The Works of the People

There is a word we churchy types often use – a shorthand, if you will – to describe the forms, patterns, and traditions held together in the ways we worship together.  It is the word Liturgy.

Liturgy comes from a Greek word leitourgia, which is often translated as “the work of the people.”  This is a quite handy translation to support our noble intentions to democratize the liturgy, to include as many people as possible in the weekly planning, implementing, and enacting of our worship as Church.

I love liturgy, especially liturgy in The Episcopal Church. Our rituals drew me into an experience of transcendence that I had not known in the Evangelical church traditions of my youth.  And I noticed right quick how broadly members of the congregation participated in the service.  It was not a one-person show, and that has always been particularly meaningful for me. 

Over the next few weeks, I intend to share some personal reflections about our liturgy that might help convey a bit more about my convictions and commitments as the person charged with leading and directing our worship together at St. MIchael and All Angels (one of the primary jobs assigned to a rector by the Canons of The Episcopal Church).

But there is another way of interpreting that word leitourgia, that I believe is particularly resonant with our life together in this parish.  Some scholars have called us back to the Greek word and challenged the standard interpretation.  Their contributions do not take away anything from what we’ve already grasped about liturgy as the work of worship in community; but they broaden the understanding to encompass a more holistic frame.

The renewed conception flows from a single letter added to the translation of leitourgia – not work but works of the peopleLeitourgia focuses not just on the work of making meaningful ritual together, but of all the works that make meaningful community together: all the responses to need in the world, all the activities of caring for one another, all the work of being God’s agents for goodness in lives shared abroad.

I love this understanding so much, because we understand how it’s so very important it is for us at St. Michael’s to be at work serving those to whom God sends us and whom God sends to us.

Our worship should inspire and energize us for the work we are sent to do, and it also should be infused with enhanced meaning and connection with the Divine because we have been about God’s business our whole lives long.

I pray that this week and every week we might respond to the opportunities to do good works in the world – not as an add-on, but central to who we are and what we do. And also, that we bring those commitments with us, offer them to God and testify to one another, as essential to our worship on Sunday mornings. 

In peace,

The Rev. Scott Painter, Rector