A phrase that has come over into the general worship vocabulary from Vatican II (the Roman Catholic Church council that discussed worship in the mid-1960s) is “full, conscious and active participation.”
Full participation indicates that which is embodied and multisensory (using all five senses), bringing our whole selves to worship—body, mind, and spirit. Conscious means that we are awake and attentive, paying attention to God, to the worship leaders, and to those around us. Active implies that we bring our energy to thinking, listening, praying, reading, speaking, singing, and moving.
There is a broad spectrum of our participation in worship from attentive listening and reflection to moving and clapping while singing, from adding our Amen to a prayer said on our behalf to praying either a printed prayer together or lifting our voices simultaneously with various prayer concerns.
Let’s look at what congregations and worship planners can do to be fully, consciously, and actively participating in worship.
Members of the Congregation
In Worship in Ancient Israel, Walter Brueggemann relates that the most important thing to do to worship God is to be present with the congregation. Showing up matters! But then, how can we be so engaged in worship that we “lose ourselves” in God’s presence?
Our baptism into Christ Jesus is an important guideline for us in coming to worship. In baptism, we respond to God’s love and mercy shown through Jesus and promise to stay in dialogue with God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Worship is an important way for us to continue in dialogue with God and to deepen that relationship over time.
So, we need to come to worship expecting to meet God through our presence, as fully as we are able, in prayer, in praise, in singing, in silence, in honesty, with our whole selves, open to what God has to reveal. The more fully we consciously and actively participate in worship, the deeper our relationship to God can grow.
Worship Planners and Leaders
You are responsible for preparing the environment. Do so prayerfully. Pay attention to the five senses as you plan.
- Visual: Consider the space in which you worship. What are the focal points—altar table, cross, windows, pictures, fabrics? Is there a clear focal point? Are there too many things fighting for attention? Does the focal point match the focus of your worship?
- Auditory: Consider the sounds that happen in worship. What happens beside the spoken word? Is there singing by the congregation? By a band, soloist, or choir? Are instruments used? Is there time for silence? Can the leaders be clearly heard by all? Does all the sound come from one place, or is it spread throughout the worship space? Can the congregation hear one another singing (or are they spread so far apart that they feel like they are the only ones singing)? Is there welcome for the noises of infants and children?
- Tactile: What varieties of fabric are used in the worship space, especially through the church year (for example, burlap for Lent, silks or brocades for Easter)? Does this service include the touch of bread and cup or oil or passing the peace? Is there baptismal water to touch?
- Olfactory: Is there the smell of bread or grape juice when communion is going to be served? Are there flowers that are not overwhelming (especially at Easter, when many are allergic to lilies)? Perhaps the smell of incense from a prayer station?
- Taste: Do we use bread that tastes like bread and good-tasting grape juice in communion? Are persons welcome to bring their coffee or water into worship? Do we fellowship with food after worship occasionally?
Consider various learning styles and multiple intelligences in planning. This broad range will require balance, engaging the congregation in as many ways as possible while maintaining our focus on God.
- Protestant worship services have been very focused on auditory and verbal learning, that is, learning through listening and speaking. Preaching, reading prayers, hearing scripture, hearing anthems, storytelling, and discussion are all ways that verbal/linguistic learners use to worship.
- Visual /spatial learners need visual cues, to see a diagram or picture of what is being discussed or slides, video clips, or a map for a biblical story or mission moment. The sterile rooms that some of us worship in leave visual learners yearning for color and design, for a cross or picture to focus on.
- Kinesthetic/tacile learners need to move, to do, or to touch. Prayer postures of standing, sitting, and kneeling may be helpful to them, as well as going to the altar table for communion or prayer, passing the peace, liturgical movement, clapping, or acting out a biblical or traditional story.
- Logical/mathematically intelligent persons will be drawn into worship with questions and problem solving and connections made between theological, biblical, and real-life ideas.
- Persons with strong intelligence in the areas of music and rhythm are often naturally drawn to choirs, to encouraging congregational singing, and to sharing musical skills as an offering to God.
- Both those with intrapersonal skills and those with interpersonal skills need to find space in worship for those ways of finding God inside or outside themselves. For one, this means time for silence and reflection in worship and time interaction with others.
Finally, prepare yourselves as leaders with prayer, silence, and focus to really involve your own being in worship.
As Worshipers Together
Let us prepare ourselves to meet God in worship, in the midst of our congregation, through our prayers, listening, singing, speaking, movement, and silence. Let us come ready to be full, conscious, and active participants that God may truly be worshiped and that we may be grow in deeper relationship with God and one another.