I’ve spent the past week or so immersed in a side of church world rarely tread by youth workers: liturgy. At youth Sunday School last week, you would have seen teenagers responding to a call to worship, reading scripture, passing the peace to one another, offering up their concerns in a prayers of the people, and ending with a responsive benediction.
Circumstances provided us with a unique opportunity to experiment some on Sunday morning, so experiment we did. Our passing of the peace involved an ice cream cone-based secret handshake, and our ending was more team chant than it was benediction, but youth ministry demands creativity. Some of the ideas worked well and we got good feedback on. For example, we did a modified prayers of the people: youth wrote down the name of someone they wanted to pray for on a card and dropped it in a bucket; I pulled names out of the bucket and would read them, after each one saying “Lord, in your mercy” — and the students responding “hear our prayer” (this model is based heavily on the one Rev. Lance Marshall uses for The Gathering). The call-and-response style, and the fact that teenagers didn’t have to speak out loud in front of each other, made them more comfortable.
Some were less of a hit — we tried to open with a call to worship led by a student, but because I hadn’t had the chance to set up that we were trying something new that morning, they were more than a little confused.
One of the most encouraging pieces of feedback I got, though, wasn’t about a specific piece at all. It came through a mom. She, having not been in youth Sunday School, and not knowing anything was different, asked her two boys how it went, and they said it was fun. Fun? I led basically a liturgical service with no music, only one game, and taught on the “gift of feeling lost,” and they said it was fun?
I learned from Mochrie only recently that “liturgy” literally means “the work of the people” — it is supposed to be the work of worship that is done, not by ministers, but by the people themselves, reading aloud together, praying together, and responding together. It is work meant to be done in the tangible, reaching out to touch one another, hearing voices speak together, seeing our peers lead.
Could it be that this intensely interactive style of worship, despite its dull reputation, is not just spiritually formative, but even, with some secret handshake and benediction adjustments, dare I say it, kind of fun?
It looks like this experiment might be just beginning.