KB Categories Archives: Worship

Children and the Call to the Ancient-Future Church


Connie Bull:

Across the years, the ages have had different views of life’s beginning stages.  David F. Lancy, professor of world civilizations and cultural anthropology at Utah State University, identifies three of these views of children:  cherubs, chattel, and changelings.

  • Chattel: the view of those who want children “seen and not heard” because they are little more than a nuisance, devoid of value until after puberty.
  • Cherubs:  the view of those who overly romanticize childhood; children are to be appreciated from a maudlin, sentimental standpoint; and cherished only for their “cute” factor.
  • Changelings:  the view of those suspicious of what children are “up to”; children are seen as devious, untrustworthy, mercurial, and almost alien in nature.

There are yet two other views of children in the latter 20th century which are being threaded into today’s various worship tapestries: (more…)

Continue Reading 0

A Thanksgiving Gifting Ritual

Jim Robertson:

In May of 2011, I was privileged to curate worship on the opening night of the Vital Church Planting Conference in Edmonton, Alberta. This is an annual event, co-sponsored by the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton and Wycliffe College’s Institute of Evangelism. The gathering ritual crafted for this event is also well suited for Thanksgiving, as it involves receiving in gratitude, sharing with others, giving back to God, and receiving from God anew to give yet again. It is a welcoming / gathering / offering / sending ritual, all worked through variations on a single motif… the giving and receiving of a flower.

Carnations are an ideal flower for this ritual as they are long stemmed, sturdy, inexpensive, and available in variety of colours. Other flowers could be used, but they must be able to withstand being handled several times. You will need one carnation per expected attendee, and a vase for every twenty-five or so flowers. Personnel requirements include a worship celebrant, music team, one ritual attendant per vase and at least one liturgical dancer.

The Welcoming

Gift is at the core of the ritual, and forms the welcoming to the gathering. Prior to the service, have the ritual attendants at the building entrances, each with a vase. As persons enter, each is presented a flower, and greeted with these words: With the gifts I have received from God, I welcome you to this gathering. Encourage the attendants to use the scripted wording, as this prepares the congregation for the gathering of the community, and the concept of “gift” that is carried through the ritual.

The Gathering

When the congregation is assembled, the celebrant guides them in the Gathering of the Community. Three times, each person is to exchange her carnation with another, while saying to each other: With the gifts I have received from God, I welcome you to this gathering. The three exchanges are to occur with a different person each time. I like the three times as it evokes Trinitarian imagery. Here’s a possible variation. The first time, a person might say: With the Gifts I have received from the Father…  The second time: With the gifts I have received from the Son… Third time: With the gifts I have received from the Spirit… Welcoming, and being welcomed by a mix of people is an important design element, so give clear instructions to move on to two other persons after the first exchange. It may also be helpful to have this text projected through this time.

As the congregation is nearing the end of the exchanges, the music team can start playing a gathering song instrumentally. (For the Vital Church Planting Conference, the song used was Paul Baloche’s “Because of Your Love.”) As people have been moving around and mixing, it may take a minute to get back to their seats.

The Offering

When the congregation is mostly back to their spots, lyrics can start, and the service flows into the offering. At this time, the ritual attendants start at the back of the church, gathering the flowers into the vases, working their way to the front. When all the flowers are gathered, the attendants, one at a time, from the foot of the altar area, present the vases to the dancer, who ‘dances’ the vases  individually to the altar and places them on it, while the song continues to be sung congregationally. The gifts each person has received from God in being welcomed are offered back to God.

The Middle Bit

From here, the service can flow into a music set, sermon and Eucharist, but do be creative as to how these elements can be tailored to suit the context the ritual has provided and to which it will return.

The Sending Out in Mission & Benediction

As a sending song is being played, the liturgical dancer “dances” each vase to the foot of the “stage” and hands it to an attendant. When all attendants have their vases, they then distribute the flowers to congregation, while the congregation continues singing the sending song. As the congregation now has embodied being gifted by God and as they are about to go out into the world, the Benediction will hopefully interweave a variation of the gathering words… something such as: With these gifts you have received from God, go, and welcome others into his Kingdom. With those words, the service closes, and the congregation take their flowers into the world as symbols of the gifts of God they carry for others.

