Scroll down to find information on the following:
- Why we worship as we do
- A Brief Commentary on the Sunday Eucharist
- But is it really Baptist?
Why we worship as we do
If you are used to worshipping in Baptist churches, you will probably be surprised by the style of worship here. Our contemplative and participatory approach to worship, using a set liturgy, can feel a little awkward the first time, but we have found that once we become familiar with a liturgy it’s power grows as the prayers sink deep roots into us and begin to reshape our minds and spirits.
Sensory aids such as icons, incense, candles and music help us to engage all our senses, instead of just our minds, and thus worship as whole beings. A cycle of scripture readings ensures that we are kept in contact with the earliest foundations of our faith. Times of silence gives us the quiet space to allow God to reach us. Prepared prayers help imprint the rhythms of prayer into our hearts, thus equipping us to live throughout each week in the thankful spirit of the Eucharist.
This style of worship began in this church in late 1996 as an alternative service on week nights. It developed a small but committed following over the next few years. Then in 1999 we faced a major crisis in the congregation — a sexual harassment scandal involving one of our lay leaders — which caused us a great deal of distress. In the resulting disillusionment and depression we lost a large sector of our congregation. Faced with our own imminent death, we had to ask what we could realistically continue to do. As we searched for answers, we realised that although we had lost a lot of people, we hadn’t lost any of those who were involved in the midweek services. As we began to reflect on what that meant, stories emerged of how transforming and life-giving this style of worship had become for those people. After a period of further reflection and discussion we took the decision in August 1999 to close our Sunday morning service and shift our midweek service to Sunday nights to become our main weekly worship service.
You will read and hear the word “liturgy” used a lot here. It comes from a New Testament word which literally means “the work of the people”. What it means now is simply “the things we do and say when we gather to worship God.” It does not refer to a particular style of worship or to the words written on the page, but to whatever is said and done by a worshipping congregation, whether pre-planned or not, written down or not.
A Brief Commentary on the Sunday Eucharist
Central to our shared journey of faith is the Sunday evening Eucharist, for from the shared table we are drawn with all creation into communion with God. The whole of the liturgy is a sacramental journey from the places of our daily living to the great banquet room of heaven and back. We hear God’s word spoken to us and find ourselves welcomed to the banquet table of heaven to be fed with the bread of life and the wine of the new age which sustain us and nourish our growth into the fullness of life in Christ.
The Gathering of the People of God
The liturgy of the Eucharist really begins when you leave your home or place of work to travel to the place of worship. Already your travel is an act of commitment. On arrival we gather, as a people with one purpose, to continue the journey together. At the beginning of the shared liturgy, we acknowledge God and honour God’s emerging culture (or kingdom) as the goal of our longing and our journey. We then pray and sing a litany which unites our worship with the longing for God that is present in all creation and all people and with the worship of all God’s people across the nations and centuries and with the worship that continues eternally in heaven where those who have walked before us worship still. Once we know who we are as a whole people of God, we are ready to move on in our journey.
The Liturgy of Approach
In this section of the liturgy we acknowledge that it is only because of God’s generous kindness and mercy that we can approach God at all. We begin by asking God to send the Holy Spirit “to call us by name and lead us home” to God. We then confess the ways in which we have fallen short of what God created us for and, in light of that, we celebrate the forgiveness we have found in Christ Jesus. It is in this forgiveness that we find our welcome into the presence of God.
The Liturgy of the Word
Welcomed into the presence of God, we are eager to hear what God wishes to say to us. We ask God again to pour out the Holy Spirit on us and give us the gifts to hear and understand the Word. We then hear the scripture readings, which are usually from an Australian paraphrase was written here in our Church (we had it checked by Biblical scholars as we wrote it to make sure it was not being unfaithful to the message). We hear a reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, the part of the Bible that was written before the time of Jesus Christ. We respond to that reading with a Psalm from the ancient Jewish collection of prayers in the Bible. We hear another reading from the New Testament and then one from the Gospels, the stories of the life of Jesus. After each reading we have a time of silence to allow the reading to sink into us and become the Word of God within us. After the Gospel reading there is a long time of silence which we call the “Sermon of Silence” because in it we allow God to speak to each of us individually. A preacher then brings us a short spoken sermon. In response, we stand and sing the Apostles Creed. It is not necessarily the case that every one of us feels fully convinced by every word of this confession, but we all acknowledge it as reflecting the faith of God’s people down through the years and including us.
The Prayers of the People
Hearing God’s Word proclaimed reminds us of how broken and dysfunctional our world is and how much it is in need of God’s healing and restoration, and so we respond by praying for the earth and it’s inhabitants.
The Liturgy of the Lord’s Table
The Word we have heard is made visible and tangible at the Lord’s Table. Everyone who wants to respond to God by offering themselves to God, trusting in the mercy of Christ, and receiving God’s self-giving in Christ, is welcome to share at this Table. We begin by acknowledging that we can only approach the table at peace with one another, because Jesus calls us as a united people. We bring bread and wine as living symbols of all that we offer to God and all that God offers to us. We then share in the central prayer of the Church on earth and in heaven – the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving in which we give thanks for all God gives us and thankfully give ourselves to God in Christ. Christ’s self-sacrifice is enacted as we see the bread broken and the wine poured out as his body and blood. Christ places himself in our hands as we share bread and wine together and we taste both the love of Christ and the promise of the joyous fulfilment of his purposes on earth.
The Sending Forth of the People of God
Having been fed by God’s Word and Christ’s body and blood, we are sent back into the world to be Christ’s body in all our life, prayer and ministry. We express our total commitment to allowing God to transform us in the image of Christ, sing a parting hymn and receive an assurance of God’s blessing. With the blessing the formal liturgy is over. Then the room is transformed with additional tables extending the Communion Table so that we can begin our living out the spirit of Eucharist by sharing food and fellowship together.
A published essay describing and analysing our worship service in more detail is available here, and a published essay describing how and why children engage in worship in our church is available here.
But is it really Baptist?
Yes it really is! Set liturgies are not commonly associated with Baptist worship, but the connection is not as strange as many people think. Until recent decades, the use of set orders for worship and at least some set liturgical elements was the norm in Baptist churches. Baptist worship in Australia 100 years ago usually included chanted psalms and sung liturgical refrains such as the “Sanctus” and the “Gloria Patri”, and Yes, they even called them by those Latin names!
The Baptist churches are part of what is known as a “free church” or “non-conformist” tradition, which originally referred to their refusal to accept universally imposed liturgies. It was not a refusal to use set liturgies, just a refusal to let someone outside the congregation dictate what liturgies they should use. There is not and never has been anything that could claim to be the Baptist style of worship. Baptist churches are by definition each free to chose and develop their own individual style of worship. While our style is unusual in Baptist circles, it is not unique, and most of the essential Baptist convictions find expression in our worship in some way. We might be weird, but we are Baptist! Or is that one and the same?!
A published chapter on Baptist worship, looking at its historical influences and its contemporary varieties, is available here.