By: Priscilla Andre-Colton

Come to the 2019 APCE Annual Event in Galveston, Texas, February 6-9. Come and connect. Come be enriched. Come be empowered. Come be sustained. Through our worship, plenaries, music and workshops, we will examine the changing scene of faith formation and learn about ways to engage these changes in ministry. Find registration information here.

by Priscilla Andre-Colton

“It begins with baptism.” This is how Kim Long describes the journey of faith. The Christian life is a journey of living into our baptismal discipline. How we respond to God’s grace in baptism is our living out of our baptismal faith.

In early September, I caught up with Dr. Kimberly Bracken Long between writing and speaking engagements. Dr. Long is the worship leader for the 2019 APCE Annual Event in Galveston. I asked her how she sees the intersection of faith formation and liturgy. Her response focused on two important themes: the liturgies surrounding the sacraments and the pattern of our worship.

“In the sacraments, we have everything we need.” Each time we celebrate baptism and the Lord’s Supper we have an opportunity to teach and experience the mystery of God’s grace and presence. The words of the baptism liturgy, drawn from scripture, remind us that who we are is rooted in Christ, that we become members of God’s family, adopted into the family of faith, named and claimed by God. The water and the words recall the stories of deliverance and salvation.

Celebrating a baptism is an opportunity to reflect on what this sacrament means to us and for us. Parents can be asked to think about what this means to them for themselves and for their child. The congregation can be asked to ponder their role as a member of the community of faith. It is an opportunity for parents to share with their own baptized children the stories of their baptism day. Each rehearsal can serve as a reminder of the significance of baptism in the life of faith and our identity as children of God.

The liturgy surrounding our celebration of the Lord’s Supper does much the same. The words of institution and the great prayer of thanksgiving, coming from the scriptures, demonstrate the mysterious connection we have with Jesus and the disciples in this sacred meal. Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we have the opportunity to be shaped in a deeper way by the mystery of Christ’s presence in our lives.

In Dr. Long’s words, “Our worship is at its best when it is grounded in the sacraments, paying attention to the sights, sounds, taste, touch and smell, with the generations together, experiencing the mystery of God’s presence.”

We then shifted our conversation to the topic of the pattern of worship. In our tradition, we do not have a set liturgy. Ours is a tradition of form and freedom. But we do have patterns of worship, that is what worshipers agree to do together when they gather for worship. There is always a tension between form and freedom. Freedom to create and express worship; form to provide the framework for our worship.

The pattern is Gathering, the Word, the Table, and Sending. Within this framework, we are free to design worship to express praise, confess, experience the Word and Table, and be sent out to witness in the world. The language of the liturgy matters. Dr. Long recommends using as few words as possible and making sure the words we use count. Liturgy rooted in the words of Scripture has power to form and shape our faith. Hearing the phrases from the Psalms and the Prophets, evoking the images of the stories of God’s people, imagining walking with Jesus, listening to his words—these are words that are doing something in the life and faith of the community.

I asked her about children’s sermons. She replied that she could equally make a case for them and a case for not supporting them. “When we are worshiping at our most faithful, children’s sermons are unnecessary because all ages are engaged. It is multi-sensory, not word-centered, not clergy-centered. Worship is for all the people.”

In closing our conversation, we chatted a bit about the new Book of Common Worship for the PC(USA). Dr. Long was part of the editorial team that worked on this project. She highlighted at least three new ideas that will prove useful for faith formation:

1. Baptism is at the center of the Christian life. Confirmation grows out of baptism. Commissioning for service in the church grows out of baptism.
2. There is a wide variety of Communion prayers, providing opportunity for rehearsing the story of God’s faithfulness.
3. There is a section at the beginning of the book on art and common liturgical gestures, allowing for more visual and physical involvement in worship.

I am looking forward to hearing more from Dr. Long when we are together in Galveston. I hope you are too.

Kimberly Bracken Long is editor of the quarterly journal Call to Worship: Liturgy, Music, Preaching, and the Arts and co-editor of the 2018 Book of Common Worship of the Presbyterian Church (USA). She served as a professor of worship at Columbia Theological Seminary from 2007-2017; Associate for Worship for the PC(USA); and as pastor of congregations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Her books include From This Day Forward: Rethinking the Christian Wedding; The Worshiping Body: The Art of Leading Worship; and The Eucharistic Theology of the American Holy Fairs.

Priscilla Andre-Colton, CCE, is one of the APCE Annual Event 2019 Co-chairs. She is retired, having served churches in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.