Elements of Worship Services
“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness, nourishment of mind by His truth, purifying of imagination by His beauty, opening of the heart to His love, and submission of will to His purpose. And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.” - William Temple Archbishop of Canterbury (d.1944)
Why We Worship
Worship is what we were created for. A heart that is rightly ordered in its desires is a heart shaped by gratitude, and worship is gratitude’s deepest and best expression. At the heart of human existence is the question: Whom do you thank? We believe the rightful recipient of our gratitude is the God we have come to know through Jesus Christ. This why we gather for worship each week.
By the Holy Spirit we are drawn into the worship of heaven itself, that ongoing offering of self-giving love that flows from the Son, Jesus Christ, to his Father. In worship we meet our Lord as he makes himself known to us by the Spirit through his word and at the table. In turn, the Spirit calls forth from us praise and prayers of repentance, thanksgiving and intercession. We are reminded of our true identity as children of God through Christ, and sent into the world with this Good News: in Christ, God reconciled the world to Himself.
Blacknall’s membership comes from many different Christian traditions. There are particular aspects of our service that reflect our Reformed heritage, with its particular emphasis on the centrality of Scripture and preaching. Our recitation of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds reminds us of what we believe and of our membership in a larger family of saints, a “communion” that stretches back to the earliest days of the followers of Jesus. We have borrowed certain practices from other Christian traditions, such as kneeling for confession, communion by intinction and the opportunity for anyone present to voice a concern for prayer.
An Overview of Our Sunday Worship
What follows is a detailed overview of the elements of our worship. The two Sunday morning services are identical to each other. The service at Blacknall roughly follows a pattern of encounter with God that is set out in Isaiah 6.
Songs of Gathering & Praise
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory…at the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:3-4)
Our service opens with songs of gathering. These songs call us from our busy and distracted lives and usher us into an awareness of the presence of God. Often the music follows a certain trajectory, from songs in which we invite one another to worship, to songs about God, to songs that address God directly. In these songs of gathering we come to realize that we are not entreating God to come to us, but are entering into worship that is ongoing – in the heavenly realms, throughout the whole earth, and through the church in all generations.
In the middle of the songs of worship, there is a prayer of invocation that invites God to make his presence known to us by the Holy Spirit and asks the Lord to meet each person according to his or her needs that morning.
Prayers of Confession
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined. For I am a man of unclean lips and I have lived among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said See, this has touched your lips [a metaphor indicating forgiveness and cleansing from sin]; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:5-7)
As Isaiah came into the presence of God, he realized that he was unworthy to be there. As we become aware of God’s presence, we, like Isaiah, acknowledge our sinfulness and turn from it; we agree with God, amidst the people of God, that we are in need of grace and forgiveness..We kneel to confess our sins and rise to hear an assurance of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
After confession we exchange a sign of peace with one another. Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension make possible, indeed demand, that we be reconciled to one another: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). Extending the peace of Christ to those near us in worship embodies the reconciliation and forgiveness which characterize our life together as the body of Christ.
Affirmation of Faith
Each week we recite the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed. Both creeds are widely accepted by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians as faithful statements of the key elements of our faith; as such they stand as symbols of our unity with the larger body of Christ, through time and around the world, and serve as declarations of what we believe.
Children & Worship
After the affirmation of faith, young children are invited to come forward to pray with a pastor. The children exchange a word of blessing with the congregation and then leave for children’s worship. Children learn to worship through participation in both corporate worship and children’s worship.
Cross, Pulpit, Table & Font
When you enter the sanctuary at Blacknall, you are likely to notice the simple wooden cross at the center of the front wall. What was originally an instrument of Roman torture has become the symbol of the risen Christ, Lord of all. Everything that takes place in this space occurs under the cross, a tacit recognition of the Lordship of Christ and our life together in and through him.
Directly in front of the cross is the pulpit and, just below it, the communion table. This central placement of pulpit and table is not accidental.
Scripture is uniquely authoritative for our lives; it bears witness to Jesus Christ, the Living Word. The central location of the pulpit acknowledges the importance of the exposition and application of the Scripture as the centerpiece of Christian worship; Scripture is essential to ordering our lives faithfully before God.
Directly below the pulpit is the communion table, and to the left of the pulpit is the baptismal font. Both the font, the place of baptism, and the table, the place of communion, are the special meeting place of the community with God in what are called sacraments. Our Reformed tradition insists that Christ is truly present at the font and the table by the Holy Spirit. We are particularly graced by God in these two sacraments. Baptism marks us with water, claiming us for Jesus Christ and symbolizing our dying to self and rising to new life in Christ. In the Lord’s Supper (or Communion or the Eucharist) we recognize that Christ has died, risen, and will come again. At the table we receive bread and wine, symbolic of Christ’s body and blood. We remember with gratitude Christ’s atoning death on the cross for us, receive humbly his sustaining care for us in the present, and anticipate his coming again in glory. Regardless of your particular tradition, all who have made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ are welcome to participate.
Responding to the Word
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here I am. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)
In response to the great gift we have received in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves – our lives, our gifts, our material goods – in recognition that everything we have and everything we are belongs to him. Each week we have the opportunity to place money and prayer requests in the offering plate. Often, we hear a brief word from a missions partner or church ministry. Then individuals in the congregation are invited to share announcements and prayer requests. We conclude with a time of corporate prayer. In this part of our worship service, we are called to look beyond ourselves, to pray for one another and for the needs and issues beyond our doors. We are sent forth as emissaries, proclaiming Christ in our words and actions.
Finally, a pastor gives the benediction, which literally means “a good word”. This word is both an assurance that the Lord is with us as we depart and a commission to go out into the world and bear witness to the power, presence and invitation of Jesus Christ.
Our worship then concludes with a sung response, followed by the opportunity to come receive prayer from Blacknall elders and other members of our prayer team.
To the Glory of God & the Transformation of the Church
As Archbishop Temple suggests, worship is something much more profound than most of us imagine. Our own culture encourages us to evaluate our commitments by how they make us feel. The worship of the Triune God challenges this shallow estimation. Worship transforms the worshiper and glorifies God. May it be so!
If you have questions about worship at Blacknall or what we believe, we’d love to talk with you. Please ask one of the pastors or elders.
To God be glory in the church! (Ephesians 3:21)