Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Communitas: Liturgy and Identity

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Communitas: Liturgy and Identity

Article excerpt

Abstract As many churches express concern about dwindling resources and even survival, they are simultaneously being confronted by the presence and needs of immigrants. Though often confessionally identified with the receiving congregations, immigrants pose specific challenges, the key to which is, perhaps unexpectedly, liturgy. Liturgical openness to a variety of worship ways facilitates new and necessary changes in power structure, mission thinking beyond mere multiculturalism, and new forms of community and discipleship.


   When you are dreaming alone, it is only a dream.
   When you are dreaming with others it is the beginning of reality.

   --Dom Helder Camara

A while ago a student of mine reported a conversation she had with a member of a church in Kentucky that had started moving towards serving an immigrant community nearby. The member asked, "So why do we need to get immigrants here anyway? We don't have the money to host them and what will we do with them?"

That woman's honest and poignant question is not uncommon. As a matter of fact, it runs through the minds of members of many "receiving churches" in many places around the world. Why do we need to get immigrants in our churches? Why bother, when most churches are struggling with their own budgets? Why add this burden to the already struggling congregations?

My student responded to that woman's question by explaining that the church is to care for the foreigner, to provide for the despised and to serve "the least of these". Together, we struggle to figure out how to live. Many historically Protestant churches, like the one this woman belongs to, are afraid of dying and/or using up their last sparse church resources. They are mourning their past experiences and do not know what to do or how to reinvent themselves.

In this article, I will wrestle with the quest for mission from a liturgical perspective, and in the process, I will name some issues I think we need to consider. Currently 200 million people are walking around the world trying to find a place to stay, to work, to find life. The reasons for their migration are many: from a search for political or religious freedom, to the desire for economic development, to the need to feed their families, to reasons of sheer survival.

I believe that, in order to make potent change in our world, churches must deal with issues pertaining to their own identities and to human connection and community life in the context of their own worship services. When they do so, instead of merely surviving, they will experience growth and discover a new purpose for their existence.

The ins and the outs of worship space: Our ethical categories

The triad of faith, beliefs and practices--lex orandi, lex credendi and lex agendi, or the law of prayer, the law of belief and the law of action--have been part of Christianity throughout its history. Where should 21st-century Christians begin? With faith, beliefs or practices? We are not the only generation of Christians who have wrestled with this question. Wherever we start, be it faith, belief or praxis, we need to recognize that all are intertwined in our living together as a people of God.

Worship is integral to our faith. In our worship of God we identify ourselves as a community. In worship we learn how to pray, what to believe and how to act. Within our various liturgies we come to understand the world and to gain a glimpse of God in our lives. In our worship services we encounter Christ and go into the world to proclaim the love we have encountered. In worship we rehearse how to live life well, we make sense of our lives, and we discover what they mean.

Many of us have been warned that when we go to church we should leave everything behind that might interfere with our worship of God. Such an understanding makes a dichotomy of the "in" and the "out" of the worship service. …

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