacher or narrator
at all. For more information see
Tarrant 2003 and the associated
In 1997 I experimented with a liturgy for Morning Prayer based on
Alternative worship, often now known as
alt.worship after the fashion of internet newsgroups, is a cultural phenomenon.
Its origins are often traced to the Nine OClock Service (NOS), which started at
St Thomas, Crookes in Sheffield in the mid-eighties (Howard, 1996). Led by Chris
Brain, a group of young people who were dissatisfied with existing forms of
worship and familiar with rave culture started to create services which were
multimedia, used contemporary music forms, and had a wide range of styles from
loud rock to quiet contemplation.
Although the Sheffield experiment ended in
1955 in distress and controversy, many other alt.worship groups flourished. Most
use video, rely heavily on ritual and symbolism, and adopt an experiential
approach to liturgy. Worshippers are not seen as passive consumers of
pre-packaged predictability as is common in mainstream churches but rather as
co-creative participants in an ongoing drama.
Indeed, one characteristic of most
alt.worship groups is that liturgy is collaboratively constructed. This is
because liturgy is seen as an expression of community and of that communitys
response to the love of God. Typically, members will get together to plan the
next act of worship. The theme or topic will be decided or announced (there is
no reason why alt.worship should not follow the lectionary). People will then
volunteer to develop worship for that session, probably because the theme speaks
to them (or the Spirit speaks to them through the theme). This collaborative
aspect of worship is perhaps the most significant different between alt.worship
and traditional worship.
An example of an alt.worship service
Alternative worship often involves prayer
stationsdiscrete areas in the worship space where different activities can be
carried out. This service, run by Grace at St Marys Ealing gives an idea of how
these prayer stations can be used. The service took place in the church hall,
which joins onto the church (Grace often hold their services in the church
building itself). In one room, tables had been set out, café style, and the
service started here, with people relaxing and enjoying coffee etc. The
following description comes from Kimball 2004:219 ff:
On arrival people are welcomed by team
members and invited to wait in the café for the formal beginning of the service.
When enough people are present, one of the team members welcomes them to Grace
and gives a short introduction to the theme of the evening. Another member of
the team then reads the story of the meeting on the Road to Emmaus, Luke
The worshipers are then invited to visit
the stations at their leisure, but not all at once so as to avoid overcrowding.
They are told they will have an hour or so to go through the stations, which
removes deadline pressures from those who wish to think and pray in the
worship room or socialize in the cafe. The feel of the gathering is friendly and
informal throughout, but more quiet and prayerful in the worship space. The team
mixes with the rest of the worshippers at all times except when speaking or
Each station has the relevant Bible verses
as well as the other things described. Many stations have additional material
not recorded in the order of service. Team members are responsible for their own
stations and can elaborate or change as they wish within the theme. Much of the
final form and content is as new to other members of the planning team as it is
to regular participants. On this occasion the stations have a sequence as
Station 1: The hiddenness of God [Luke 24:
This station is about the dark night of
the soul, and how the experience of the absence of God can be legitimate and
not the result of sin. There are magic eye/stereogram books conveying the idea
that God may be present, but we do not see. There is also the story of the
dwarves who cannot see AsIans kingdom (from 17te Last Battle by C.S. Lewis).
Station 2: Downcast [Luke 24: 17-18]
This station contains the bitter herbs
from the Passover meal. Worshipers are invited to taste these and read Psalm 22.
Station 3: Storytelling [Luke 24: 19-27]
The disciples on the road to Emmaus were
consoling one another by telling stories and remembering Christ. Worshipers are
invited to write about a time in their life when they met with God, leaving
their stories to be read by those who follow. The station consists of a polling
booth fortuitously left in the church that week so people can write on their
cards in the booth and pin them up on it.
Station 4: Storytelling [Luke 24: 19-27]
About the power of hearing Gods story,
how this strengthens us in dark times. In a second polling booth is a CD player
with headphones. The music is Jesus Blood Never Failed Me by Gavin Briers.
Station 5: Welcoming the stranger [Luke
Who is the stranger for you today? Have
you ever encountered Christ in or through a stranger? The worshiper is invited
to contemplate 10 photographs of different kinds of people.
Station 6: Breaking bread [Luke 24: 30-31]
A loaf of bread on a table, flanked by
candles and an open art book showing Caravaggios painting of the moment when
Christ breaks the bread and is recognized by the two disciples. The picture is
also projected on the wall behind the station. There is a meditation about
recognizing Christ; there are many copies of this to take away. Worshipers break
and eat pieces of the bread.
Station 7: Burning hearts and telling
others [Luke 24: 32-35]
How are you going to tell others about
Christ? How will you express your faith to others? There is a short piece of
writing to think upon, and worshippers are invited to light candles and pray for
As well as following the road, people
sit or lie in the centre of the room to pray, write, or think. Others are still
in the cafe or have returned there.
The practice of moving from station to
station in alt.worship has led to a revival and reconceptualisation of the
medieval practice of walking a labyrinth as an act of devotion or pilgrimage.
The labyrinth at Chartres cathedral is perhaps the most famous of these.
Postmodern labyrinth typically consists of
a pathway laid out through a space, in a church building or hall. Along the
pathway are a number of stations which invite the pilgrim to participate in
activities or reflections. These may be organised according to a an explicit
theme, or bible reading, or may be implicit, perhaps following some liturgical
sequence such as encounter, response, repentance, praise, intercession, mission.
Labyrinth is like a cross between
alt.worship and the sort of processional liturgy familiar in stations of the
cross. The major difference is that labyrinth is not contextualised as
corporate worship but is generally offered as an event open for one or more
days. People come when they wish and participate as they wish.
Both labyrinth and the kind of alt.worship
illustrated above have one thing in common with traditional worship: they follow
a linear pattern. Liquid worship is nonlinear. In a service of liquid worship
there will be a number of stations (or zones) and people can visit them in any
order they choose. Some will go to one or two at the most, others will flit
from station to station. In liquid worship there is nothing to stop you visiting
the same station two or three times.
liquid service I devised
with a group of others (it
started linear, went liquid at the point of the sermon for about 25 minutes,
then brought everyone back together for the ending), one man remarked how good
it was to be able to choose how to learn and reflect rather than having to sit
passively and follow someone elses thoughts. On the other hand, a woman at the
same service complained that she missed having a proper sermon. Perhaps I
should have done a talk in the vestry as one of the stationsthat would have
given even more choice.
It has been suggested that liquid worship
can help bring about true all-age worship by offering zones which match the
styles appropriate to different age groups within the congregation. It may also
help to develop liturgical awareness in a congregationbecause structure is
imposed by others, worshippers rarely give it a thought. In liquid worship they
have to make choices and therefore may come to a heightened understanding of the
importance of structure in liturgy. Liquid worship can also offer people the
chance to experience styles of worship which they have previously ignored or
shunned, because they know that if it does not suit them they can easily leave
one zone and go to another.
In traditional church people sit in rows
facing the focus of the liturgythe altar or the preacher, depending on your
tradition. They do not connect with one another except in awkward little rituals
such as the peace. Fellowship happens before or after the service, not during
it. Café church attempts to incorporate both horizontal and vertical
elements by seating the congregation at small tables in an informal and relaxed
atmosphere, serving coffee and tea before worship starts. Café church often uses
elements from alternative worship, making use of video, meditation, and symbols.
It may also concentrate on simplicity, trying to do church for people who dont
An outline of a café worship Harvest
service can be found