A Service of Worship for my People and Place

Every church and every tradition has an order of worship, a liturgy, to use the old formal word. The word liturgy simply means the “service of worship.” It is a good word because it uniquely belongs in the sacred setting.

The service of worship that we follow is doing something to us, whether we know it or not. It is forming our hearts, shaping what we love. It is leading us from being a loosely connected people who, by heroic efforts have made it to church this Sunday, to being the people of God, together, with hearts, minds and hands dedicated to His glory between Sundays.

Preparation

The worship service begins with preparation of our hearts for the act of worship.

Song of praise. The worship service opens with a corporate song of praise that engages us in the theme of the service, which is set by the passage to be preached.

Call to worship. The call to worship is the divine invitation to leave the cares of the world and join the angels of heaven in the worship of the one true God. It involves five parts for us.

  • The invitation. “This hour is not like every other hour. In this hour, we gather as the people of God, according to the command of God in order to worship God.”
  • The exhortation or charge. The exhortation of the passage at hand is directly introduced so as to engage the hearts of the congregation.
  • (The confession). On those days that the exhortation finds us in present sin, we take time for personal and corporate confession. A biblical assurance of pardon may be offered.
  • The Scriptural call. A passage of Scripture with a corresponding theme, often a psalm, issues the formal call to engage our hearts in worship. We often use the lectionary Psalm of the day.
  • The pastoral prayer. The pastoral prayer addresses the God spoken to in a Psalm, confesses sin, asks for God to work the aim of the Word in our hearts this day. This is asked in the name of Jesus.

Adoration

Prepared hearts turn to direct acts of worship of the Triune God. We take advantage of wisely designed forms, both ancient and modern, which will support God’s aims in our hearts as a congregation.

Songs of adoration. Songs of corporate worship, both old and new, which are biblically accurate, historically valuable and corporately singable, allow us to worship God in congregational unity.

(Testimony). Testimonies are sometimes engaged to give praise to God for the good that He is doing in our congregation and to celebrate what we want to see more of in maturing believers.

(Reading). Corporate readings from the Heidelberg Catechism, Apostle’s Creed, book of Common Prayer or Book of Common Worship, serve to focus our minds and hearts and to unite them with the church across history.

Prayer. A prayer is offered in praise of this God, on behalf of the needs of our congregation and in preparation for the offering that follows.

Offering. We receive an offering from the congregation as an act of gratitude for what God has provided to our families and so that more good can be accomplished with our pooled monies that otherwise might. Offerings are free will for attenders and expected for church members.

Exhortation

Having prepared our hearts and offered praise to our God, we are ready to hear the Word of God preached to us and to receive it as the Word of God.

Scripture Reading. The day’s Scripture passage is read by a congregant with the following introduction. “Today’s Scripture reading comes from the book of ___, chapter ___, beginning in verse ___.”

Sermon. A expositional sermon, prepared to bring the Word of God to bear on the lives of this local congregation is preached.

(Communion). Communion, or The Lord’s Supper, follows the hearing of the Word on two Sunday’s per month. Our traditional, Free Church, form is to pass plates to one another signifying our belief in the priesthood of all believers. We use words of institution taken from the book of Common Prayer, “The gifts of God for the people of God.” We, then, connect the passage preached with the celebration of the finished work of Christ, believing that every passage leads to the cross of Christ.

Dedication

The service closes and sends us into our daily lives with a dedication to believe what we have heard from the Word of God and obey it at home, at work and in our neighborhoods.

Songs of dedication. These songs pick up the tone of the sermon. If the sermon passage leaves us contemplative or enthusiastic or hopeful, these songs correspond. This leads us to sing our commitment back to God.

Charge. The closing charge serves as a summary reminder of the truth about God we have heard, what that makes us as the people of God in this place and obligation we are now under in having worshipped.

Benediction. The pastor then offers a benediction or traditional blessing from the Word of God. His hands are raised and the congregation reaches theirs out in a receptive posture. The benediction ends with “amen and amen,” the second is joined by the congregation in full voice.

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You are the bread

{Finding a new perspective on my own place, my own people, in my own words}.

