Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Praise the Lord with the Lyre ... and the Gamelan? towards Koinonia in Worship

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Praise the Lord with the Lyre ... and the Gamelan? towards Koinonia in Worship

Article excerpt

As Christians have always understood that worship is fundamental to the life of faith, so the ecumenical movement has known from its beginnings that worship is central to the churches' search for unity and for common witness and service. The conviction that "common prayer and worship has been and is the most profound resource for the ecumenical movement"(2) has far-reaching implications for all our ecumenical activities and programmes. Yet attitudes to worship within the ecumenical movement have varied greatly. At times worship has seemed to be the key to the churches' drawing together, the most likely setting within which a "breakthrough" in the churches' relationships might occur; at other times worship has seemed the place where the churches were least ready to move towards each other, the point at which the fundamental divisions between them become most visible and are most painfully experienced.

The understanding of worship and its place and role within the ecumenical movement has deepened over the years. Many factors have contributed to this, including changing theological perspectives on worship and on central acts of worship such as baptism and the eucharist;(3) developments in the worship life of the churches, especially the widespread "liturgical renewal" of the 1960s and 1970s, and, perhaps most significant of all, the increasing experience of worship within a specifically ecumenical setting. Many signs indicate that there is within the ecumenical movement today a livelier interest in worship than ever before. This is reflected, for example, in the production of new common hymnals by two or more churches, and in the many worship materials created for ecumenical events and by ecumenical bodies themselves.(4) It is seen in the firm expectation that ecumenical meetings, from small drafting groups of six persons to assemblies of worldwide organizations, will be marked by common worship -- and that of an increasingly higher standard. Furthermore the responses to major ecumenical gatherings such as the WCC Vancouver and Canberra assemblies and the Faith and Order fifth world conference in Santiago de Compostela indicate that the worship life was, for many participants, a highlight of the meeting.

Yet these very developments have led to new questions about worship within the ecumenical context. Through theological reflection Christians of differing traditions learn to extend the ways in which they can worship together. Engaged together in issues facing the world today, they seek in worship a sustenance and empowerment for their common witness and service. As we worship more frequently and more extensively together, the points at which we cannot join become all the more evident and painful. The increasing diversity of prayers and particularly songs now available for use in worship has raised the question of what kinds of material are appropriate. There is a growing (but certainly not exclusive) practice of what is loosely called "ecumenical worship", that is, services in which persons from many different confessions can find themselves comfortably at home. This has raised the question of the place of "confessional" worship -- clearly identified with a specific denomination or tradition -- within an ecumenical setting.

All these factors have come together to form a "moment" within the ecumenical movement, a point at which worship demands renewed and careful attention. We recognize afresh that worship is central to the ecumenical vocation. And we recognize that we need to reflect together on the possibilities -- and problems -- of worship in the ecumenical context.

Worship in ecumenical contexts: an historical survey

One approach to understanding the developing role of worship in the ecumenical movement is to trace worship activities through a series of significant ecumenical meetings. This enables one to see worship as part of the living encounter among Christians from various traditions. …

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