Category Archives: Working Group on Worship

Remaking the world (Advent 3B, 14 December 2014)

Isaiah 61.1–4, 8–11

Earlier this month, I was in Adelaide at a two-day colloquium that was exploring the way our theological colleges across the Uniting Church teach liturgy and worship. I hope and believe that some very good things will come out of it. While I was there, I was thinking about what we do in worship, and about what the significance of our liturgy is.

Gathering together for worship seems like a simple thing to do. Yet we are doing something very significant every Sunday, week by week, as we come together to worship God as the Church. And that significant thing is this: we are sharing with God in remaking the world.

Does that sound a bit grandiose, a bit self-important? How can l’l ol’ us be remaking the world? Continue reading

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Synopsis: Presbyteral Services of Ordination, 1977-1995: The Uniting Church in Australia ‘within the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’

In Genesis 18, Abraham haggles with God with the result that if there were ten righteous people in Sodom, it would be spared. When I mused about putting the synopsis of my PhD thesis on the blog I had decided that if there were not ten but one who asked I’d do it. Thanks, Nicole!

This thesis examines whether the presbyteral ordination rite of the Uniting Church conforms to acceptable ecumenical practice in the western Christian tradition and thereby supports the claim that its presbyters are ordained as ministers in the Church catholic. It looks at the period 1977-1995, a particularly active time for the Commission on Liturgy in the writing of services of ordination. Appendix C outlines developments since that time.

The Uniting Church in Australia, formed from the union of Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches in 1977, declares that it ‘lives and works within the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’ (Basis of Union, para. 2; the Basis is the Uniting Church’s foundational document).

One consequence of this declaration is its claim to ordain its ministers of the Word (presbyters) as ministers in the Church catholic. This thesis examines whether the course that the Uniting Church has taken in its liturgical practices of ordination of ministers of the Word has been consistent with its own assertions; or whether, while still continuing to make the same claims, the Uniting Church has paid insufficient attention to the witness of the Church catholic.

The Uniting Church was formed as a Church that found the Faith in the sources received from the Church catholic—in Christ the Word, in the scriptures, in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, and in its foundational documents from the Protestant Reformation and the Wesleyan revival. Consistent with this, the members of the Joint Commission on Church Union sought to establish a ministry accepted by all, with a threefold ordering of bishops, presbyters and deacons. This goal proved elusive. The full working out of this vision involved a proposed Concordat with the Church of South India. That Church would be invited to send bishops to ordain bishops in the Uniting Church, so that the sign of apostolic succession would be both given and received by the new Church. The Joint Committee on Church Union was unable to agree on this proposal, and so it was stillborn.

The Joint Committee could then have aimed lower, for a form of ordained ministry that was more narrowly-rooted in the traditions stemming from the Reformation and the Wesleyan revival. However, the ordination rite of the Uniting Church from 1977 onwards has seen ordination as conferred in the name of Christ through the authority of the presbytery ‘by prayer and the laying on of hands in the presence of a worshipping congregation’, as mandated by the Basis of Union (para. 14(a)). It has also located ordination within the context of the eucharist; neither practice was inevitable, given that neither is practised by all Reformed churches.

In examining the question of whether the presbyteral ordination rite of the Uniting Church in the period 1977-1995 supports the claim that its presbyters are ordained as ministers in the Church of God, attention has been paid to the framework of James Puglisi. Puglisi’s schema of the process of admission to ordained ministry provides a lingua franca for this process from different traditions, and the thesis will show that the various revisions of the Uniting Church’s rite of ordination follow this framework.

The principle of lex orandi, lex credendi is worked out in the Uniting Church predominantly by the conforming of liturgy to doctrinal statement. In the 1992 service this relationship of doctrine and liturgy was stretched almost to breaking point, though the Commission on Liturgy sought to mitigate the effects of the decision of the Sixth Assembly in 1991 (summarised as ‘one ordination, two accreditations’) that marked a distancing from the practice of the Church catholic. The Uniting Church’s commitment to having as ecumenically recognisable a ministry as possible is shown in the correction of this anomaly at the very first opportunity, at the Seventh Assembly in 1994. As part of the background to the analysis of the Uniting Church’s claims to the ordination of its presbyters as part of the Church catholic, the forms that ministry took in the New Testament and early Church period are sketched, along with a discussion of ministry in various streams of the Protestant Reformation. Liturgies from the Apostolic Tradition attributed to Hippolytus, dating from perhaps the third-century, through the Reformation to the present day are also examined, particularly those that influenced the writing of Uniting Church liturgies.

