• nathan byrd

21st Century City Worship

When we talk about moving toward a 21st century liturgy for the city, there are four items that cannot be ignored. These items are: 1) connection with the historic universal church; 2) maintenance of freedom associated with the Reformed tradition, 3) language that resonates with the people, and 4) familiarity.

Connection with the historic church

Rootedness with the historic church provides a grounding and a protection from the excesses of popular trends. The nod to ancient creeds, traditions, and formulas communicate an enduring connection with the past, providing comfort as we move into an uncertain future.

For me, the phrase, “Peace be with you,” is an example of this connection when used in the context of worship. The phrase is something that encourages the believer in such a way, that, eventually, during the hospital visit, use of the phrase brings power and healing.

Maintaining the freedom that characterizes the Reformed tradition

The Reformed tradition, in its origin, addressed many of the abuses of the historic church. There is a freedom that came with this movement that allows practitioners of the faith to pay attention to local needs, thereby adjusting language and even focus as deemed necessary.

I recently shared with an Anglican clergyperson that I regularly borrow prayers from the Church of Ireland prayer book. She shared that she does not have the freedom to cut and paste prayers and other parts of the worship service. I went on to say that I go with what works, and that is a constant journey.

Language that Resonates with the People

In the creation of Common Order (Church of Scotland), there was profound attentiveness to accessible language that is not trite.

In the city, in the 21st century, with a collection of such diverse backgrounds and experiences, language is key. I find, for example, that The Message is problematic for me because the cultural references do not resonate with me in the same way that do for many of my colleagues.


Lastly, the pieces of liturgy must be familiar enough that people miss it when it is gone. That they have a sense of “home” when they participate in exchange of words and actions.

Yet, at the same time the liturgy must not become a situation where people simply go through the motions. Therefore, I find it important that there be a constant reassessment of the structure, tone, and relevance of worship.

When this assessment is done in the context of community together, as the body of Christ, the ancient message, has a better chance to move forward and change lives.

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