“You are the bread and the wine of your place. Do you hear the biblical hints in that statement? That is, God has put the place in you and you in the place. The place meets God through you and God meets the place through you in the local church”

I woke up early this moving to arrange a divine encounter between a few of my very best friends: flour, water and salt.

Flour travels for our weekly meetings in a 50 pound sack that usually lives in the cooler part of our home for about 6 months at a time. Wheat doesn’t well in Santa Margarita. It would grow, in fact a human friend just down the road grew, threshed and ground his own wheat for bread just a few years ago. They say it would take about 1/4 acre of wheat to feed one family for one year. We don’t have enough land and we probably eat more bread than your average family. That’s because we enjoy life more than your average family. Bread is life, at least it makes life worth living. 

50 pounds, divided evenly into two kitchen storage containers, enters our meetings in 900 increments. 900 bread flour join 100 wheat four for an even kilo. Somehow this makes the whole thing work in an easy and memorable way. So, flour travels, arrives, waits, and on joins the party every Friday morning.

Salt arrives in much smaller quantities to play its large role in a minor way. Sea salt does make a difference, though I could not tell you why. The simple, concentrated flavor that gives rise to so much in bread – just try to leave it out and see what happens. 20 grams of salt, always shows up 20 minutes late to the party. Flour and water need a little while to get to know each other before salt impedes the process and moves the whole thing toward flavor.

Water flows simply falls out of bed and rolls downhill from the town well that can be seen from the yard if you stand in just the right position. This is Santa Margarita water, fresh from the ground and solid with minerals. The joke is that the local water will either make you live forever or give you kidney stones. This is the water of life. It combines distant flour from the land and salt from the sea to create something wholly new – bread. Life. Joy. Fellowship.

Santa Margarita bacteria join the Santa Margarita water and the distant flour/ salt mixture to reproduce life. This bread began many years ago now when flour and water, mixed in equal measure by weight, was allowed to sit on the kitchen counter overnight. It was cut in half, again fed with water and flour, equal weight and allowed to sit. This process went on for impatient weeks to bring death to life. Still water. Dry flour. Now alive with bacteria and oxygen, combining into what we call flavor. A little bit of that fermented dough, combined with flour and water, began working on this loaf last night before I laid my head to bed. When I entered the kitchen it was awake, alive and ready for the day’s labor. 

And these Santa Margarita hands of mine engage in the providential act that becomes bread. Flour. Water. Salt. Bacteria and the labor of the hands of this man to make this bread that can only exist in this place. The flavor of a people and a place. My people. My place. The bread that gives life.

And this providential gift becomes a miraculous ritual on the table of communion the following Sunday morning. Local bread and local wine, brought together to make an ancient ordinance, an ordained rite, to nourish body and soul of local church. Well fed men and women feeding only on the good news the Jesus lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died, now strengthened to love their people and their place.

And My Train Just Ran Through it

{In returning to my people and my place after a 3 month sabbatical, I desired to look at it, and my book that celebrates it, with a new perspective. A good friend encouraged the thought and pushed me to be creative in the way I did that. In chapter 2 of You Are There we speak about the train that shapes and defines our little town, just like every town is defined by some landmark. What must it be like for big city folk who travel through on that train and just get a glimpse of this ideal life?}

I fell asleep before we ever left Jack London Square. The frantic morning took way too much out of me. Waking up before dawn to catch a train ruins the romance of a fancy city center hotel with all the amenities. The amenities were still tucked up in bed. Wake up, clean up, dress for business, dash to the cab, sprint to the station and drag my tired self to the upper level car hoping for a seat on the coastal side – none to be found. It’s the port side for me.

My L.A. advertising company has been doing business in the bay area for generations. I’ve come to discover that I do old business in the old way and they’ve discovered it’s best to let me. The chugga chugga of the Coast Starlight gets my creative juices flowing – and the hurry, wait, hurry, wait of the airport security line arrests my soul, gives it a good pat down and hands it back to me, along with my belt, my shoes and my dignity.

