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The Vicar's Vision

February 2011

Last week I attended at class at Gettysburg Seminary that focused on our Lutheran worship history and current practice. One item of interest that came out of our class discussions was, “What is liturgy?”

If I asked you what the word “liturgy” meant to you, what would you say? I have always thought the liturgy was a highly structured service or one of the settings in the hymn book.  It is amazing just what this word really means. The Liturgy is the “work of the people”. Everything we “do” in the Sunday service is the liturgy.

The church adopted a definition of liturgy from a political science view to mean a public duty or public work. The things you do to keep the community going. For example: shoveling the walk in front of your business, voting on election day, and keeping your property in good shape.

Liturgy is an event, an occurrence - an example of this would be: a script itself is not a play - it takes the actors to “do” the play for it to become a play.

Liturgy is something done - not something felt. If worship is liturgy, then it is the work of the people in the congregation - not primarily the leaders. The best examples of this working liturgy is found in America, in the Quakers and an African American church.

What exactly is it we DO in the service? We listen, sing, participate in the Eucharist, welcome strangers, help others, pray, confess, receive forgiveness and so much more. The service is meant to be an hour to be honestly ourselves.

Notice that I listed “listening” first in the things that we do in a service. Listening is hard work - for example: the choir sings alone - not to show off their talent but the choir is proclaiming the meaning of the lessons in a different way than the preacher. We are to hear the meanings differently than in a sermon. Therefore, the congregation works hard with the choir to receive the messages of the music.

In the last forty years the structure of the service has changed quite a lot. One of the changes is there are many more people participating in the service. The work of these leaders is to allow the assembly do its work. The alter guild, reader, greeter, choir, worship assistant, acolyte, secretary, janitor, and others all have “liturgy” to help the assembly do it’s work. 

The next time you are in church, observe the liturgy you do during the service. And thank you for all that you “do” in the church and outside it’s doors.




Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110        412-466-7773