A guest post by David Gambrell from the Office of Theology and Worship:
Fifty years ago, something revolutionary happened in the world of Presbyterian worship.
In 1961, the UPCUSA (the former northern church) adopted a new Directory for Worship. For more than 300 years before that, the church had been relying on the Westminster Directory for Worship, written in 1645, making minor revisions here and there. The new Directory for Worship, written by Robert McAfee Brown, opened the door for radical, ecumenical liturgical reform and renewal in the Presbyterian Church—focusing on the centrality of the Word, a deeper understanding of Baptism, and more frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper. One church historian has suggested that this work might have had an influence on the groundbreaking Roman Catholic reforms of Vatican II, which took place a couple of years later.
The PCUS (the former southern church) took a similar action in 1963, adopting their own new Directory for Worship. And then, as we know, twenty years later, in 1983, the northern and southern churches merged to form the current Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). One of the often-forgotten products of that new blended family was our current Directory for Worship, formed from the combination of the previous two.
Then ten years later, in 1993, after a decade of study and work, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) published the Book of Common Worship. When it was published, the BCW was hailed as the pinnacle of a century of liturgical reform and renewal. Other denominations have praised it and borrowed from it. Sadly, there is one denomination that hasn’t embraced it quite so readily and enthusiastically … the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The BCW never had the chance it deserved in the PC(USA) because it never found its way into the hands of the people of the Presbyterian church. In the nearly twenty years since its publication, the 1993 Book of Common Worship has all too often been consigned to pastors’ bookshelves—considered a useful sourcebook to mine for materials, but not understood and appreciated as a comprehensive and coherent pattern of worship. Similarly, the Directory for Worship has been underutilized and underappreciated—called upon for officer training or to settle a debate, but not taken seriously as Reformed liturgical theology.
Until now. In 2013—exactly twenty years after the BCW was introduced, thirty years after the formation of the PC(USA), and fifty years after the Presbyterian church finally let go of the 1645 Westminster Directory for Worship—we will at last put the Reformed liturgy in the hands of the people, in every copy of the new Presbyterian hymnal. This new hymnal, titled Glory to God, will begin with thirty pages of worship materials—including the Service for the Lord’s Day, liturgy for Baptism, and services for Daily Prayer. Our aim with this project is to (re)introduce the treasures of the Reformed liturgical tradition (represented by the Directory for Worship and the Book of Common Worship) to the people of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Having said all that, we all know that a lot of things have changed in the past twenty, thirty, and even fifty years. The church and the world have not stood still, and neither should the church’s liturgy. The liturgy in the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God, accounts for these developments in some interesting and exciting ways—reflecting sacramental renewal, offering more contemporary language, and embracing freedom within the form of a solid theological and liturgical framework.
I think it’s possible that, if we take heed of what the Spirit is saying to the church today, we may be in the midst of another such revolution. Or better yet, a revelation. After all, we already know what the future of Presbyterian worship will be—in fact, the future of all Christian worship. It was written nearly two thousand years ago in the book of Revelation …
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Rev. 7:9–12)
Glory to God!
David Gambrell is associate for worship in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Theology
and Worship and editor of Call to Worship: Liturgy, Music, Preaching, and the Arts.
Arlo Duba, “The Presbyterian Directory for Worship of 1961 and Robert McAfee Brown,” Call to Worship: Liturgy, Music, Preaching, and the Arts 45.2 (2011).
According to a 2000 Presbyterian Panel study, “Only 2% of members and 6% of elders are very familiar with The Book of Common Worship. Two-thirds of members (69%) and a majority of elders (54%) are either not too familiar or not at all familiar with this resource.” http://www.pcusa.org/media/uploads/research/pdfs/0500_full_report.pdf
According to the same study, “Even fewer members (1%) and elders (3%) are very familiar with ‘The Directory for Worship’ of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Nevertheless, almost a third of
elders (31%) report that ‘The Directory for Worship’ is studied as part of elder and deacon training in their congregation.” http://www.pcusa.org/media/uploads/research/pdfs/0500_full_report.pdf
The 1972 Worshipbook attempted to do this, with 200 pages of liturgical texts and rites. While the Worshipbook was a groundbreaking resource, some have suggested that this was too much and too soon, and thus was not well received by the church.