Across the whole of western Christendom, and especially in evangelical ranks the subject of Christian worship continues to get prime attention. The following series of posts is an effort to produce a helpful framework within which dialogue may continue. The material is divided into five parts. This post will be followed by parts 2 – 5 on the following dates: June 12, June 15, June 17, and June 19.
The pastor stepped to the pulpit dressed in a black Prince Albert Coat, formal striped gray pants, and well shined dress shoes as the congregation sat quietly waiting. In his right hand he held three or four slips of paper. From each he read a brief announcement without comment, laying it aside as he did. Then he said to the congregation, “Now, let us worship God.”
The organist sounded a chord, the congregation stood and in one voice broke forth in song: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen.”
It was 1948 and I was 23 years old. I had traveled from Toronto, Canada, to the Roberts Memorial Church in Washington D.C. to hold a week of services. This was my third day with the church and I had experienced culture shock.
For example, on the previous Friday night, during the early part of the service I sat in a pew at the front of the sanctuary . When the congregation was invited to kneel for prayer, I found kneeling between the pews difficult. Then, I heard a click, click, click, and, glancing around, realized the pews in this beautiful Colonial church were equipped with kneeling benches.
I was taken aback. The church of my childhood and early teens on the prairies of Saskatchewan was a loving congregation but had no place for kneeling benches or even musical instruments, bulletins, printed orders of service, or prayers over the offering. These were signs of formalism and to this church kneeling benches would have been unthinkable. I sat in Roberts Memorial Church keeping my thoughts to
Then came that Sunday morning. The congregation sang The Gloria Patri with conviction. I was suddenly filled with a sense of awe, inwardly stirred, momentarily breathless. Beyond mere emotion, my spirit was awakened in a new way to the majesty, the splendor, the glory of the triune God.
Church life in my childhood was not without emotion. Sometimes it was strong and openly expressed. I felt it often when the saints demonstrated their joy. But it took this more objective and unselfconscious act of worship to raise my sights above myself into the pure radiance of the “God who is high and lifted up.”
This will be followed by part two on Friday June 12.