The Order of Worship at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

Westminster Presbyterian Church

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.

“What Do Our Hearts Treasure?”

Westminster Presbyterian Church

 

Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian

This was the title of the sermon by Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian of Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church at Westminster Presbyterian Church on September 16, 2012. A prior post examined the Processional Hymn that day–“O Holy One and Nameless”–which was written by Rev. Gertmenian. A video of this service is on the web.

The sermon was based upon two passages from the New Testament of the Holy Bible.

The first, Luke 10: 25-28, says: “Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.’Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ [Jesus] said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ [The lawyer] answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind’ and your neighbor as yourself.’ And [Jesus] said to [the lawyer], ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.'”

Rev. Gertmenian said the lawyer, at least on the surface, wanted to know how he might gain eternal life. “It is what we all want, I think, though we use different languages to describe it. Not length of life, really, not just simple persistence into some imagined future heaven, but something that endures by virtue of its depth, by virtue of a quality that transcends time. Our faith tells us that God, the eternal one, has somehow touched us with that quality, that the life spark in us means that we partake of or are connected to the enduring, the unquenchable, the forever.”

The second Scriptural text for the day, II Corinthinians 4: 16-18, states: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this momentary slight affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Yes, said Gertmenian, ”but what are those unseen things? What lasts?”

He said, “Our lives . . .  are over in a flash; we burst forth, sparkle, glimmer, grow dim, and then are gone. In the cosmic scheme of things, flesh is practically as ephemeral and evanescent as vapor or gas; only rocks, ice, dust, and space endure.”

“What lasts? What do our hearts treasure? What is eternal? More specifically, what have been the eternal moments in your life? I don’t mean the big moments, or even the most memorable ones, but the deepest ones which, by virtue of their depth, make the passing of time – and even memory – irrelevant?”

Gertmenian offered two moments in his own life that upon reflection he regarded as eternal.

One was spending time with his eight-year-old daughter having ice cream after watching Halley’s Comet. “I know that for the momentary gift of [my daughter’s] hand in mine, for the frivolous pleasure of tasting ice cream, for this odd adventure on a warm evening, I will gladly, willingly, joyfully embrace the limits of my life: its brevity, its fragility, its impermanence. It is rich – this life – rich like found treasure and meant, I think, to be spent extravagantly and with exuberant gratitude to God.”

“Eternal life consists in this: in taking even one moment and living it so prodigally, with such abandon, that we do not grudge its going. One moment lived like that is eternal. One moment, lived like that, is heaven. Jesus draws this truth to its deepest level when he says: ‘Whoever seeks to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will save it.'” (Matthew 10:39.)

“Think about your own life, your own self. What lasts? What [does your heart] . . .  treasure? What is eternal?”

“Maybe you’ll take a few moments . . . to think about these things. And as you mull them, remember how Jesus replied to the man who wanted eternal life. Ultimately, he said, after obedience to the core commandments, the way to eternal life is in giving up what you have, in opening your hands and releasing the things you cling to. Not just possessions, but everything. Even time.”

I have pondered the question posed by Rev. Gertmenian and will share those reflections in a subsequent post.