Worship as drama

April 25, 2012 | Viewpoints | Number 9
Arlyn Friesen Epp |

Occasionally, because of my background in dramatic arts and pastoral ministry, I have been asked how well worship and drama mix. The query often assumes a disconnect between the two, or, at best, a sense that if the “dramatic element” is missing, it can simply be added to an existent worship outline with a skit, reading or other piece.

I prefer to see the discussion differently and encourage churches to understand their entire worship experience as drama. Imagine the following scenario:

The first chords of the worship band or the piano prelude ring through the sanctuary, evoking the same anticipation that accompanies the dimming of houselights in a theatre. Well chosen and meaningful, the music sets the stage for what follows. A call to worship, possibly a psalm, and a prayer of invocation wrestle us to our knees before the Creator. There’s no mistaking who we have come to worship! The emotive power of song draws us to our feet, joining the congregation in one voice. “When in our music God is glorified,” hymn writer Fred Pratt Green acknowledges, “it is as though the whole creation cried.” And the transformation, the dramatic metamorphosis of worship, unfolds. And that’s only Act I.

In the compelling rhythm of a sacred dance, the “arc” of the service continues to grow and develop, from confession to praise, from lament to joy. We engage our primal selves—emotion, intellect and soul—with the movement of God’s Spirit.

And we have yet to reach the pinnacle moment of worship: the focused hearing of God’s Word. Do we not almost tremble when Scripture is sung, spoken and proclaimed? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the merciful . . . , the pure in heart . . . , the peacemakers . . . .”

At that moment, the flow of communication reverses and God speaks to us. Do not our ears almost burn!

We almost need a dramatic pause after the telling of Scripture, an intermission to transition ourselves back to “horizontal speech” again. As the preacher humbly embraces the mood and tempo of the service, and engages the text, the sermon extends God’s unfolding story of grace, compassion and hope, that we might all beg to become actors in the narrative.

After moments for silence, song, prayer, movement and offering, our participation here has ended, and we hear the final benedictory address. The music subsides and we leave the sanctuary filled, whole, to step again onto the stage of life.

Wow! Is this your experience? Has the flare of God’s Spirit dramatically moved in your midst? Have you embraced the drama of worship? I pray that the next time you receive your Sunday morning bulletin, the order of worship will send a tingle of anticipation down your spine!

Mennonite Church Canada Resource Centre has a large collection of worship resources available online at mennonitechurch.ca/tiny/187.

Arlyn Friesen Epp is Mennonite Church Canada’s Resource Centre director.

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