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Why does the church put so much emphasis on the formal rites of worship?

There are many ways to worship God—in personal prayer, in an awe-struck silence before the grandeur of God, in tears that express feelings too deep for words or in laughter that wells up unbidden from the very ecstasy of being alive. But in addition to all of these, the worship of God needs to be continually and intentionally expressed and held up in honor and in awe, lest it become assumed or taken for granted. And this, I believe, is the role and purpose of the formal rites of worship in the church.

Communal worship takes us out of the limitations of our selves. It gives us a way of remembering God’s unconditional love for us. (Remembering = re-membering: embodying, making palpable and real to us over and over again.) When we pray only alone, I think we risk becoming too narrow in our vision of God, seeing God only from the limits of our own perceptions. Formal worship can take us so much further, both in our knowledge of God and in our praise of God. Formal worship teaches us with the wisdom of the ages. It reminds us of truths that are bigger than we are, truths that we risk forgetting if left to our own devices. Formal worship brings us into community where people can support each other and where we can encourage each other to live in the ways God calls us to live.

So, does God care what form our worship takes? Who am I to answer that question? What I can say, however, is that I think it is important that we care what form our worship takes. I think it is important that in our worship we offer to God the finest expression of honor, gratitude and praise we have the means to offer, important that our worship lifts us up out of the ordinary occupations of our lives and into an awareness of the presence of God, important that worship provides for us that unique time and place where we can both recognize and acknowledge that we are standing on holy ground because we have intentionally come together with others to be in the presence of God. Through the act of formal worship, we are continually shaped and formed as a people, even as we offer to God the honor and praise of our hearts and our lives.

--The Rev. Margaret B. Gunness

We are all creatures of habit; everyone has some sort of routine they follow. The Church, being a human institution, is no different. I am comfortable at my church, and the habits I've adopted from my worship there have helped me on my spiritual journey. Regularly worshipping in the church community is good for me. I sometimes feel bombarded by the many negative influences I experience during the course of a week. The TV, radio, billboards, and sometimes people make me feel separated from God. The routine of the Church provides a welcome relief.

On the other hand, I have been turned off by the formality and rigidity of some churches I've visited. I strongly believe that God does not care where or how we worship Him, so long as we do actually worship Him. I see our church and its routines as very powerful spiritual tools. I view prayer, meditation, scripture, fellowship, and this Web site as important tools as well. The important thing is that I do worship, not the form it takes.

-- Nick

Someone posed a question in answer, "What would you do if there were no formal rites of worship?" Self-discipline would be critical. In my very human condition, formal worship gives me structure. Without it my spiritual awareness lags.


I think that the church puts so much emphasis on the formal rites of worship because people look to God as something solid in their often-confusing lives. The formal rites of worship are constant and never changing, so they mirror God's role in our lives.

I don't believe that God really cares what form our worship takes. The Bible says, "whenever two of three are gathered in my name," leading me to think that worship can happen everywhere at all times. For instance, when I went to South Dakota and stayed on an Indian reservation. The church there only met once a month and the services were very laid-back and informal. But God was more present there than I have ever known Him to be.


Formal rites of worship embody longstanding myths that arm us with the means to address our profound spiritual needs. Because rites of the church are means and not ends, God does not care very much what form they take. To absolutize any particular form is to fall into idolatry.


The formal rites of worship are for us, the worshipers. They are crafted by us humans for the benefit of us humans. Our faith teaches that God is delighted whenever anyone draws near to Him in sincerity (" . . . cleanse the thoughts of our hearts... that we may perfectly love You and worthily magnify Your holy Name."). When our hearts are made tender and we open ourselves to God, God is pleased, whether this happens in a movie theater or in the woods or at dinner with friends or when we are alone with our own pain and frustration. Yet whenever I share with others these exalted frames of mind, they seem more blessed if they are communicated in a form others find equally meaningful: a handshake at the Peace; a reverent genuflection before the Communion; the voices of a hundred people singing the same dear old hymn; the kiss given by a priest to the stole as it is donned. These things are all reminders that we are not on this journey alone; that, for better or worse, we share our relationship to God with all God's children.




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