The various versions of the Uniting Church rite of ordination are commented upon, interspersed with a discussion of the debate that was occurring at the time in the Uniting Church Assembly, and—in the case of Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry—ecumenically.

The Basis of Union clearly states ‘the Presbytery will ordain by prayer and the laying on of hands in the presence of a worshipping congregation’ (para. 14(a)), and leaves room open for a renewal of the diaconate (para. 14(c)) and for an episcopal office (para. 16). The diaconate was renewed by the Sixth Assembly in 1991, which was implemented in an idiosyncratic way, by ordaining to ‘ministry in Christ’s church’ and then ‘accrediting’ to the ministry of the Word or the diaconate. Had this form of commissioning for ministry become entrenched in the Uniting Church, this thesis argues that the Uniting Church would not be able to sustain the claim that it ordained ministers of the Word into the ministry of the Church catholic. However, the Seventh Assembly in 1994 overturned this decision, and re-established the ministry of the Word as a separate ordination.

This thesis concludes that because the form of the rite conforms to acceptable ecumenical practice in the western Christian tradition, and because the decision of the Seventh Assembly in 1994 enabled a restoration of ordination by prayer and the imposition of hands, the Uniting Church can indeed make the claim that it ordains its ministers of the Word as ministers of the Church catholic.

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A Very Short Guide to the Service of the Lord’s Day

Uniting in Worship 2 contains ‘A Short Guide to the Service of the Lord’s Day’. The Working Group on Worship simplified it at our meeting last week, and offers it on the website. I’m putting it here too:


to the Service of the Lord’s Day


When we cross the threshold into a service of worship, we bring with us the concerns and joys of our lives. In other words, we bring the concerns and joys of the mission field in which we live. The Sunday service does not provide ‘time out’ from our daily mission; liturgy and mission are integrally related. ’Liturgy’[1] is our graced response to God’s gracious acts. It is best to think of liturgy as the work of God in which God graciously enables us to share. Through it we are brought into relationship with the triune God and we offer worship as the body of Christ in the Holy Spirit.

In worship, we speak to God in a direct way in praise and adoration, confession and lament, intercession and thanksgiving. It is the primary speech of the community to God, rather than speech about God, the secondary speech of reflection and discussion. It is also God’s speech to us – for example, in the word of grace at the declaration of forgiveness, in the proclamation of the Scriptures, in the blessing that rings in our ears as we leave. The speech of worship is nonverbal as well as verbal, including such things as gesture and movement, colour and sacrament, silence and music.

The nature of worship gives rise to the shape of the Service of the Lord’s Day, just as the shape of the Service of the Lord’s Day helps us to appreciate the nature of worship. Knowing the structure of worship gives space for creativity.

The liturgy should give expression to the life of a local worshipping community. It may be enhanced by such things as drama, dance, the visual arts, music and the use of multimedia. A whole congregation may be involved e.g., through the use of percussive music and/or movement. Readings and prayers may be offered by more than one voice. Creative presentations may be helpful; they should be well-prepared and thoughtful. They should be a vehicle for the worship of the people, rather than a performance. Participatory worship is always the guiding principle; the congregation is not an audience.

The ministry of the leadership of worship is crucial; the leaders simultaneously lead the people in worship and worship as part of the body of Christ.

The Service of the Lord’s Day

The Service of the Lord’s Day has four parts, which could be briefly characterised as: gathering, hearing, being fed and being sent.

The Gathering of the People of God/Gathering as God’s People

The leader greets the people in God’s name, and calls them to worship. Here, we cross a threshold – we move into a sacred space, and a sacred time, a space and time ‘set apart’ for the purpose of communal praise.

At this point, we pray in particular ways. Some of these ways may include:

• asking for God to be present with us in a prayer of invocation;

• praising and adoring God for being God in a prayer of adoration;

• confessing our sins in a prayer of confession, and hearing the declaration of forgiveness;

• pouring out our hearts to God in a prayer of lament.

This is honest conversation with God; God’s greatness and God’s care for us bring our response into being. In worship, we are formed as a people of faith, receiving our identity as people who call for God to come to their aid; who praise God in adoration; who confess their sins to the God of mercy and grace; who cry out to God for justice.

