Where we worship

Late last year my congregation did something different. We put together what we called “Be the Church Sunday,” in which, after prayer in our building, we were sent out into the Kansas City community to do service projects.

It was a wonderful reminder of our call to ministry outside our walls.

But before that Sunday, one of our members left me a phone message explaining why he and his wife wouldn’t participate. He said he expects his church to offer a worship service each Sunday with prayer, Bible reading, music and a sermon. Because that’s not what he would get, he would go elsewhere that day.

I invited him to join me that day at Hope Care Center, a 24-hour skilled nursing facility for HIV/AIDS patients that our church helped to start near­ly 20 years ago. I would be leading a worship service there that day, I told him. He thanked me for the offer, but didn’t participate.

Still, his statement about worship caused me to think again about what worship is and what responsibility congregations have to meet the worship expectations of their members.

I don’t know quite when I first put it into words, but for a long time I’ve thought of worship primarily as an opportunity to acknowledge that God is God and that we are not. And to say, with John Calvin, that “We are not our own.” We worship the triune God because God first loved us. Worship is our gracious response — even when done badly.

When my congregation presents this opportunity each week I am almost always there and grateful for worship. But I disagree with my friend that the way we usually worship — with prayer, Bible reading, music and a sermon inside the church building — is the way we always and everywhere must worship.

I think it’s also worship to minister to people in need. So, on Be the Church Sunday, members of my congrega­tion worshipped by preparing meals for others, by knit­ting caps for hospitalized infants, by collecting personal hygiene items for people in a battered women’s shel­ter — and by offering a worship service for Hope Care Center’s residents.

When I was a boy, my congregation at least annually would worship in a city park. It was a wonderful change of venue that I looked forward to. It seemed to rein­vigorate the worship services that we held the next few weeks back inside the church building.

In a similar way, people in my current congregation who participated in Be the Church Sunday are sharing great stories about their experiences. It’s bring­ing a new sense of purpose to what we do, though I don’t want to do it every week instead of our traditional two services.

My friend who insisted on being offered traditional worship is a won­derful man who has given a great deal of himself to the congregation for decades. And I don’t want to minimize his yearning for a worship experience he expects.

But sometimes, in addition to reading from the four gospels, it’s worthwhile reading from the gospel of people outside who need us.

Bill Tammeus

BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Missouri, and for­mer Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his latest book. Email him at wtammeus@gmail