Sunday, March 13, 2011

Christian Worship in our Local Places

Below are my notes from a presentation made by LSTC professor Dr. Benjamin Stewart at the SE Iowa Synod event, Called Together in Mission.

Deep Roots: Christian Worship in our Local Places

Christian worship has always had a theological emphasis on the LOCAL

Road to Emmaus --  the first post-crucifixion worship service.
  • The disciples had “no words” – they just stood there looking sad
  • Jesus draws the disciples into the conversation
  • Luke tells the story in a way that describes God coming to us in our local places
    • Gathering ~ engagement on the road
    • Word ~ interprets the Scriptures, beginning with Moses
    • Meal ~ breaking bread in the house
    • Sending ~ disciples run to tell others
  • Scholars debate where/if Emmaus exists
    • Perhaps it’s not to suppose if Emmaus is anywhere, but that Emmaus is everywhere – our local contexts
  • People come from all kinds of local contexts, bringing their cultures, traditions, and languages with them
  • Christian worship is both local and “more than local” (global)

“Theology is like underwear, you usually want to have it on, but you don’t go around showing it to everybody.”

Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture – Lutheran World Federation, January 1996
  • Transcultural – sacraments, proclamation of the Word
  • Contextual – musical settings, kinds of bread/wine
  • Cross-cultural – Iowans doing Taize worship
  • Countercultural – welcoming the stranger, ritual equality

Three Localestranscultural elements that take root in contextual ways
  • Communion Table
    • A local table, not a distant altar
    • Available to all people each week
    • Food pantry donations included at the “setting of the communion table”
    • Sarah Miles -- communion table at the center of their free farmers market / food pantry
  • Baptismal Font
    • Whoever is to be baptized should be put in and sunk completely into the water and then drawn out again.  For baptism signifies that the old humanity and the sinful birth of flesh and blood are to be wholly drowned by the grace of God.  We should therefore do justice to its meaning and make baptism a true and complete sign of the thing it signifies.  ~ Luther
    • The power of water to give life and destroy life calls us into an honest understanding of what happens in baptism
    • Bring a connection between the local water places and the baptismal font
    • ELW -- Thanksgiving at the Font, prayer D, p. 71 (name local bodies of water)

  • Earth
    • “Death is the completion of our baptism” ~ Luther
    • Care for the Body
    • Burial Vessels
      • Coffins made from local materials
      • Trappist Caskets – New Melleray Abbey, Iowa
    • Committal to the Earth
      • “We don’t bury our dead” – we leave the coffin suspended above the hole
      • Burying people in natural settings as a way to preserve local ecologies
      • No coffins, no burial vaults
      • Images of bodies placed in a hole in the ground in the woods, refilling the dirt in the hole, and planting new seedlings
      • Green Burial Council

Themes for Cultivating Local Roots in Worship
  1. Tend to the locales within your worship space
  2. Expect company (does your posture as a worship leader convey expectancy of visitors)
  3. Local neighbors are our teachers
  4. Mother nature is your interior decorator (local seasons connect with liturgical seasons)
  5. Let local leaders lead
  6. Worship in a space you can (mostly) fill
  7. Prayers of intercession: deep and wide
  8. Bless the (local) holy ground, on the local calendar (blessing backpacks, healthcare workers, etc.)
  9. Physically bury your dead
  10. Liturgy wider than your walls (bless bikes, local gardens, baptisms in local rivers/lakes)
  11. Go in Peace. Serve the Lord (literally…right away)

Worship isn’t window-dressing, it’s central, authentic expression of who we are as the local gathering.

God wants to flood the world with mercy as an extension of our worship.

* * * * * 

We followed up with small-group study of Psalm 104.  One cool thing that was mentioned during the discussion is a young man named Greg Pregracke who is doing amazing work on cleaning up the Mississippi River.


  1. Thank you for posting this. Really, really cool.

    One thing that really struck me was the burial of the dead. Burying my grandfather's ashes last summer was a huge experience for me, as I had never seen remains lowered into the ground - except on TV or film. I dug my hands into the soil and threw a clump in to begin refilling the hole. My family didn't understand what I was doing. But something about the soil he loved clunking against his urn made it real for me that he was gone.

    It made me wish I hadn't been "spared" the emotion seeing the other saints in my life buried.

  2. Nice, Mackenzie. Very nice, Erik.


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