Why We Do What We Do
It might be imagined by some that the style, order and content of a service of worship is decided according to the whim, preference or taste of the minister (tempered - perhaps - by what a congregation allows him or her to 'get away with'!).
However, this is not actually the case - and certainly not for us in St Cuthbert's.
Our worship patterns are shaped by the Church of Scotland's book of 'Common Order' which draws on ancient patterns of worship throughout the centuries and in particular the practice of the Reformed Church of which the Church of Scotland is part.
The most recent Book of Common Order ('Common Order' 1994) says, 'It is in worship that through song, prayer, and preaching, our theology is formed, our discipleship encouraged, and our spirits nourished. It is in worship that we reach out to touch the hem of Christ's garment and find that, instead of touching the hem, we are being offered the grace of God by word of mouth and gift of hand.' 1
Common Order goes on to state, 'In the reformed understanding, worship is not the right or rite of an ordained caste, but is the duty, joy, and prerogative of all believers.' 2
And so it is that our order for Sunday worship is in the ancient tradition of the Church catholic, is in that stream of the church that is 'Reformed', and is worship in which all participate.
Referring to the earlier 1940 Book of Common Worship, it was stated in the Introduction to the 1994 Common Order 'the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper [is] central and fundamental; even where there was no Action, services were constructed to be Eucharistic in their form and order.' 3
That helps to explain why the shape of our weekly worship is as it is. Even when Holy Communion is not celebrated, still the form of the service follows the pattern of a Communion service, that being primarily the Liturgy of the Word of God (Scripture readings, psalm - usually sung - and preaching) and then the Liturgy of the Faithful (or of the 'Upper Room' or of 'the Lord's Supper'), to which were added acts of approach to God at the beginning of the service.
So we will all recognise the threefold pattern that is highlighted every week in our printed Order of Service:
Of course, once a month in our congregation the 'Response to the Word of God' culminates in the celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion. But even when it does not, the pattern of worship remains, with prayers, offerings and thanksgivings part of our response to the Word of God which we have heard read and preached earlier in our worship.
At every Sunday worship service the form of worship follows ancient patterns and a Reformed understanding and is a clear expression of our understanding of the Gospel and the faith. We approach God in our opening worship, we listen to his Word, read and preached, and we respond to that Word of God in our prayers, dedication and thanksgiving.
1 John L Bell in the Preface to Common Order, 1994
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