Gathered worship is simply a way of saying "thank you" to God by re-telling the story of who he is and what he's done for us.
Every church has a way of organizing its worship that tells the story of what God has done called a liturgy (derived from a word that means “work of the people”). This liturgy shapes what God's people believe and how they live over time, so it's important to be intentional about what happens in worship.
As an Anglican church, we inhabit a liturgy that has marked Christian worship for over two millenia. This form of worship is soaked in Scripture, champions participation by the whole community, and invites us to use all our senses to see, hear, taste, and touch the goodness of God.
Each year has its own rhythm of marking time according to the gospel. Each season has a distinct focus that invites us into different aspects of gospel healing.
Each Sunday morning has its own pattern of telling the gospel story. Christ gathers us, speaks to us through his word, feeds us at this table, and then sends us into the world. Each Sunday prepares us to live more faithfully Monday through Saturday, because everything we do on Sundays is “practice” for the broader worship of daily life.
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The service presents us with the good news of Christ – His life, death, resurrection, and its implications in our lives – in a variety of ways. The shape of the service, and the words we all say together, impress the gospel on our hearts over and over again, whether the preacher has a good day or a bad one!
Anglicans believe in the supreme authority of scripture. Our worship is filled with scripture, not just in the three readings from the Old and New Testaments, but in the biblical patterns and quotations that fill every part of our service. In this way, week by week, we marinate ever more deeply in the divinely-inspired Story of God.
Anglicanism is a historically-rooted expression of the Christian faith. The basic pattern of our worship would be recognizable to Christians from the first centuries of the church (except for the fact it’s in English, of course). We believe there is wisdom is being tangibly united to the Body of Christ that has gone before us and giving them a “vote” in how the church worships.
IAC seeks to be not only tied to the Body of Christ historically, but also to our brothers and sisters in the faith around the world. We freely adapt the service using aspects of liturgies from around the world, in order to glean the wisdom their worship can offer. In various seasons, we use liturgies shaped by Asia, Africa, and Europe, as well as drawing from our own North American church.
We believe worship is something that we do together. Although we need people to lead us in worship, we are not meant to be spectators: liturgy means “the work of the people,” after all! In our worship we are expected to respond in word and deed: to proclaim, to kneel, to come forward, to eat and drink. We don’t just watch. We get involved in the action, because worship is not an “event” or “entertainment” that can be done to us: we all are the actors in the play, characters in the story, and members of the heavenly throng praising the goodness of our God.
Our movement in worship is not without purpose and consideration. Generally, we sit to learn, stand to praise, petition, and give thanks, and kneel to confess (when possible). Some may even “cross” themselves, or make the “sign of the cross,” over their chests at certain points in the service. This is not superstitious or required in any way: it is simply a sign of our personal reception and remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Intentional worship raises an important question: isn’t it “inauthentic” to do something in worship I don’t really feel? It is certainly a wonderful thing when our worship can spring from hearts overflowing with the Spirit and with joy. But many times, we don’t feel it. We believe our actions can begin to soften our hard hearts, and “going through the motions” can actually lead us into more vibrant worship. We have discovered that, over time, we are formed in Christ not only by the power of what we say and think, but of what we do. Therefore, the liturgy is a powerful tool in the hands of the Spirit, training us to worship Christ in everything we do throughout the week.
Just as the natural world has different seasons and a monthly calendar, the Church also has a calendar and different seasons. The seasons of the church year focus our attention on the work of God in history to set the world right. They allow us – each and every year – to marinate in different aspects of the gospel story. This protects us from neglecting certain facets of the gospel and fosters a holistic view of God’s purposes for us. For Christians, the church calendar starts at Advent, looking toward the coming King.
Advent anticipates the coming of our King, Jesus. It is a season of anticipation and a reflection of his coming. We typically celebrate Advent by displaying the color purple, which signifies the royalty of Christ.
