Worship and sacraments

Monday, 15 October, 2012

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

As worship - as well as mission - is of the essence of the church, a fresh expression of church will develop a contextually appropriate pattern of prayer, worship and sacramental life. As they mature they will administer the sacraments which Jesus gave the Church - baptism and holy communion.

It is often a mistake to begin a fresh expression by first establishing a public act of worship rather than following a pattern of listening, serving, community formation and disciple making to help shape the worship gathering appropriately. But, like each of the other elements in this fresh expressions journey, such a gathering for worship needs to be the intention from the beginning, not an afterthought.

Most fresh expressions are more informal in ethos than more traditional church services. The worship will often be more interactive and relational. It will be a community experience - more than an event primarily led from the front. Reading and teaching the Bible will provoke questions and discussion within the service, not just afterwards. Prayer stations can provide a diversity of approaches to prayer but I also recommend regular corporate intercessions for the local community, wider world and for the church. This helps:

  • to develop a disciplined commitment to pray for more than personal needs;
  • the fresh expression to identify and support specific mission or community projects. Simple liturgy is a help with this, making prayer a more corporate call and response experience.

Many fresh expressions begin as a sort of 'catechumenate' group. They are a gathering of people on a journey towards mature Christian discipleship. If the worship is to form them as disciples it needs to have a recognizable pattern. The content may vary but a framework to which people become accustomed frees them to engage with the content of each aspect of the service without always wondering what will come next.

Journeys into committed faith in a Christian community need staging posts along the way. These might include informal acts, like a testimony or an interview, but they lead naturally to baptism, or the renewal of baptismal vows, or confirmation, or whatever way the host denomination marks the entry or return to Christian faith. This should normally be public and take place at the normal time and in the normal venue of the fresh expression. That is unless practicality, or a commitment to more public witness, takes you to the local river or swimming pool! Whatever the location, use a form of baptismal promise that would be recognised by your denomination or stream so that no-one can question the validity of what is done. There is one baptism, whether in inherited church or a fresh expression.

The same applies to holy communion. Some fresh expressions introduce holy communion early; others teach about it and develop an understanding and appetite about it before beginning. Although there is a myth that fresh expressions are not sacramental, recent Church Army research on the dioceses of Liverpool and Canterbury show this is not the case.

Many fresh expressions hold communion services. Each denomination has different regulations about who may lead and how this may be done, with the Methodist Conference making some new provisions this year. The same advice applies as with baptism. Use authorised words from your denomination as an application of the mixed economy.

Fresh expressions which have a rule of life - or which follow a new monastic pattern - may have a public event for members taking the promises which their community has developed.

There is a wonderful creativity about worship within fresh expressions. For more information see chapter 18 of Michael Moynagh's Church for Every Context, tap into the wealth of information in the worship section of the Guide on our site or look at the resources published by Jonny Baker's Proost. Worship in fresh expressions can be profound and transformative as well as informal, hospitable and interactive.

+Graham Cray


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