I’m one of those people that grew up in church.
I mean that somewhat literally– my dad is a Presbyterian minister and has been since before he even met my mother. We moved around a number of times, starting from scratch each time, following God’s call for my father’s ministry. While that process was sometimes challenging, I started to learn that we were never truly starting from scratch. God was preparing a congregation to meet us and preparing us to become a part of that new congregation.
Our congregations were fairly similar to one another– midsize family churches with some young families and just as many shut-ins, with traditional, liturgical worship services with remarkable organists and always a Church Martha. And even after I moved out on my own and started choosing my own churches, I chose the same sort of church. In many ways, I am a creature of habit.
But with the new year, I have been reflecting on my preference for liturgy and how that also relates to how I see the church body as it manifests in the congregation. My favorite parts of worship are the creeds, confessions and corporate responses. Why? Because it is in these that I feel most connected to those around me, not just on any given Sunday morning, but with every single confessing Christian in the history of the faith. While they are comforting because they are familiar, these pieces of liturgy are of so much more value than simply comfort. These are the pieces that remind me what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ and not just another Christian trying to figure it all out. Not only are there 150 other Christians standing next to me proclaiming the same truths and desperately praying the same confession, there is a history of millions of believers who have laid the foundation upon which we stand today.
I don’t know about you, but I need that. I need that grounding and connection on a daily basis. Outside of the church, we are so frequently encouraged to break the mold and blaze our own trail that I usually end up feeling lost. (I would have done poorly in Montessori.) The pressures to be creative and unique leave me feeling like I must start from scratch in everything I do, inventing everything from my own recipes to wedding to career, something no one has ever seen before. But the thing is, Jesus didn’t come to Earth to let us figure it all out on our own. He came not only to offer the ultimate and necessary sacrifice, but to teach us what to do with that new life. Even after he ascended into Heaven, he left behind disciples to go into the world and teach us how to live as his followers. We have a foundation to stand upon. We need not reinvent the wheel with each new worship service. I don’t say this to discourage you from finding new ways to meet and interact with God, no, not at all. But I do say this to remind you that those trails have already been well-worn, tramped out by pilgrims long before you.
Being a part of a Christian congregation is worth so much more than to simply have someone to give the sermon, to play the music, to pray with you. Being a part of a Christian congregation is where we learn to stand on that foundation. The church family gives us guidance and accountability, instruction and inspiration. It is from our fellow believers that we learn to parent our children and respect our parents, to serve others and worship the Lord, to study the Word and grow in his promises. This community is where we feed one another and learn to see ourselves the way our Heavenly Father sees us.
For me, the liturgy brings me closer to this community as we unite with one another past, present and future. God teaches us through those interactions and experiences and the lessons we learn can be passed on to future generations through the liturgy. We stand on the shoulders of giants as our congregation proclaims the creeds and learn the catechism; we build on the foundation as we add to that great body of work, not starting from scratch, but from the same foundation, the same community, the same faith.