You might be surprised to find that Christmas isn’t just a day, but a 12-day season! This wonderful time celebrates the gift of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, who came as both fully God and fully man. It is a time of celebration, and we use the color white, which signifies Christ’s purity and glory.
Epiphany celebrates the revelation of our Lord Jesus to the world, because He is the one in whom God is making all things new creations. We signify epiphany by the color green, which signifies new life and vitality.
In Lent we join with our Savior as He sets his face towards Jerusalem, where He would be crucified as King. It is the most somber of all our seasons, and it is a time of fasting and humbling ourselves before the Lord. We once again display the color purple as an homage to our King.\
Easter season (again, not just the day!) celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus, our Risen Lord! Easter is a time to celebrate God’s victory over sin, death, and hell, and the promise that believers will be made new in Christ. It is our most joyful season of the year. The color returns once again to white to signify our purity and glory in Christ.
The remainder of the year we call Ordinary Time. It is the season of the church and the new life that comes by living through the Holy Spirit. It begins on Pentecost Sunday, which is colored red to remind us of the Spirit’s pouring out on the Church like tongues of fire. Pentecost focuses on God’s mission to bring new life to the world through Jesus. After Pentecost Sunday, the color returns to green so that we have be a constant reminder of the Spirit’s life-giving and renewing work in our lives.
This order reflects of a typical Sunday Worship at IAC. Our church follows a historical pattern of worship in word and table, all while marked by an openness to Holy Spirit.
As we begin, a Pastor directs our attention to our primary purpose in gathering through a call and response. It is an invitation to gather our hearts toward worship.
We continue with a Prayer for Purity in order to highlight the core element of true worship: our need for cleansing and the role of the Holy Spirit to guide us into the right spirit of worship.
Music expresses the depths of the faith, and the depths of our hearts, in ways that words alone cannot. In this portion of the service, we have an extended time to lift our voices to God and to one another, as we praise our incomparable God and offer ourselves to Him.
At IAC, we value children as full members of the Body of Christ. During this time of prayer for them, we ask that the Father might bless them during their time of learning in Kid Church.
The Daily Prayer, or Collect, “collects” our hearts and guides our minds toward a common theme. This theme often follows the Scripture Readings and the sermons. All the collects we read can be found in the 2019 Book of Common Prayer: they are well worth adding to your own prayer times.
The Scriptures we read are specifically chosen for the day and often follow a three-year Scripture Plan called a lectionary, unless they are substituted for a particular sermon series. There is always a reading from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel, and sometimes a Psalm. The readings culminate with the Gospel reading, which is read from the midst of the standing people of God. This unique posture and placement represents both Christ’s coming “among us” to reveal God, as well as the reality that Christ is present in our midst even now as we worship. We did not go to Him, but He came to us: therefore, the Gospel reading does the same.
The Sermon follows the readings and is the climax of the first movement of the service. It is an essential, non-reducible part of the proclamation of the gospel that began in the readings. The sermon should be based in the texts, illuminating them in their biblical context and relating them to real, daily life. We trust that the Spirit fills the Word of God as it is preached, convicting the hearers and drawing them to respond through prayer, confession and repentance, and receiving the gifts of God. In other words, the entire rest of the service is our response to the Word of God preached.
We first respond to the sermon with a song of reflection that allows us to meditate on how God is speaking to us through the message.
We continue our response by turning to God in prayer. We are guided in our prayers in order to keep them from becoming too narrow or self-centered. We are also reminded of the breadth of the gospel message: Christ’s restoration is global, and touches every corner of creation. It is also appropriate and encouraged for us to add our own petitions and thanksgivings, silently or aloud.
After praying for the hopes and concerns of the world, we confess and release our sins before we approach the Lord’s Table. We appeal to a merciful God, and through the crucifixion of Christ we are free to confess honestly and openly, knowing that forgiveness is always available. The wording of the prayers may change, but all affirm that each of us are all equally guilty of sinning against God and others, and equally in need of God’s forgiveness.
