by Joyce Ann Zimmerman
Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich. 163 pages
Joyce Ann Zimmerman is a Catholic theologian and director of the Institute for Liturgical Ministry in Dayton, Ohio. Her book is part of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies series. The author acknowledges that worship refers not only to the community’s assembly on the Lord’s Day, but also to private devotion and to a variety of formal and informal gatherings. Zimmerman has served for some years on the Institute’s Advisory Board responsible for reading grant proposals. Written responses by applicants to questions asking for descriptions of Christian worship intrigued her and motivated her to write this book. Grant applicants come from all across the ecclesiastical spectrum. Zimmerman’s book, accordingly, is not written from a specifically confessional point of view, but attempts to describe basics of Christian faith that rightly command attention in any worshipping assembly.
Early in the book, she provides a table contrasting two approaches to the Sunday assembly: “worship,” on the one hand, and “liturgy” on the other. “Worship” is characterized as “devotional, expressive” while “liturgy” is defined as “ritualized, formative.” These are generalizations, more of a matter of where the accent falls rather than precise definitions, since both “worship” and “liturgy” are inevitably both expressive and formative, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Zimmerman discusses important elements of worship that ought not to be forgotten by worship planners. For example, prayer, profession, confession, intercessions, blessings, mission and silence. Her intended audience includes not only churches with a fixed liturgy, or those like our own with something like a Directory for Worship and/or a Book of Common Worship, but also those churches characterized by the need to improvise their worship every Sunday. If the goal is to try not to do anything the same way twice, then planning worship with integrity over a span of time is truly an enormous challenge. The author seems to hope that pastors and other worship planners will learn some worship essentials from her book and engage in a long-term commitment to incorporate them, one way or another, in their weekly assemblies. It is evident, however, by the end of the book that the author is also appealing to those using a fixed liturgy. She is concerned that, in all ecclesiastical settings, members of congregations as well as their leaders acquire an in-depth understanding of what they are doing and why. She offers some reasonable suggestions for how to do that. Zimmerman is committed to the conviction that worship is meant to lead into the world. It has to do with justice and with mission, neither necessarily understood solely in terms of heroic action, but as ways of embodying the gospel in the ordinary fabric of daily lives.
The book’s subtitle — “Understanding Worship from the Heart” — is indicative of how the author approaches worship and how she has crafted her book. The book is written from faith, to faith. In other words, it has a devotional character to it. It is easily accessible, though not simplistic. I can imagine it being useful to constituencies ranging from a congregation’s high school class to adult groups, church officers, seminarians and, certainly, those engaged in pastoral ministry. Zimmerman writes “from the heart,” from a generous point of view, but with conviction.
RONALD P. BYARS is professor emeritus of preaching and worship at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia.