In an age when many new churches are going high-tech and amplified, complete with PowerPoint® presentations and laser pointers, the Advocate is, as much as possible, “unplugged.” Though the Advocate’s core values may reflect a socially progressive, 21st century Gospel, our worship – which our tradition calls “liturgy” – is ancient and modern, progressive and traditional, reverent and informal. In worship, we seek to make God’s presence known through word, music and sacrament and through our coming together each week as a community. The central act of Christian worship, Holy Eucharist (“thanksgiving”), is celebrated every Sunday, as we share the bread and wine of communion with one another.
The word ‘liturgy’ literally means, in Greek, ‘the work of the people.’ Liturgy at the Advocate is therefore very participatory, encouraging (but not requiring) everyone present to take part through fully engaging in song, prayer and fellowship. Chairs generally face each other or go in a horseshoe around the altar, giving a sense of the people gathered around. At the beginning of the liturgy each Sunday afternoon, a member of our congregation greets the people assembled with these words:
Our liturgy today will be what it will be because each of us is here today. So when you sing, sing boldly; when you pray, pray loudly; and when you are quiet, be present and aware of God and others around you.
In short, the liturgy isn’t something we come to watch; it is something we gather to do together as the People of God.
Most often, the text of our liturgy is drawn from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer or Enriching Our Worship, but we often also use other texts from the prayer books of other churches in the Anglican Communion, including those of New Zealand, Kenya, South Africa and Canada.
Music at the Advocate is another way we encourage participation in worship. Our songs come from a variety of sources: the (Episcopal) Hymnal, Lift Every Voice and Sing (a collection of traditional African American sacred music); Wonder, Love, and Praise (the Episcopal Church’s more contemporary music); music from the Taizé community; early American shape-note singing; plainchant, Anglican chant, and more. Though we have no choir sitting apart from the rest of the congregation, we have a cantor: a lay leader who leads the congregation in song. We are typically accompanied by a piano (there is no organ at the Advocate), a flute, and a djembe (African drum). Sometimes the piano accompaniment on a hymn may drop out entirely in favor of a cappella singing from the congregation. In the discipline of listening and tuning that comes from singing together without accompaniment, we find a resonant symbol of our fellowship with one another in Christ.
Our participation in worship and Christ’s presence among us is also made manifest by the processions of cross and Gospel book weaving through the midst of the congregation. For baptisms, we process to the font as a congregation, singing. Palm Sunday and the Easter Vigil provide occasions for even longer processions and help us move from being observers to participants in the sacred story.
A lot of thought goes into planning the liturgy from Sunday to Sunday and season to season. But we also make room for the personal and the unplanned: singing for birthdays and anniversaries, a small child spontaneously dancing in fairy wings. We cultivate a creative “ordered chaos” that allows unexpected moments of ordinary grace to arise and be welcomed. Every Sunday liturgy is both ancient and brand-new as we seek to embody our praise of God and communion with God and one another through Christ. We invite you to join us: come and see, come and do, come and be present with us. The liturgy will be different because you are there.