The importance of worship–or Wendell Berry and the Anglican Marks of Mission

The Rev. Bosco Peters from the Anglican Church of New Zealand, has begun a campaign to include worship as one of the “Anglican Marks of Mission.” Here’s his rationale:

I propose that worship, liturgy, is not a means to further the mission of the church. It is not a means to further any or all of the dimensions in the five-fold mission statement. Worship, in and of itself, is an essential dimension of our mission and should find its place in our accepted mission statement.

Worship, liturgy, especially the Eucharist, is understood, by the majority of Christians, to be “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 11). St Ignatius Loyola understood “The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God” (The Principle and Foundation in his Spiritual Exercises).

Although worship is not a means, giving it centrality does lead to desirable effects. On the other hand, I would argue, the loss of the pivotal place of worship and liturgy leads to consequences, such as the loss of the unifying power of common prayer, of common worship.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about place, context for ministry. And if there’s any point at which my theological reflection on ministry is undergoing transformation, it is about the importance of understanding and responding to the particularity of local context.

There’s a great ongoing project This is our city that focuses on how evangelicals are reclaiming ministry in urban contexts. I’ve learned a great deal from it.

Today, I read this piece by Jake Meador on what Wendell Berry might have to say to urban evangelicals. Meador writes:

But in recent years, some Christian writers have warned that we shouldn’t mistake right thinking and right behavior for the holistic well being of a person, or a city, for that matter. James Davison Hunter and Andy Crouch (executive director of the City project) each made this point in To Change the World and Culture Making, respectively. Philosopher Jamie Smith devoted a whole book, Desiring the Kingdom, to this point, stressing that human beings are not chiefly thinkers or believers but worshipers. It’s here, I argue, that Berry’s vision of community life and creation is most vital for urban evangelicals. For all the things we do well, I’m not convinced that we know how to live as communities of worshipers day to day. Enter Port William.

What I see in Berry, and what I’ve been learning to live out, little by little, is the centrality of worship to personal and communal health. By that I mean something like one of Clyde Kilby’s resolutions for mental health: “At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.”

Peters points out the importance of shared liturgy to the identity and unity of Anglicanism. Meador points in a different direction–to the fact that worship occurs in particular contexts and that it flows out of particular experiences.

Now I’m not much of a Calvinist, but I do think there is some truth in the Westminster Confession’s statement that our “chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Surely glorifying God includes worship.

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