Rev. Melissa Cooper


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Posts tagged faith
Where is the "We" in worship?

One of the blessings of my ministry life has been that, while we always have a church home, my work allows me to be a part of lots of congregations. I worship in many contexts, both on Sundays and other times of the week. I see many styles of worship, many preachers, many music leaders, many congregational cultures. 

There are some trends that seem to sweep throughout many churches and across many contexts, and there are other practices that are unique to each congregation. I especially love the unique practices churches take on as a way of expressing community in their contexts.

One thing that has become a trend across contexts, though, is something that troubles me. 

Over and over, especially in contemporary worship music, I keep seeing the same words pop up: "I" and "me." 

Now, I am fully supportive of personal journeys of faith. I love hearing personal professions of faith. I spend a lot of time working with young people on articulating their faith for themselves, and owning their own spiritual lives. 

And yet, in Sunday morning worship, there's an opportunity to do something different. Once a week, I get a chance to come together to express faith with the gathered body, not just by myself. And over and over again, I am invited to sing songs that express an individual and personal faith. Songs that I could sing alone just as easily as with a church community. 

And then, last week, I sat in a room full of a few hundred clergy and laity, where we celebrated the complete Great Thanksgiving. One of my favorite parts is the time of invitation, confession and pardon:

Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him,
   who earnestly repent of their sin
   and seek to live in peace with one another.
Therefore, let us confess our sin before God and one another.
Merciful God,
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will,
   we have broken your law,
   we have rebelled against your love,
   we have not loved our neighbors,
   and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience,
      through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Leader to people:
Hear the good news:
Christ died for us while we were yet sinners;
    that proves God's love toward us.
   In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!
People to leader:
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!
Leader and people:
Glory to God. Amen.

Throughout this liturgy, a room full of church leaders confessed collective and institutional sin and neglect of those whom Christ has called us to love. Throughout this liturgy, a room full of church leaders repented for that sin and neglect of the Gospel. Through this liturgy, a room full of church leaders were reminded that Christ loves us no matter what situation we find ourselves in. Throughout this liturgy, a room full of church leaders offered forgiveness to one another. And all of this was done collectively, not individually. 

I'm not saying there's no place for individual faith, or no place at all for individual experience in worship. But when all the language throughout a congregational service is personal, we're missing the point of congregational worship. 

How would your worship look different if you changed the "I's" to "We's"? How would it feel different to say litanies collectively rather than individually? What would it change about your congregation's understanding of community to move to collective language when you gather for worship?

And finally, what artists are out there writing congregational worship music rather than individual prayers or praise? I'd love to hear it, and I'd love to sing it with a gathered community.