Production Assistance

If your congregation wishes to use this ritual, I will happily assist by answering pre-production questions, and discussing variations. Also, I would appreciate hearing how your team and congregation engaged with and reacted to it. I can be contacted at interfaceworship[at]gmail.com for written comments or to arrange a telephone time.

Regarding materials cost, if your church already purchases fresh floral arrangements for the altar each week, consider using the offering bouquets as the altar flowers to overcome fiscal resistance.

Postscript from Jim:

I think the ritual would also work well for Pentecost. In fact, the genesis and first prototype of this ritual was used at a service I created called “Ascentecost”, which is staged between Ascension and Pentecost. This liturgy views two events as the ‘”bookends” of a singular event, being the birth of the church. I think the ritual well symbolises the church being drawn into the perichoritic dance, and reflects both (i) Cappadocian concepts of Trinity (the abundant surplus of love between/within the Trinity creating space for others do dwell in), and (ii) John van Ruusbroec’s (14th century Flemish mystic) descriptions of Trinitarian relationships (Father & Son flowing outwards in individuation, Father & Son flowing inwards in the beauty and simplicity of singularity. the tension between the two being maintained by a love so perfect it can only be love personified, the Holy Spirit).


Jim Robertson is a lay liturgist and a worship innovator. A restless innovator, Jim has crafted many rituals and liturgical components to be used within alternative worship events. Jim’s major events have become known as lavish celebrations of art and devotion, often featuring multiple artists creating prophetic works, hundreds of feet of fabric, blends of ancient and modern devotional practices, multiple prayer stations, unique Eucharistic rituals that portray the event theme, and a serious probing of deeper theological concepts through the experience of worship. Amazingly, Jim maintains a day job as a criminal lawyer. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, with his wife Darlene, and has four grown children.

Continue Reading 3

The Image in Worship

Donald P. Richmond

The revival of worship arts over the past number of years begs a question that, for many Evangelicals, has yet to be adequately asked, addressed, or answered. What is the place of image in worship arts? A casual evaluation, given some very broad limitations, would suggest that many churches have adopted an “anything goes” approach that is both biblically and theologically uninformed. At best many of our churches, if not uninformed, are decidedly ill-informed. If our use of images broadly affirms what the church teaches and does not offend the (often) uneducated tastes of the faithful, then whether we use “kitsch,” Rothko, Fujimura, Bowden, or some of the more “classic” Christian artists of antiquity, is of little concern.

This is unfortunate on many levels, one of which is that such an approach often produces an outcome that, while (possibly) “edifying,” entirely undermines the purpose and power of worship as catechesis (education). Like it or not, understand it or not, images educate. Images communicate a message that will either empower or emasculate the good news of Jesus Christ. And let us not be fooled, the same principle applies to every visual or verbal art.

Given this, what can we do to ensure that there is a dynamic correspondence between the message we preach and the methods we use? Referencing the long history of Christian iconography, several guidelines become apparent.

Christian visual arts in worship must correspond with what the Bible teaches. For Evangelicals this first point will appear to be understood. In practice, however, it isn’t. Given the great intersection between the spoken, sung, written, and visual “words,” the visual must have the same biblical integrity as do the other components. Taking a point from the historic icon of Moses and the Burning Bush, should Moses have a beard or not? No doubt such a concern will evoke consternation, confusion, or cacophonous laughter among those of us who embrace a hearty Evangelical faith. “What difference does it make,” many will mock. “Isn’t this majoring on minors,” others will assert. What is needed, however, is conversation. The reason we do not understand the issue about Moses’ beard is because our biblical and theological knowledge is deficient. There are many biblical “beards” we must address if there is going to be a dynamic correspondence between message and method in our worship. The pastor and worship leader must be leaders in this arena, as in so many others.

