The Misdirection of Worship: A Case in Point

September 26, 2014

Lest one thinks that idolatrous worship was a problem only eons ago, as illustrated in yesterday’s post, even today within the PC(USA) it is possible to find events promoted as worship experiences that are anything but. A case in point: the after-dinner “worship” on the agenda of San Francisco Presbytery’s regular meeting of September 9. The “Order of Worship” handed out to us as we entered the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church of Oakland consisted of the following elements: a call to worship, opening song, Scripture exploration, Communion & Community Prayer, Announcements, Closing Song, and Benediction. The experience unfolded in this manner:

Call to Worship
In the introduction to the service, the Rev. Jeff Cheifetz, a teaching elder of The Sanctuary for the Arts new worshipping community (one of the 1001 New Worshipping Communities sponsored by the denomination), welcomed the worship team: Amy Diane Shoemaker (a spiritual director and InterPlay practitioner) and primary musician Soyinka Rahim. As the African drums (played by two Caucasian TEs) began their rhythms, Ms. Shoemaker led the presbytery in a warm-up of sorts, using practices of InterPlay to “unlock the wisdom of your body.” People were encouraged to move about playfully and demonstratively, in dance steps, large arm motions, and self-hugs.

Opening Song:
“Wiggle and Grow” was led by Ms. Rahim. The words, printed in the bulletin:

Love has the power to conjure up your light
Wrong or right, good or bad, love will make it right.
Wiggle and grow, wiggle and grow
Meditation, affirmation, visualization
‘Cause we’re fragile as the baby roots that hold the earth
Wiggle and grow, wiggle and grow
Meditation, affirmation, visualization     [Copyright 2014, Soyinka Rahim]

Scripture Exploration
The theme verse was, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13), chosen because it was the theme verse of the 2014 General Assembly. Mr. Cheifetz explained that at The Sanctuary for the Arts they do not preach, but offer a verse of Scripture experientially so that the participants can take it in and use it any way they want to. In the Presbytery context, this unfolded as an invitation to accompany many repetitions of the verse with our own body movements.

Communion & Community Prayer
The next segment of the service was an invitation to participate in a variety of options, which included the sacrament of communion, more InterPlay, or writing a prayer or wish on butcher papers at stations around the Sanctuary. No prayer was offered. The words of institution were uttered in their briefest form: “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” He took the cup also, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24b-25). Then the drumbeat resumed and people milled about the sanctuary toward their chosen activity. Ms. Rahim repeatedly sang the lyrics, “Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum . . .”

I don’t recall any, though, in my emotional state, I may not have been listening by then. I think there might have been an offering.

Closing Song
A reprise of “Wiggle and Grow”]

I do not remember the content of the closing, if there was one . . .

Think about this for a few minutes, and then compare your list of objections to mine:

  • The experience was centered on “ourselves” rather than God, who was never acknowledged or addressed in prayer. It came very close to self-worship.

  • The narration referred to our energy coming from the earth, a pagan concept if I ever heard one. I expect this language from my Buddhist-inspired personal trainer, but not from a Reformed Worship leader.

  • The song we were invited to sing, “Wiggle and Grow,” made no sense and had no worship value whatsoever.

  • The Scripture exploration was nothing more than a cheap imitation of Lectio Divina lost in a self-referential wilderness.

  • The meaning and richness of communion was diminished as one option among many. There was no ministry of the Word accompanying it, no prayer of Invitation or of Thanksgiving, nor the Lord’s Prayer; and to sing “Yum, Yum, Yum” during the distribution just rendered me speechless and offended. I could not go forward for the sacrament.

The experience was far worse than a waste of time; it conveyed a false gospel. Whether it was an anomaly or an indication of things to come, I felt betrayed by my colleagues, who seem to have jettisoned anything remotely “Reformed” or even “Christian” in designing this service. If this is where “1001 New Worshipping Communities” is going, then the PC(USA) is going to lose its biblical moorings faster than even I have predicted.

I sent a letter of complaint to our executive presbyter ten days ago, and have not received a response.

So many Scriptures come to mind as I reflect on this experience, including Isaiah 55:6-9, Job 38-39 and 1 Corinthians 11:27. With tomorrow’s post, I will try to use this as a teachable moment and review the elements of Reformed Worship and why they are important to respect, enact, and use to order our community life.


8 Responses to “The Misdirection of Worship: A Case in Point”

  1. Jim Berkley Says:

    That “wiggle and grow” song was more than just senseless and silly. It was antinomian to the core. Eeee-yuck!

  2. emd5542 Says:

    “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.” Gal 6:7

    What a grossly and sick pagan experience. Have those false teachers forgotten that God is the audience in worship or do they believe they’ve been hired to receive for God? I’m with Jim. “Eeee-yuck!”

    Do please share the Exec Presbyter’s capitulating response when you receive it.

  3. Jeff Winter Says:

    Many of the 1001 Worshipping communities are not Christian. Recently, I was in communicaiton with the pastor/leader of the Big Gay Church in Delaware. She is a universalist. I am sorry you experienced such a negative drain on your spirit. I can’t remember the last time I really worshipped at a presbytery meeting.

  4. Lee Jensema Says:

    So sorry to hear the sad state of worship in SF presbytery meetings. Makes the services in our middle of the road presbytery look rather orthodox, even those led by progressives here.
    Mary, thank you for resuming your writing.

  5. David Youngquist Says:

    And yet in my deeply divided local congregation those who still desire to remain in the PCUSA continue to repeat that what happens at the national level has no impact on our local church. I continue to pray that our congregation will be able to escape to a denomination who’s first love is God.

  6. John Erthein Says:

    It seems as if we are governed by the directory of worship as much as we are governed by the rest of our constitution.

  7. Paul Becker Says:

    I had a Scottish parishioner named Gladys who gave me a report on a communion “experience” she had at her son’s Unitarian church in Texas. It was the practice of that church to appoint host families to bring the elements for communion. On the Sunday that Gladys attended, the host family brought apples. After a brief “meditation” given by the head of household about how apples represented Jesus, the apples were distributed. Everyone waited until all were served. When prompted, the room was filled with the sound of a unified crunch. Gladys refused to participate and went home that day with an apple in her purse. Knowing that she was a child of the depression, I asked her if she ate it. She said, “I sure did! It was a beautiful apple and I have no issue with eating apples offered to idols.”

  8. Robert Dooling Says:

    The next thing you know, they’re going to have us dancing naked around a pig

    In seminary, I became convinced that the only legitimate worship is regulated worship — that anything not prescribed by scripture is forbidden. Which, of course, means that I’m not a big fan of experimentation.

    Every time someone wanted to “experiment” with worship I’d remind them of Nadab and Abihu and their use of strange or unauthorized fire. 😀


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