The Worship Service at Hessel Park Church

Worship at Hessel Park Church calls for active participation of all involved. The involvement of the congregation in the planning and conducting of our worship services is essential, so that we may share with each other the gifts that God has given us. This document sets forth our vision for worship at Hessel Park Church, and is intended to serve as a guide for our immediate future. This document reflects the thinking of the church council and the feedback of the congregation, and is open to further refinement and discussion.

There are three general areas where there are differing perspectives or needs within our congregation:

  1. Music--classical music and traditional hymnody on one end of the spectrum and contemporary music on the other
  2. Liturgy--fixed forms and practices that are regularly repeated on one end of the spectrum and varied practices with some spontaneity on the other
  3. Heart and Mind--a pronounced focus on intellectual aspects of the Christian faith and life and a balancing concern for the emotional aspects of Christian faith and life.
 

Music

For congregational singing, our services have been making use of both hymns and contemporary songs, drawing from the strengths of both. A typical service has about seven songs, often with 1-3 contemporary songs along with 4-6 hymns. This blend retains hymns with their extensive content, their theological reflection, their poetry and rich language, and often their familiarity. This blend also adds the strengths of contemporary music: captivating melodies, a sound that captures and expresses more emotion, lyrics which sear into the memory important biblical verses or phrases, and often greater instrumental diversity. It is our belief that this blend offers a broad and attractive embrace, and we expect to continue using this proportion.

In addition to the selection of music, we have also considered instrumentation. In the past, we have used a worship team for some services, only piano accompaniment for others. Our current thinking is that we will use a variety of instruments for accompaniment: piano, guitar, woodwinds, brass, percussion, but not a worship team. The variety we desire is limited by the availability of volunteers who can commit the necessary time, by the particular musical talents in our ever-changing congregation, and by the rate at which we can build the repertoire of songs that the congregation knows. We expect that a typical service might have a blend of piano-led congregational singing, congregational singing with other accompaniment, and occasional vocal and instrumental solos and ensembles.

Finally, we value the thematic integration of the music with the rest of the worship service. We feel this is an important aspect of the service, and accommodates both hymns and contemporary songs. Most importantly, the musical component must always serve our highest value for our services: a meaningful worship encounter with God.

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Liturgy

In the area of liturgy, our services are a blend of fixed forms and practices, on the one hand, and a modest level of spontaneity and variety, on the other. We utilize a fixed outline for our service (Gathering, the Word, Response of Thanksgiving, and Closing), fixed creeds and confessions, fixed expressions of God's law, a fixed response to the reading of God's Word, a fixed set of communion liturgies, and a fixed sequence of lectionary readings.

At the same time, our services feature creative variety. We don't sing exactly the same number of songs in the Gathering subsection. We vary how and when the confession and assurance component of the service is developed. We vary having the pastor or a lay person lead the congregational prayer. Occasionally we add a personal testimony in the service. And we sometimes open the floor to prayer requests as a part of the congregational prayer.

Some people respond to carefully prepared forms and liturgies, because they value the richness, beauty, and balance that careful preparation affords. They value understanding how and why they were developed. Others find that fixed forms can become stale and perfunctory, and they value variety as a way to make worship new and fresh.

Our vision for worship is not a spur-of-the-moment, extemporaneous style. Rather, our goal is to maintain a thoughtful and intentional "fixed-varied" blend in our liturgy.

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Heart and Mind

In the area of ministering to the mind and heart, we have sought to gear our services not only to the mind but also to the heart. While our approach is largely oriented to the cognitive, we incorporate emotional elements in some songs, somewhat in preaching, and occasionally in a testimony or prayer. Our commitment to this blend led several years ago to the selection of a motto for Hessel Park Church: "Nourishing heart and mind for Christ's glory and service."

While this blend is accomplished partly through the selection of music, it is our conviction that preaching also must reach both mind and heart. An effective sermon conveys content, teaching, and reflection in ministering to the mind; and it ministers the truth of the Gospel to the heart with conviction of sin, comfort, encouragement, and challenge to greater obedience and Kingdom service. Because God created us as creatures capable of emotions and rational thinking, most people need a worship service that nourishes both heart and mind.

Given the academic environment of Hessel Park Church, along with our Reformed Christian heritage, our strength or accent will be offering solid truth and substantive content to inform our worship of God. For these same reasons, we do not have any future in tilting toward a superficially emotional service. Yet we must not ignore the emotional aspect of worship, as this would leave many people unfulfilled.

Sermons at Hessel Park assume an intelligent, thoughtful, educated listener, though sermons are not pitched primarily to academics. A preacher must open up the great truths of God's Word in a way that is generally understandable to the whole congregation. (For example, we avoid frequent use of vocabulary that might exclude such worshippers in our congregation as teens and internationals.)

Two extremes we strive to avoid are preaching that looks first to find something novel or new in a text, with little regard for its significance; and preaching that engages only the emotions at the expense of substance. While thoughtful preaching often will uncover fresh insights and touch one's emotions, the purpose of preaching is to bring the old redemptive story to bear with fresh relevance.

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