Christian visual arts in worship must also correspond with what the Church historically teaches. That is, worship arts must be understood and approached as a distinct theological enterprise. The Church has historically taught that images in worship are “theology in color.” Just as the pastor must engage in the exegetical task of understanding and communicating the written text, so also the visual text must be exegetically approached. In fact, the correspondence between both the verbal and the visual is so very close that the images we use must, like an icon, be seen as “written” texts of theological purpose. Again referencing Moses’ beard, or lack thereof, what does the Bible teach and what are the theological foundations either supporting or negating either its presence or absence in visual arts? As such, even if our use of images is tasteful it does not guarantee a correspondence with Church Tradition. This Tradition must be addressed and practically embraced if message and method are going to speak together.

Christian visual arts, most especially in our (often) non-liturgical Evangelical churches, must be rooted in both a theology of repentance and informed resourcement of the past. The Protestant Reformation(s), while seeking to reform the Church, also deformed it. One of the ways the churches of the Reformation were deformed was through iconoclasm, the destruction or diminishment of images. The German, English, and reforms ofGeneva each engaged in a destruction of images (with some exceptions) that, in spite of recent changes, we continue to experience and endure. As such our return to the use of images, while in some ways commendable, is frequently both reactionary and uninformed. A cautionary note is urgently needed. The iconoclastic history of the Protestant Reformations created a socio-psycho-pneumatic vacuum that has become our heritage. We hunger and thirst for images for many reasons, one of which is the unwise and indiscriminate disregard of their importance. If we are not careful and prayerful we are in danger of advocating an unwise and indiscriminate return to their use.  If we are going to effectively engage in the use of the images in worship, we must revisit and repent of certain elements of our history that has become our heritage.

Christian visual arts in worship must ensure that all of the genres used in Christian worship – whether through reading (which is, indeed, an art) preaching, singing, drama, film, or any other forms of visual arts – work consistently, comprehensively, and cohesively. Upon entering an Orthodox church, people are often impressed (or shocked) by the images that dominates the architecture. (In fact, even the architecture itself is a theological treatise, and we Evangelicals must give far more attention to how we build our houses of worship.) Icons are on the ceiling, on the walls, and on the icon screen (iconostasis). The uninformed may initially think that such an arrangement (although beautiful) is a confusing clutter of seemingly unrelated images. But this is not the case. Every icon, adhering to a received tradition, is placed in a very specific order to communicate a particular message. The icons are “written” and arranged so as to speak with a harmonious voice. Each and every icon is consistent with tradition, comprehensive in its vision(s), and cohesive in its artistic integrity and approach. Applying this to the auditory arts, not to have such an approach is like having a musical conductor with two broken arms or like two orchestras simultaneously playing different compositions.

Finally, and, quite oddly given what has been already stated, visual arts in worship must also correspond with the cultural settings in which we live. This makes good sense considering that one of the key components of the Reformations was that worship (including the reading of the Bible) would be in the language of the people. This does not mean, however, that worship must in any way become cultural accommodation. Quite to the contrary, worship is counter-cultural in almost every way.

What it does mean is that each culture, while maintaining certain biblical and theological norms, will have approaches to worship that differ from our own. Continuing our ongoing emphasis upon icons, Byzantine, Coptic, Spanish, American, and Hispano-Pueblo icons differ significantly from each other. Similarly, even within one culture or country (such asRussia) there are a variety of schools that reflect certain iconographic perspectives that differ from one another. Nevertheless, and this is important, every true icon will comply with iconographic “language” that upholds the biblical narrative and both its theological and catechetical enterprises. Like the “I” and “We” of the Creeds, we must speak separately but the same.

To beard or not to beard, that is the question. But, quite frankly, I am not sure that the iconographic tradition definitively answers the question of Moses’ beard or lack thereof. Although the oldest traditions show Moses beardless, I have seen others that have him fully bearded — and yet the “writer” seeks to adhere to orthodoxy in image. Nevertheless, as with all points of worship, even every apparently “small” part must be biblically, theologically, traditionally, culturally, and counter-culturally attended to.


The Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, is an examining chaplain with the Reformed Episcopal Church – Anglican Church in North America, and a widely published author.

Continue Reading 0