Connecting to God--and to each other

Rev. Larry Hollon

A young woman said recently, "I am so over rock bands in worship." She went on to explain why she had sought out a "traditional" worship service in a local United Methodist church in her city.

By traditional, she meant a church in which worship included hymns sung from printed hymnals and the historic liturgy that includes an order for confession, "The Lord's Prayer," scripture reading, explicating the word and sending out.

It reminded me that today our expectations of worship are all over the place. What is meaningful to one person may be less so to another. Any worship chairperson or local church pastor who has negotiated these turbulent waters can affirm the truth of this challenge.

A friend who is Eastern Orthodox told me she's quite pleased to see young adults returning to the traditional liturgy of that faith communion. In her opinion, it is happening because the liturgy represents permanence in a world of change, drama that is meaningful and not contrived as in reality TV, and connection to a community and tradition that offer a sense of continuity in a fragmented world.

Ray Nelson (left) and Emad Hussain worship together at University Park UMC in Denver. -Photo by  UMNS/Reed Galin

Years ago, as chairperson of the student worship committee in seminary, I spent considerable effort writing contemporary liturgies in the belief that this was necessary to be relevant to coming generations. My colleagues who were interested in liturgy joined in this pursuit.

Compared to praise worship today, our efforts were tame. We adhered to historic liturgical form but changed language and music. This was before contemporary Christian music, so, in some cases, we used secular music that contained lyrics that pointed to scripture or faith interpretations.

I recently preached at a church that held an early praise service followed by a traditional service. I was struck by the differences in participation and response.

The praise service was smoothly executed, nearly flawless. The traditional service was equally so. But the former seemed more performance than participatory. The latter was participatory but came close to being perfunctory.

Jesus is portrayed as a rock star during Easter worship at United Methodist Impact church in Atlanta. -Photo by Shannon McCollum, Impact Church

I believe worship is the work of the people. It is neither performance and entertainment, nor rote practices of historic forms. It is the drama of the word of God crashing into our existence to give us comfort and hope, to challenge us and to call us to live our faith actively in servanthood.

And it is the quiet flowing of the word of God encircling us as comforting waters giving us respite from the heat of the day.

Worship cannot be contained in one form, although I do believe the historical experience of the Christian community over the years has given us valuable guiding principles. It is transformative, communal, historical, comforting, challenging, celebratory and healing, all at once.

As I travel about and worship in different settings, it is continuity that I find most helpful. It is the connection also, not only to those present around me, but also connection to that great cloud of witnesses who have preceded us. In this, we affirm that we belong to God, and to each other.

The Rev. Larry Hollon is publisher of Interpreter and general secretary of United Methodist Communications. Read his FAITH MEDIA+CULTURE blog at

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