My friend and colleague, Michael Smith (organist-choirmaster at Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge, PA) recently wrote the following article for his church’s newsletter. I was inspired by his article. I have removed the section where he writes of the architecture of his parish, because it is quite different from our own. Nevertheless, I concur about the need for our liturgy to be true to its environment.  I commend it to you to read as we ponder what we do, and why we do it, in worship. And, I extend thanks to Michael for allowing me to share this.

Extracts from The Beauty of Holiness

By Michael Smith

I consider authentic liturgy to have a few non-negotiable components. First, it must be God-centered. Second, it must be true to its environment (the building, the people, the history of the place and the resources available). Third, it must be of the absolute highest quality that we can offer. These are not the only components, but they are a starting point.

Liturgy that is God-Centered

Too many churches seek to add some spice or pizzazz to their worship in order to “draw more young people” or “make worship more relevant.” This begs the question: who is the spice or pizzazz for? Certainly not the almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of The Universe. God has seen it all. Nothing we can do will impress God. Those attempts are for us --- to make us “feel” something- to tickle our emotional and spiritual funny-bones. The gratification of self, or “what I want” is the enemy of good worship. Ironically, when worship is done well with a focus on reverence for God and God’s house, the end result is often that our emotional and spiritual needs are not only met, but that we overflow with those feelings that come from the Holy Spirit if we are open to them. As to “contemporary” or “relevance”: the one thing that most quickly loses relevance is an attempt to be relevant. Relevant to whom? If not God, then why?

Liturgy that is our Highest Offering

In the book of II Samuel, King David is commanded to build an altar and offer a sacrifice to God at the home of an Israelite. The Israelite offered to give freely all the resources and the land needed for the altar and sacrifice. David’s response has always stuck with me: “I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.” Beautiful liturgy takes hard work. It takes forethought, practice, training, and mindfulness in the moment. It takes scores of people: altar guilds, acolytes, clergy, musicians, alert and energetic congregants. It takes constant scrutiny and improvement. Another great irony of liturgy is this: sometimes it takes more work to do it wrong. God has blessed us at the Chapel: we are equipped with all the “stuff” we need: items of great beauty with which to carry out the divine worship of God. They did not come without cost. Our job now is to insure that we are not using either costly items or our costly time cheaply by “going through the motions” on either side of the chancel. What does worship cost us at the Chapel? What does worship cost you individually? By diving in to the hard work of understanding our Anglican tradition and the beauty of the Prayer Book- by committing to thinking about and interpreting what others might decry as arcane and out-of-date language – by volunteering to serve in the rota of lay ministry and committing to being trained in doing these things with skill and order, we will be certain that we are not offering to God that which costs us nothing.