How We Worship

THE WORSHIP OF GOD IS THE HEART OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH AND THE CENTER OF OUR LIFE TOGETHER IN THE CHURCH. The Westminster Shorter Catechism affirms that our chief end in life is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This places the worship of God at the very center of what it means to be God’s people and makes worship the highest expression we can render to our God-given humanity. Christian worship is a corporate act of the people of God where we gather to realize God’s presence and respond with praise to God’s gift of love to us in Jesus Christ. Worship is the activity we share; the liturgy is the form of structure of that activity. Worship at First Presbyterian Church begins with a theology. Presbyterian and Reformed in heritage, this theology is acted out within a liturgical framework.

Through a series of actions, we express what we believe and who we are. The sequence of the service was developed in the Church based on ancient Hebraic worship, shaped by early Christians, and confirmed by Christian congregations throughout our Church’s history. By the second century A.D., a basic outline for Christian worship had emerged with the influence of synagogue worship in the form of praise, prayer, scripture and preaching. The sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, as instituted by Christ, are the two distinctly Christian elements of worship.

Our service of worship has four major parts. The separate acts within these major sections are described here in the confidence that our experience of worship can be enhanced by greater understanding of what we do in Christian worship and why we do it.

GATHERING IN GOD’S NAME

THE WELCOME AND RITUAL OF FRIENDSHIP is an opportunity to welcome visitors, make necessary announcements, and bring to the attention of the membership timely events in the life of our church.

THE PRELUDE AND INTROIT marks the beginning of the service of worship. How we prepare for worship can determine the quality of the experience. In silent prayer and with a meditative spirit, we are invited to prepare ourselves for worship.

THE CALL TO WORSHIP draws our attention from our many concerns to the primary concern of the moment. Through words drawn from scripture, we are led toward God, and invited; “Come, let us worship.”

THE HYMN OF PRAISE reflects the fundamental purpose of Christian worship. Praise is the people’s joyful response to God’s gift in Jesus Christ. This hymn is chosen to be uplifting and vibrant, reflecting the praise we seek to offer to our God.

THE PRAYER OF CONFESSION takes place early in the service, suggesting that both the individual and the corporate body need to be cleansed in order to hear and receive the Word and Sacrament. To come into the presence of God dramatizes how far we fall short of God’s intended glory; so together we openly acknowledge our need for repentance, forgiveness and grace.

THE KYRIE is sung expressing our need for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

THE ASSURANCE OF PARDON reminds us of God’s promise that forgiveness follows the sincere confession of and repentance for our sins. Drawn most often from scripture, this declares the amazing grace God in Christ offers to each of us who truly are sorry for our sins and desire to live a more faithful life.

THE GLORIA PATRI is sung in response to the good news that we, in Jesus Christ, stand forgiven.

THE PROCLAMATION OF GOD’S WORD

THE PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION invites the presence of the Holy Spirit to bless us with the understanding of God’s Word in scripture.

THE SCRIPTURE READINGS are central to this section of the service, which is drawn from the ancient synagogue service concerned primarily with the reading and preaching of God’s Word. While the synagogue service consisted of readings from the Old Testament, readings from the New Testament were added as Christians began to develop their own scriptures. Most weeks at First Presbyterian Church will include a reading from each testament reflecting the biblical center of our worship

THE CHILDREN’S MESSAGE provides an important time each week for the younger children of our congregation to spend a choice learning period with our pastor. The theme for the children’s time is carefully chosen, and usually reflects what is being done that day in worship.

THE ANTHEM is the worship of the congregation sung through the voice of the choir.  The Choir offers praise to God on our behalf.

THE SERMON is the proclamation of the Word of God as set forth in scripture. Drawn from one or both of the scripture readings, and using these texts as a foundation, the sermon seeks to make the messages of these texts come alive in the faith and life of the hearers. The sermon provides a bridge between the ancient, abiding truths of scripture and our contemporary experience. The faithful proclamation of the Word has been a central concern and strength of Presbyterian and Reformed worship.

RESPONDING IN GRATEFUL OBEDIENCE

THE AFFIRMATION OF FAITH is recited as a corporate affirmation of what we believe and serves to place the contemporary Church in the tradition of Christendom which has endured through the centuries. Each confessional statement that is used is drawn from our denomination’s Book of Confessions. The Apostles’ Creed is found on page 14 of the Presbyterian Hymnal. [The phrase “holy catholic church” printed in the Apostles’ Creed means the universal church, not the Roman Catholic Church.]

THE HYMN OF FAITH is an affirmation that what we do in response to hearing God’s word is crucial. This hymn is usually more reflective and meditative, and often is tied to the theme of the morning’s scripture and sermon.

THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE are a vital part of our response to God. Prayer is indeed a lifting up of our hearts to the Lord, who invites us to ask, seek and knock. In prayer we approach God in openness of mind and heart to experience God’s power and presence. The prayer of intercession asks for God’s guidance and blessing on all God’s people. It seeks to express the spiritual needs, the longings, and the thanksgiving of the whole body of Christ.

THE LORD’S PRAYER concludes our series of prayers. This prayer, taught by Jesus to his disciples, is the prayer which binds all Christians together in service and devotion.

THE OFFERING is our response to God’s Word by giving and is a significant act within the liturgy. As we dedicate our gifts to God, we also dedicate our lives and acknowledge once more that we are God’s and what we have is but a gift to be held in trust.

