Worship services at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church are divided into three sections: Preparing for the Word; Listening for the Word; and Responding to the Word.
Note that the focus of all three sections is on what the worshiper should be doing: preparing, listening and responding.
This structure helps me to focus and concentrate on the central message and thereby derive greater meaning from the service. Occasionally I have visited other churches without such a tripartite or any other stated structure and with a long list of different parts of the service with the sermon near the end. By the time the sermon is reached, I am tired or bored. They are not nearly as meaningful for me.
Preparing for the Word
We already have seen examples of the musical parts of Preparing for the Word: the jazzy preludes, the percussive preludes, the Processional Hymn “O Holy One and Nameless,” the world premiere of Palestinian hymns and the choral anthem “God Be in My Head.”
A central part of this first section of the service is the Prayer of Confession, an example of which was set forth in a prior post.
All of the parts of this section of the service are designed to prepare the worshiper for the reading of, and listening for, the Word of God in Holy Scripture.
Listening for the Word
The central part of the worship service is the reading of the Word from Holy Scripture and the Sermon with commentary on the Word.
As an example of the intelligent, challenging sermons at Westminster we have looked at the one by Westminster’s Senior Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen: “How Do We Know God: Human Community.”
We also have reviewed the engaging sermons of two guest pastors in prior posts: Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb of Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Palestine and Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian of Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church. From time to time future posts will review other sermons.
Responding to the Word
Supplemented by the congregational singing of hymns and the choir’s singing of anthems, this section features the Affirmation of Faith, the Pastoral Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, the Offertory and on the first Sunday of the month communion.
An example of the Pastoral Prayer will be provided in a future post.
The service concludes with this Charge to the Congregation: “Go forth into the world in peace; Be of good courage; Hold fast to that which is good; Render to no person evil for evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted; Support the weak; Heal the afflicted. Honor all people. Love and serve the Lord, Rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”
Especially meaningful for me is the Charge’s emphasis on rendering “to no person evil for evil” and on honoring “all people.” That means everyone; no one is excluded.
This emphasis on total inclusiveness is repeated in the following Benediction; “And now may the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Hold Spirit be with us and those whom God loves this whole world over.”
The worshipers are then invited to the Passing of the Peace, when the people are encouraged to greet one another with the peace of Christ.
The Postlude concludes the service.
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