by Brent Levy, Christ UMC: Chatham Park Campus (Chapel Hill)
At its most basic, worship is a response — a response to what God has done and is doing in our lives and a looking ahead with expectation to what God will do. Has God done something in your life? Have you seen Jesus in your midst? Maybe you’ve witnessed neighbors helping one another, or had a friend who’s given you space to say how you really feel. Maybe you’ve embraced a weary traveler or been embraced, yourself. If any of these are true, you are ready to respond. You are ready for worship. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can have a loose planned structure, or it can be an open time to come together. It might even feel a bit unusual. But worship can happen anywhere, and there are only four simple things you need.
First, you need people. Worship is better with friends. As a people called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, we gather as different people from different places with different experiences and different lives lived. We bring all of that to our worship. We gather to give voice to what God has done, is doing, and will do in our lives, and there is no gathering without people. Maybe it looks like a community getting together in someone’s backyard. Maybe it’s a family huddled together in a living room. Maybe it’s a group of people in an unfamiliar space or out under a tent in the midst of God’s creation. Wherever it is, if you have people, you are ready for worship.
Second, grab a Bible, or pull out your phone, or dig deep to those passages you’ve memorized through the years. If you have access to scripture in some way, you can worship. Maybe you want to recite a psalm together — something that speaks to your experience of lament and longing and the faithfulness of God. Or perhaps you need to hear again the hope-filled words of Jesus who says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and who reminds you that “You are the light of the world.” Maybe you need the good news that Jesus is making all things new. Wherever you are gathering, these life-giving words can wash over you, reorient you, and transform you. If you have scripture, you can worship.
Third, you get to respond. In worship, God speaks, and we respond. Sometimes it happens when we receive an offering. At other times we respond by celebrating Holy Communion. Wherever you are, if you have a voice, you can respond. In this way, the scripture you heard can come alive and become part of you. Maybe someone stands to share about how the passage spoke to her experience. Perhaps you want to share a question you’re asking yourself — something that was stirred up by what you heard. Or maybe you’re invited to offer a word or phrase that struck you, and you invite others to share what resonated with them. Perhaps your response is a familiar hymn sung together a cappella or a guitar-led song offered on behalf of the people. Maybe it’s a collection of prayer requests so those who have gathered know they’re not alone. Or your response could look like a conversation around a meal, giving thanks for the gift of being together. If you have voice, you can respond. If you have voice, you can worship.
4. The Holy Spirit
Finally, if you have the Holy Spirit, worship can happen. The good news is that the Holy Spirit is already there — wherever you are! Whether you are in sitting in a circle in a meeting room or gathered around a kitchen table with a candle lit in the center… whether you are standing under a tent in an open field or kneeling in an unfamiliar sanctuary, it’s the Spirit of God that has called you together. That same Spirit is present as the scripture is read from a pulpit or the middle of a circle or recited in unison. And it’s this same Holy Spirit that empowers and enables you to respond. Maybe your worship feels like holy chaos or perhaps it’s a balm for your soul. Regardless, you can trust that wherever you are, as you respond to what God has done, is doing, and will do in your life, the Spirit of God is there witnessing to your spirit, working to bring you peace that surpasses understanding and the assurance of God’s love — until you gather again.
Author’s Note: If you are seeking something more concrete than what I offer above, An Order for Morning Praise and Prayer in the United Methodist Hymnal (UMH 876) serves as a great liturgy for an order of service. The daily prayer found in Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals is also good resource.