Sunday, March 02, 2008

What IS Contemporary Worship?

Our growth in Albuquerque is requiring us to think about adding a third sanctuary service to our current line-up of two sanctuary services and three video services. Gulp! One option is to add a "Contemporary" service. A commenter below asks what that is. There are two answers.

1. In a traditional Protestant church, a "Contemporary" worship service is one which uses a band rather than an organ to accompany singing and provide music, which is of the soft rock, or Christian Contemporary/praise chorus style. Generally this service is paired with a traditional service where the organ and German hymn-tunes reign. This style is not very attractive to UU's, who like more variety in their music and already tend to a blended style of worship. (and who prefer to attract the unchurched with the message, not the music anyway.)

2. In UU Circles, a "Contemporary" worship service (insofar as this concept is developed) refers to a service which is presumably Young Adult friendly. The story goes that ex-YRUU'ers prefer circle worship to the square kind their elders do, which they refer to as the "sermon sandwich" and even on the UUA website refer to with very un-UU-like disparagement. In such a worship service, the "message" would be broken down into several parts, delivered by several voices and media; voice, drama, video, music, song, all in one thematic whole. This type of worship is not new. It was called "Creative Worship" 30 years ago and was the mainstay of Worship Committees for a long time. It's hard work, and requires a number of people, not just the preacher, to have developed the ability to share the depth of their thinking. But it is absolutely wonderful when it is pulled off.

3. To the old Creative Worship mix of possibilities, Contemporary Worship has added the element of ritual. The best-developed ritual that I know of is allowing everyone in the congregation to get up and light a candle (silently) based on a theme in the service. If the theme is Mothers and Mothering, the congregation is invited to light a candle for their mother or someone who has mothered them, for instance.

In our situation, a "contemporary" service has to use the sermon as developed for the more traditional services. There's only so much time in a preacher's day, and we are not considering deploying a second minister to write a different sermon. But, borrowing from the Christians, it appears to me that one interesting possibility for a third service which might better be called "Music-lead". In such a service a musician is the worship leader. Taking the themes from the sermon, this person would plan and lead a "music-heavy" liturgy. It would begin welcoming and building the energy of the congregation with several lively songs, hymns, and readings, rather than our usual formal opening, move into a meditation which incorporated an element of ritual or meditation instruction. The Worship leader would make announcements, offer a prayer, and, the worship leader. The preacher would simply be a part of the congregation, enjoying the scene for the first 30 minutes. Then comes the sermon...delivered by a semi-rested preacher. I like this idea. We're experimenting with it this Spring, so stay tunned.

1 comment:

Steve Caldwell said...


I would check out the Young Adult and Campus Ministry resources on the UUA web site that deal with "contemporary worship."

Here's the link to their resources:

I would read Elisabeth Bailey's paper on creating profound contemporary worships.

This is a much deeper topic than circle worship, soulful sundown, and having rock bands playing in worship.