THE DOXOLOGY is a Trinitarian song of the praise we sing as our gifts are brought forward. “Doxology” is Greek for “words of praise” and we sing to the Old Hundredth tune.

 

SENDING IN GOD’S NAME

THE PARTING HYMN removes us from our worship into the world with renewed commitment to our faith and service to God’s world.

THE BENEDICTION, a blessing spoken by the pastor, sends us out into the world to enact the Christian faith we have confessed. The pastor’s hand is symbolically raised to place the blessing of God upon each one who is gathered.

THE CHORAL RESPONSE concludes our service of worship with a triumphal affirmation of God’s majesty and power. It sends us on our way, inspired and rejoicing.

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THE SACRAMENTS

The Sacraments observed by Presbyterians are the Lord’s Supper (also called Holy Communion or the Eucharist) and Baptism.  Both sacraments were instituted by Christ, who invited his disciples to observe them.  A sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace.  Both point to the incarnate Word and declare that Jesus Christ is present.

Communion is the re-enactment of Jesus’ last meal in the Upper Room as described in the Gospels and in 1 Corinthians. It is a holy celebration of the presence of Christ, who is risen and alive. Holy Communion points to our union with Christ as we live and work within the community of faith. The Lord’s Supper is unusually celebrated at least once per month. Our celebration coincides with special days in the life of the Church.

Baptism, the act of cleansing, marks our reception into the household of God. Following the New Testament practice, the baptism of infants, adults, and children requires a commitment of the congregation to nurture the Christian growth of each individual as a member of the family of faith. Baptism is scheduled through the pastor at the request of an individual.

CHRISTIAN SYMBOLS

According to the Handbook of the Christian Year, “A symbol is an object or other visible sign pointing to a reality greater in meaning and power than the sign itself. Christian symbols which occur in worship gather and combine ranges of meanings that no literal statement or representation can fully communicate. Thus, over time, the worshipping community deepens its faith experience with the symbols since they open up several levels of meaning.”

The use of symbols is widely found in scripture as well as throughout Christian history. Symbols are linked directly to specific ways in which God has revealed himself to the world. Symbols reveal something about the nature of God and his relationship with his people throughout history.

The Processional Cross: The cross is the fundamental symbol in Christianity representing the whole meaning of Christ’s saving death and resurrection,      life and ministry, and incarnation and coming in glory. While there are many forms of the cross, one of the most common forms is the resurrection, or empty, cross called the Latin cross. The letters IHS at the center of the cross are the first three letters of “Jesus” in Greek. The processional cross has been used in worship as early as the fourth century. The person who carries the processional cross is called a “crucifer.”

During the Service of the Lord’s Day, one of our young people carries the cross leading the procession reminding us that Christ carried the cross to Golgotha, the place of the skull, as a self offering for us. As the benediction is offered at the conclusion of our worship, the processional cross recesses reminding us of our mission to carry Christ into all the world.

 

Acolytes: Acolyte denotes anyone who serves by carrying a torch in a liturgical procession. The light they bear reminds us of God’s pillar of fire that lead the children of Israel through the wilderness. Light symbolizes God’s presence in our midst as we worship. As the acolytes recess with lighted torches, we are reminded to carry the light of Christ into the world.

The Shepherd’s Staff: The shepherd’s crook symbolizes Christian leadership. Jesus is the Good Shepherdwho cares for and leads his sheep. The metaphor of the shepherd is a rich symbol found both in the Old Testament and the New Testament reminding us of God’s care for us and our responsibility to care for others (Psalm 23 and John 10:11).

The Easter (Paschal) Candle: During the early centuries of Christian worship, there were three special worship services called the Easter Triduum comprised of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. The Easter Vigil was normally held on the Saturday night, the eve of Easter a waiting the sunrise when Christ rose from the grave. At the center of this service are the two symbols of Light and Life symbolizing victory over darkness and death. Christ, the light of the world, is come to enlighten “them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” The lighting of a large and special candle on its own stand or candlestick forms one of the ceremonies on the eve of Easter which symbolizes the triumph of the resurrection over darkness and sin. The Easter Candle represents our risen Lord shining in the light and splendor of his resurrection. He is the new “pillar of Fire” leading “redeemed Israel” out of the bondage of sin into the promise of eternal life. The candle is prescribed with a cross, together with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, which teaches us that Christ is the first and last, “the beginning and the end.” It burns from Easter to Ascension Day, symbol of the great forty days of Christ’s presence among his followers after his resurrection. Throughout the church year, the Paschal Candle is used during baptism and funerals to remind us that we belong to the risen Lord.

The word Pascha is the English transliteration of both the Greek and Hebrew words for “Passover,” the central festival for Jews. The early Christians appropriated this term for the annual celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. Pascha signified the great deliverance accomplished in the Lord’s new Passover.

The Advent Wreath: During the season of Advent we seek to proclaim that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14). This is the wonderful message of the incarnation that Jesus Christ was born into human history in the fullness of time for the salvation of the world.

The Christmas season includes three parts: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas. The word Advent means coming. During Advent we reflect upon the fact that Christ has come, Christ is coming, and that Christ will come. It is a time of celebration of God’s gift of His Son to the world. During the Sundays of Advent, we light the candles of the Advent wreath marking our journey toward Christmas, December 25th. On Christmas day we celebrate that God has come in the flesh. Christmas proclaims the advent of messianic salvation; that is, Christ was sent among us in order to save us. The large white candle in the middle of the wreath is the Christ Candle which reminds us of the One who said, “I am the light of the world.”