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Group creates liturgy in Africana context

 


Group creates liturgy in Africana context

Nov. 2, 2004

By Linda Green*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — A group of worship experts is creating the DNA for new liturgy in black churches across the globe.

Seminary instructors, pastors, editors and curriculum writers converged Oct. 27-29 in Nashville to discuss how to write worship liturgy that is authentic to "Africana" populations — people of African descent from a number of ethnic, cultural and national backgrounds.

The gathering, convened by the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, marked the beginning of formal conversation on Africana liturgy. The meeting responded to a need in black United Methodist churches for liturgy that is more specific to the congregations’ context, life experiences, faith expressions and history, according to the Rev. Safiyah Fosua, director of invitational preaching ministries at the board.

The need includes resources that reach inner-city churches, churches that should be filled with youth and young people, and churches serving "regular people who work and sweat to pay bills and worry about keeping their children out of gangs," Fosua said.

Liturgy, especially in the United Methodist Church, includes material that everyone can say together, but one size does not always fit all. Liturgy is a ritual way to move toward God, Fosua said. "It does not have to be trapped in language that is unfamiliar or uncomfortable to speak, but be words, actions, expressions, or symbols that move people toward God."

How do we make it to God on Sunday? Fosua asked. There are times when the rituals and forms of the church serve as a "fence instead of a door," she said. "Liturgy should help people come into the presence of God and not stand as a barrier between them and God."

"The worship liturgy that needs to be created has to balance a lot of flavors and be contexualized more than it currently is," said the Rev. Valerie Bridgeman-Davis, assistant professor of preaching and worship at Memphis (Tenn.) Theological Seminary.

One of the struggles in worship, she said, is that "we’ve bought into the idea that worship has to answer questions. Worship should ask questions. It should be an opening into people’s lives," she said. "Today, it is hermetically sealed when it ought to leave people with the awe and mystery of God."

For three intense days, the participants studied and began the process of producing resources for United Methodist churches worshipping in the many traditions of Africana.

"We are making statements of faith relevant to the present realities of our communities," Bridgeman-Davis said. A need exists for liturgy that recaptures lost culture, lost song and the voice of lost community, she said. "There is no such thing as the African-American community. There are communities ... there are different communities."

Resources are needed for the four parts of worship – the gathering, the word, the intercession and the sending forth – and for special occasions and observances. "The goal is to create resources that take seriously the bodily experience of worshipping God," Bridgeman-Davis said.

Worship should move people beyond one or two hours on Sunday to live out their faith the entire week, she said. A problem with current liturgy is that it often lacks the sound that comes from people’s hearts, and it lacks movement, ritual or rhythm, she said.

The term "ritual" goes beyond the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, she said. Ritualized worship engages the body, soul, spirit and mind in a way that enables people to carry the experience into their lives.

"We have the opportunity in creating new liturgy and resources to be the vanguard and rearguard, to help African American churches bring about the historic presence of the church, and help create a revivalistic movement to have a lasting and prophetic voice to bring about God’s kingdom," said the Rev. Fred Allen, director of African-American resources at the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville.

For the Rev. Junius Dotson, pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kan., the liturgical gathering was sorely needed. He seeks liturgy and litanies that reflect the experience of African people, he said. "Something authentic comes out of the experiences of the people that you minister to."

Materials developed from the gathering will be available on www.umcworship.org by the end of 2004.

The gathering also learned that the United Methodist Publishing House is developing a hymnal for African-American churches. The new songbook, expected to be released in 2006, will be Afrocentric and similar to the 23-year-old Songs of Zion. It will contain about 250 songs from a wide range of genres and will draw from Africana traditions.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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