The 120 or so moderators and moderators-elect who gathered last week for training, support and networking at the Moderators’ Conference heard worship ideas and rationales Saturday from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s associate for worship in the Office of Theology and Worship, the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell.

Many of the worship components Gambrell shared with the moderators come from a source with a title so wordy that “only a Presbyterian would love it,” Gambrell said with a laugh: “Presbyterian Worship Beyond the Local Congregation: Guidelines for Planning Worship and Meetings of Presbyteries, Synods, and General Assembly, and at Special Gatherings (Revised 2002).”

Worship service elements that moderators will help plan and carry out over the their term of office are also spelled out in The Directory for Worship, the middle portion of the Book of Order. There are a number of issues and factors to consider when holding a worship service beyond the local congregation:

  • The authority for planning, which resides with the mid council holding the service, but can be delegated to a team or committee, Gambrell said.
  • Time, space and matter. “I love it that our Directory of Worship talks about Star Trek-sounding things,” Gambrell said with a smile. Essentially, services should be conducted with these in mind: the liturgical calendar, accessibility of the worship space, and the orientation of material elements used during worship. It’s appropriate to make use of materials from the local area in worship, including local breads and indigenous art.
  • Offering, which is always a part of Reformed worship, although planners must determine how it’s to be received and who should receive it.
  • Necrologies. “It is appropriate for governing bodies — particularly presbyteries — to recognize the deaths of ministers of Word and Sacrament as part of worship,” the document states.
  • Ecumenical and interfaith issues. With “increasing frequency,” according to the document, Presbyterians engage in planning worship in ecumenical and interfaith contexts. Care should be taken in planning communion in ecumenical settings as well as dealing with complex interfaith issues.

Gather “folks that represent diversity,” Gambrell advised the moderators, and musicians to help choose the music and artists for the way the gospel is communicated in visual terms. The choice of Scripture is the anchor for planning worship, he said. “I try not to plan any service until I know the text for the day, so that everything flows from the Word of God,” he said.

The people who lead worship “should include those with spiritual gifts, training and equipment,” he said. “We don’t just need warm bodies, but people who are called by God.”

The liturgy should be “more than reading words from a page,” he said. “It is prayerful action. If there’s no spirit of prayer, worship falls flat, and people feel that.”

Worship leaders do well not to check their phone messages or even re-read their sermon as they wait to fulfill their role during worship. “Sing, pray and be fully engaged,” he told the moderators. “Let the (symbols of worship) speak for themselves. There’s a time to teach, and a time to refrain and immerse ourselves in the mystery.”

The language used during worship should “address God and the people of God.” It should be expansive and inclusive, “so everyone can participate and see their lives reflected in worship.”

When choosing music, “pay attention to the theological content,” he advised. “Do we believe it? Can the congregation sing it? Do the text and the tune work together?”

Pay careful attention, too, to copyright, licensing and permission requirements, Gambrell said.

“Authors and composers deserve appropriate credit and compensation for the good work they have done,” he said. Licensing organizations exist in part to help compensate composers.

Just because a church or mid council owns, say, 100 copies of a hymnal doesn’t give worship organizers permission to photocopy the hymns to be sung in worship. The bottom line: in hymnals including Glory to God, “if you don’t see that copyright symbol, it’s a safe bet that hymn is in the public domain,” Gambrell said.

The 2018 Book of Common Worship has dozens of tools for planning worship beyond the local congregation, Gambrell said, including services one could not have imagined even a decade ago, such as dedicating a coffee house or a school gymnasium as sacred space.

“Blessings to you,” Gambrell told the moderators, “in your leadership of the Church.”