Worship as a spiritual practice is a collective experience. It is the work of the church community and involves participation of the entire congregation. Worship is the coming together of people and pastors to sing, to pray, to hear scripture readings, to hear preaching that interprets scripture, and to affirm our faith together. John Wesley spoke directly to the communal nature of singing in worship when he wrote his “Directions for Singing,” instructing us to “see that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can.”
When we come together for worship, we praise God through Jesus Christ and receive God’s grace to strengthen and guide us. The parts of the service that make me feel truly in community with the rest of the congregation are praying the Lord’s Prayer, affirming our faith with the Apostles’ Creed, and singing praise and thanks with the Doxology. The familiarity of these rituals and the combined effect of voices all around me saying and singing those same words feel warm and wonderful. It is much more meaningful to me than my saying or singing them on my own. Every Sunday, each of these also takes me right back to the sanctuary at the Church of the Holy Communion in my hometown of Memphis. St. Mary’s Episcopal School for Girls, where my sister and I attended K-12, was connected to the church and we went to chapel every single morning of our school lives. That’s a lot of chapel – somewhere near 2500 services over thirteen years. We memorized and studied the parts of the service beginning at age five, so they have represented essential aspects of worship to me for nearly all of my life.
For me, worshipping with others strengthens my own faith, increases my feeling of connectedness to those around me, and gives me courage, reassurance, hope, and peace. As we approach the beginning of a new year, may the collective spirit of worship inspire in us, both individually and collectively, with the possibility of peace and the confidence to pursue that peace within ourselves, in our relationships with others, throughout our community, and indeed across the world.