St. Andrew’s Book Group
One Bread, One Body Exploring Cultural Diversity in Worship
This section of the book addresses culture and worship. It is a common belief in the US that they live in a “melting pot” where cultures have blended. The author believes that in reality the US is more of a mosaic with many distinct aspects of different cultures side by side. Churches are often centres for ethnic activities and identity formation.
The author suggests that there are 4 ways in which we worship together:
1. Cultural Uniformity assumes those gathered together have common backgrounds. In practice this can lead to vital worship. There is a risk that a congregation’s ethnocentric perspective can limit its worldview. It may not prepare participants for a diverse society. It becomes a refuge.
2. Cultural Assimilation assumes a dominant cultural perspective for all participants regardless of their background. Often these congregations are sensitive to the needs of the surrounding community and welcome the community on Sundays if they can assimilate. There is often an inconsistency between the “welcome to all” and the non-verbal cues.
3. Culturally Open Worship differs from cultural assimilation by the degree to which those with different cultural perspectives are included in the decision making process.
4. Cultural Partnership has no clear majority that dominates and the cultural diversity reflects the surrounding neighbourhood. “Christ, the imaginative artist, creates a mosaic out of the disparate cultures of the world”. This way of worship offers rich possibilities.
The author suggests congregations find themselves on the above spectrum before trying to implement changes.
It is suggested that all of us have bias and prejudices. We have bias from our cultural upbringing but a healthy bias acknowledges other views. Prejudice results from the assumption that our way is the only way.
Interaction of Worship and Culture
1. Transcultural - some aspects of worship transcend culture. Some examples include baptism, communion, the Lord’s Prayer, observance of Lent & Easter.
2. Contextual – all worship is contextual, reflecting the specific culture found in a congregation or community. If we become too myopic we risk prejudice.
3. Countercultural – there are aspects of all cultures that run contrary to God’s plan for us. Congregations need to find which aspects of culture strengthen the community and which may be contrary to God’s plan. Also, do some aspects of worship exclude some of the community due to age, gender, socioeconomic status or race?
4. Cross Cultural – this stresses the importance of different elements of culture (music, postures, etc.) and that they should be respected when used in other places in the world.
One of the purposes of this book is to help congregations achieve a cross-cultural style of worship. Every congregation has their own style, which needs to be considered. Members need to look at music, greetings, vestments, the use of silence, symbols, the names of worship space, etc. Often the non-verbal parts of the worship are the most important. These may include the instruments used, silence, whether children are present during worship, and oral or written aspects of the service.
Different cultures, communities and congregations have different sense of time. This can be seen in the length of the service, short or long. Also, some cultures have a linear sense of time while others have a cyclical sense of time. With a linear sense of time there are aspects of worship to be accomplished with an appropriate timetable. With a cyclical sense of time, community building is often more important than a timetable. One example of this is with repetitive music that repeats until the community feels moved to something else.
There are many variables in our worship styles that may invite or inhibit others worshipping with us.