The Service of the Word/Receiving God’s Word

People are shaped by story, by narrative. When we want to get to know a person, we listen to their story. When we hear stories again and again, we are shaped and re-shaped as the stories are told and re-told. As Christian people we are shaped by the story of Jesus, the Incarnate Word; the story of God’s dealings with Israel; and the story of God’s people through history. As we hear this story, we are formed by an alternative perspective on life – the perspective of the gospel.

The story is told through proclamation of the gospel. This includes a reading or an alternative presentation of the Scriptures, preaching or another form of reflection on Scripture; it may also include drama/movement, symbolic action, art, multimedia resources, and silence. We hear Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, in the ‘unique prophetic and apostolic testimony’ of the Scriptures (Basis of Union, 5).

Hearing the story requires a response, for it is God’s Word addressing us. The immediate response is often one such as ‘In this is the Word of the Lord/Thanks be to God’. Yet the response does not end here. It can take various forms, such as a time of silent reflection or some form of action. It may continue in saying together the Nicene Creed or another statement of faith, which is a corporate re-telling of the story. It also includes making an offering (of ourselves, our gifts, our money, and our prayers for others); and the notices and concerns of the community.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper/Celebrating the Lord’s Supper

Baptised into Christ in his death and resurrection, we are invited to share in the meal of thanksgiving. An invitation to the Lord’s table is given. This invitation requires pastoral sensitivity; all baptised Christians are welcome to share the meal, but not all may be permitted by the laws of their Church to receive communion with the Uniting Church. This needs to be respected as we continue to pursue the unity to which Christ calls us.

The various names given to this meal by our traditions show something of its meaning: it is the Lord’s Supper, instituted by Christ on the night of his betrayal; it is the Holy Communion, a sacrament of union between Christ and believers, and of the union of the believers themselves; it is the Eucharist, from the Greek word meaning ‘thanksgiving’. Indeed, its primary note is thanksgiving – honouring God for all that God is, and giving thanks for all that God has done in the work of creation and salvation.

We use bread and wine which are the work of human hands. More than this, they are the gifts of God for us in the sacrament. They are the signs of God’s work for our salvation in Jesus Christ. They are most fitting for the purpose when they are used boldly: a single loaf of bread and a common cup are most appropriate. After the service, what remains of the elements should be consumed or otherwise reverently disposed of. Respect for these means of grace, as well as sensitivity to our ecumenical sisters and brothers, require this care.

The centrepiece of this part of the liturgy is The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving. The origins of this central Christian prayer lie in Jewish prayer at Passover and in the grace at every meal. Jesus built on these at the Last Supper. Our present sacrament also derives meaning from other meals hosted by Jesus – e.g. after the resurrection at Emmaus (Luke 24), or by the seashore (John 21). Its essence is thanksgiving to God for the mighty acts of God. It is a ‘Great’ Prayer because it is the expression of all the gifts of God for our salvation, above all in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is important that the significance of the prayer is not diminished, and that it is offered prayerfully.

Here, we remember Christ; indeed, we are ‘re-membered’ in Christ, ‘re-joined’ to him as he is present with us in the action of this meal.[2] We are ‘re-called’ to the presence of Christ in our midst. This meal anticipates and makes real the reign of Christ; in sharing it we are reconciled to one another. This part of the liturgy often begins with the greeting of peace. This action is about being reconciled in Christ, and with one another in Christ, rather than exchanging a personal greeting.

We tell the narrative of the institution of the Sacrament at the Last Supper by Jesus, whether in The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, or before it; this is part of the story that shapes us as a people of Christ.

We invoke the Holy Spirit,[3] that the bread and wine may be the body and blood of Christ for us, and that we may have a deepened awareness of and participation in the reign of Christ. As we pray for the fullness of the Spirit, the hope of the full reconciliation of all creation with God is enacted.

Having given thanks, we break the bread and lift the cup and share the meal as the community of Christ.

The Prayer after Communion has similarities to a grace after a meal; it is also a self-offering, and a prayer that God will continue the blessing.

The Sending Forth of the People of God/Being Sent on God’s Mission

Having heard the word and shared the meal together, we are sent forth on mission; we are again on a threshold. We typically sing a hymn/song of mission. The act of singing helps to confirm our identity as a community.

The leader gives a blessing to the people in the name of the triune God; this is a blessing for the next stage of the journey, a proclamation of the Word of God, an assurance that God’s promises are always made new.