I slept southbound through San Jose and Salines, waking up with a shake somewhere in the grassy hills of San Luis Obispo County just as the train made a grand, sweeping turn to the left. We rounded that curve on what had risen into a glorious summer morning and entered a small town whose name could have been Shangri La for all I know…or Radiator Springs…or Mayberry. The school was empty, quiet and the grasses touched here and there with the golden color of drought. Not a sign of children there, but then we bent around towards a little commity park where time stood still…and it did again for me, just long enough to take it all in.

A playground built like an old west storefront was presently home to a swarm of children running wild. Swings swung high and swings swung low. Little ones streamed down the slide, roughly one by one, like the drones in line for the TSA – only with shoes and dignity. At least with dignity. One young boy stood king of the world on top of the play structure called the  merchantile, just like a Sheriff patrolling his beat.

A local fire truck was letting kids spray the hose  while other kids were having their faces painted. A group in yellow vests  bbqed hamburgers for a hungry crowd. And some pickers and grinders in 5 gallon hats crowed out from the gazebo while locals sat, tapped or danced under the shade of mulberry trees.

That’s right, its July 4 and this is a true American celebration of the true American life. Somewhere between San Francisco and Los Angeles a Norman Rockwell painting has come to life. Some little town enjoys the life I sell in ads to city slickers in either direction…and my train just ran through it.

Cute little nightmare?

{In returning to my people and my place after a 3 month sabbatical, I desired to look at it, and my book that celebrates it, with a new perspective. A good friend encouraged the thought and pushed me to be creative in the way I did that. In chapter 1 of You Are There I tell the story about our wonderful old church building that I have affectionately named the Cute Little Nightmare. But what does it think of the name? Honestly, I think it would have a lot to say and would not be too happy about it.}
Cute little nightmare? Why don’t you sit down for a minute son and let me tell you about the way it was when we meant business, when we did a lot with a little. I, with the men, women and children of this Community Church have given and given again. The time and money, heart and soul that we stored away is what you now use to do half as much with twice as much. I could tell you stories about boys and girls, births and deaths, marriages and divorces. I could tell you stories of Pastors who did the job without computers, secretaries or cell phones…and without counting the hours they were on the clock.

I may only be able to seat 100 at a time, but in over 60 years, thousands have gathered to worship within my walls. Sure, those walls are not what they used to be, some of them were never much at all. Yet, every scar, every sign of wear tells a story and and every story has a soul.

My doors have been open to hurting and broken families who did not care a bit that the foyer was too small or sometimes doubled as a office, or storage, or whatever was made to work for the time. The lonely old woman who found belonging in my congregation never once thought twice that the Sunday School classroom was also the hallway to the bathroom.

Now, the color of the chairs was not my fault, I like the pews better myself. There was room for more human backsides, if you slid them in tightly together. And once together, we would open the Bible and then nothing else mattered. And we would sing! Man, would we sing! There are nights when I sit here quietly on the hill and I swear I can still hear the harmonies of those old hymns. And Hazel’s piano playing will live in my bones as long as I’m still standing.

When they tried to tear me down after the earthquake of ’93, with all the other unenforced masonry buildings in the county, my people stood up for me. Hazel said she had tied the rebar herself back in the 1950’s.

You may count the times the downstairs classrooms has flooded in the wet seasons, but countless children have had their sins washed away in those same rooms. There were times when it was deep enough to baptize in it. But when the water dried up, we opened the Bible again and young ones in the faith became adults in Christ who raised young ones in the faith. Those children, who sang their opening exercises on my stage, are now ministers, missionaries and servants of God in all kinds of vocations. My footprint may be small, but my handprint is global.

Over 60 years of open doors, open Bibles and open hearts. Sinners have been converted, baptized, sanctified and many of them glorified. Four generations of Christians have been raised up who are stretching from here to the ends of the earth and back. You call that cute? I call it glory. You call it a nightmare? I call it a dream come true.

Sabbatical rest 

Mama’s piano. 25 years ago, when I first started in pastoral ministry, I would run to my sister Caryn’s house in the desert to rest. I’m 46 now. Caryn has been gone for over a decade. Home and family are still the best people and place for retreat.