Through His Church, Christ declares forgiveness to those who through His grace repent of their sins. The declaration of the priest does not make us forgiven: these words simply serve as a channel for the Spirit’s grace and cleansing power. Forgiveness from God then becomes the basis for the peace we receive from Him and that we share with others.
After the absolution, we seek to follow Jesus’ command to forgive as we have been forgiven. This ancient tradition of passing the peace of Christ to one another demonstrates our intention to live in peace with all people, because we now have peace with God. It is not simply a time for greeting, but a time to intentionally bless as we have been blessed!
Our ultimate response to the word of God is thanksgiving, which we offer through the Eucharist. Eucharist means “Thanksgiving” in ancient Greek, but it can also be called Communion or the Lord’s Table. At IAC, we sometimes begin by sharing Testimonies of Thanksgiving as a way of echoing the thanksgiving we are about to offer.
We first present ourselves to God in worship through our gifts to Him. During this time, the bread and wine for communion go forward, demonstrating that Christ first offered Himself to us. Then, we take up a monetary offering. This isn’t just fundraising! It is worship, an offering of a tithe of our labor as a reflection that all our lives are a living sacrifice for him.
We present our offerings before God in humility and with a song of praise, knowing that they are meager responses to the multitude of gifts we have been given by Him.
The Pastor now leads the congregation in a prayer that rehearses the story of what God has done for us, unveiling the gospel in ways appropriate to each season. The Gospel is preached in these prayers, and the “Words of Institution” are spoken. The “Words of Institution” are found in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 11; speaking them in the midst of this prayer is simply a recognition that our meal is in continuity with Jesus’ command to practice the supper whenever we gather.
We ask for the Holy Spirit to bless and sanctify (set apart as holy) the elements of bread and wine, so that in them we might receive the body and blood of Christ. Christ has promised to meet us in this meal, and this prayer simply asks Him to be faithful to that promise. We also ask God to sanctify those who receive the bread and wine. At IAC, we often invite the congregation to stretch out their hands and join with the pastor, as a reminder that we are all a “kingdom of priests” sharing in this prayer together.
It is important to note that Anglicans do not believe in transubstantiation, nor mere memorialism. We believe that Christ truly sets apart the elements through the power of His Spirit, and that through faith we receive His grace by partaking of the bread and wine.
We now join together with the church through the ages, with one another, and with all Christians around the world in the model prayer that our Savior taught us.
Our table is not an Anglican table: it is the table of Christ. Therefore, all baptized Christians are invited to receive Communion. At IAC, we often hold our hands open to receive the bread to signify the free gift of Christ, and that our faith isn’t something that we can “take”. If you are not baptized, or would rather not receive communion, we still invite you to come forward and cross your arms over your chest, so that we can pray a blessing over you.
We close our time of Thanksgiving with a prayer that reminds us that the very life of Christ, given to us through the Holy Spirit, now flows through our veins as we enter the world. The prayer incorporates us into the mission of God, as we commit to serve Him who loved us and gave His life for us. As the service draws to a close, we ask that God now sends us in His strength and power to love and serve the world around us.
The Pastor often will make a declaration of God’s Blessing to His People. This very ancient and Biblical tradition is often accompanied by marking ourselves with the sign of the cross. This simply signifies the work God has done in our hearts, as well as his provision for our lives on a day to day basis, that only comes through the cross. Others will simply hold their hands open in a posture of a faith willing to humbly receive God’s blessing.
At IAC, we regularly add a portion of the Kenyan Anglican liturgy which sums up everything we have done together in symbolic form. This call and response casts every part of our lives onto the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
In our final response, we are called to take what we have received in the service, through the Word of God and the Holy Communion, into the world. It is a joyous recognition that we have been welcomed into the presence of God, and that we are taking that presence back out into the world. We end (when it’s not Lent season) with a shout of three-fold Alleluias…because one is just not enough for what he’s done for us!