This part of the liturgy encourages us to continue the worship of God in our witness and service; in the words of the Iona Community, we see that ‘worship and work are one’; or as the Eastern Orthodox tradition has expressed it, we go to ‘the liturgy beyond the Liturgy’. We go in peace to love and serve the Lord in the name of Christ.

[1] ‘Liturgy’ (Greek leitourgia) literally means ‘the work of the people’, which was understood to be public service to God.

[2] The Greek term for this ‘remembrance’ is anamnesis.

[3] This ‘invoking of the Spirit’ is the epiclesis in Greek.

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Australian Consultation on Liturgy 2009

This time last week I was sitting in historic Trinity College in balmy Melbourne (not!) at the 2009 meeting of ACOL, the Australian Consultation on Liturgy ACOL was inaugurated in 1976 and exists to help member churches to deepen their understanding of their own and other churches’ worship. Among other things, it also monitors the use in Australia of the Revised Common Lectionary (1992) and the common worship texts in Praying Together (1988). ACOL is the local chapter of the English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC), which has international oversight of the Revised Common Lectionary.

More churches were represented than in any previous meeting of ACOL: Anglican, Baptist, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and Uniting. Apologies were received from the Churches of Christ.

We heard about work on prayers concerning the environment from the Anglican Church, services in house churches, translation issues, the way the Salvation Army is more looking at the Lectionary and the Christian year, and our Short Guide for Daily Prayer and our new ordination services. Meetings such as ACOL give the churches venues to share and understand one another better, and so further the mission of God.

After that, I met up with friends old and new and then went to Romsey, where I shared the next day with Rev Dr Avril Hannah-Jones, also preaching at Lancefield Uniting Church. A very good weekend!

Liturgical websites of member churches of ACOL (national groups in bold):
Anglican Church: Commission on Liturgy
Baptist Church: Laughingbird Resources
Greek Orthodox: St Andrews Orthodox Press (a download file)
Lutheran Church: Commission on Worship
Roman Catholic Church: Liturgy Commission
Presbyterian Church of Australia: Public Worship and Aids to Devotion
Salvation Army: Worship
Uniting Church: The Working Group on Worship

Enjoy browsing!

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New ordination services for the Uniting Church in Australia

On 17 November I posted that I was back from Sydney, where one of the things I did (on behalf of the Working Group on Worship) was to present the Assembly Standing Committee with new services of ordination and induction for ministers of the Word—presbyters in many other churches—and deacons.

They take effect from 1 January, and they’ve now been posted! You can find them on this page; they are services 1-4. (Services 9 & 10 are the current ordination services.)

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Ordination and Bungeeing (and Broken Symbols…)

I was in Melbourne a few days ago for a long-awaited and long-desired occasion: the ordination of Dr Avril Hannah-Jones, who blogs here.

The occasion was held at The Church of All Nations, a Uniting Church mission in inner-city Carlton.

I had a lovely time. Avril met me at the airport, and once her alb was safely dropped off at CAN we had lunch and browsed the wonderful Readings bookshop, before making our way back to the church. 

The service was very good. Robert Gribben (Professor of Worship and Mission; former member of the Working Group on Worship; my co-editor for Uniting in Worship 2) preached an excellent sermon, which you may find at the end of this post.

After the ordination, these evidential photos were taken:


Avril and the preacher

Avril and the preacher


Avril with some bloke

Avril with some bloke


The next day, we were reflecting how ordination is one of those steps in life—like marriage, or having children—that you can’t take back. A truly life-changing step, after which you are not the same person as you were before.

Steps like that can take a little time to get used to. They can be anxiety-provoking. It has struck me since I got home that there are other steps that are life-changing; we should include baptism in this list, after all. But a few weeks ago my 21-year old son took another kind of step that he couldn’t take back. He took a step out of a little booth suspended high above us, and fell. The fact that his ankles were attached to a length of rope did not make his parents feel any better!

Chris didn’t hesitate in stepping out; I couldn’t do what he did myself. He’s braver than I am! Here again is photo evidence:


Looking down

Looking down


A leap of faith!

A leap of faith!



Is it a step too far to compare these two irrevocable steps? I don’t think so. Each requires determination; each—including bungee jumping—is a response to a call.

A bungee jump is of necessity a plunge into thin air. An ordination is a step into—what? Perhaps it is a leap of faith. The Brisbane-based spiritual director Patrick Oliver talks about ‘falling into God’. I was certainly glad Chris’s fall ended in the expected way; but as we each fall into God, how readily will we take that step?

One huge difference is that while bungee jumping has a definite time limit, falling into God is a lifelong project. When will it end? Never. Not even in eternity.

As an ordained minister falls into God, she falls in community. We are not shamanic figures, falling spectacularly to the awed gaze of the onlookers. We fall (in the words of Robert’s sermon following) as broken symbols, inviting faith in God. We fall into God as representative figures, joined by a common baptism, inviting others to fall with us. How will we land? All we know is that underneath are the everlasting arms.

Avril and Chris, both of you have taken wonderful, irrevocable, steps. I’m glad I was there.


And for those who still wish to read, here (with no mention of bungee jumping!) is Robert’s fine sermon:



A sermon preached at the Ordination to the Ministry of the Word of 

Dr Avril Hannah-Jones, Church of All Nations, Sunday 5th October 2008.

Genesis 32: 22-31; Matthew 5: 13-16

Gordon Lathrop, the Lutheran liturgical scholar, in his marvellous book The Pastor, a spirituality, begins by observing that pastors (which is the Lutheran word for priests, ministers, preachers) are symbols, and the tools of their ministry are symbols. This symbolic status might be glimpsed by the public in a cross around the neck or a clerical collar, or an icon on the study wall, or a well-thumbed New Testament for the home visit.  These, he says, are secondary things: ‘the primary symbols in a Christian pastor’s care ought to be quite specific things, basically communal in their practice, historic in their ecumenical centrality, widely resonant in their meaning’. 

He means, quite simply, what he often calls ‘Book, Bath and Table’, preaching, baptism and eucharist.  From these three primary symbols, he sees all else flowing, especially the church’s concern for the world in intercession and in the collection for the poor, the first sign of social justice. These responses lose their point if they become unconnected to Book, Bath and Table. They are the fundamental implements of those called to the order of ministry in the Church.

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A Short Guide for Daily Prayer (2)

I thought it might help to include part of the Introduction to A Short Guide, to help people to ‘get’ the approach we’ve taken (shamelessly borrowed from Celebrating Common Prayer):

When an individual prays, they are never alone. They are surrounded by the ‘cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 12:1), and accompanied by the communion of saints. We always pray in company with the whole Church of Jesus Christ, even when alone in our room.

These daily services reflect themes of the Church Year, allowing users to walk through the year in the span of a week.

Sunday reflects Easter: Easter is the season of fifty days lasting from the Easter Vigil (sometimes on the evening of Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday) until the Day of Pentecost. In Easter, the Church celebrates the resurrection of Christ and the new life given to the believer in Jesus.

Monday reflects Pentecost: The last day of Easter, Pentecost celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit onto the disciples, and the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit given to us today.

Tuesday reflects Advent: In the four weeks of Advent, the Church looks forward to the coming of the reign of Christ in its fullness, and to the coming of Christ in Bethlehem. It is a time of expectation, anticipation, self-examination and hope.

Wednesday reflects Christmas: Christmas is a 12-day season which extends from the evening service on Christmas Eve to the Feast of the Epiphany. Here, the Church celebrates the incarnation of Christ: God becomes human, part of the world, so that we may share the divine life.

Thursday reflects Epiphany: In the West, the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January marks the coming of the heathen magi to Jesus, bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It marks the universality of Jesus, and his light that floods the world.

Friday reflects Lent and Holy Week: Lent is a time of self-examination in which we (including those preparing for baptism or confirmation at Easter) prepare ourselves through spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting in order to mark more fully the events of Holy Week, and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus at Easter.

On Saturday, themes of Discipleship and Rest come to the fore. As followers of Jesus, we are disciples (students, apprentices) who learn from the master artisan. As the seventh day, Saturday is also a reminder of the rest promised to us by God.

Two psalms suitable for the seasonal theme have been suggested for each day. It is assumed that scripture reading guides such as With Love to the World might provide suitable sources of readings and reflection.

As before, you can download it here.

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A Short Guide for Daily Prayer

The Uniting Church Working Group on Worship has been aware for some time that our Church lacks a daily prayer resource. Rev Jenny Tymms and I have produced a draft, which we are offering for use and comment. If you’d like to download a pdf file, which is easily printed into a booklet, go here.

And please—let us have your feedback!

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